Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Jewish Communities Law in Germany: Liberal Jews Do Not Join Zionists in Opposition to Government Dra

November 18, 1931
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Liberal Jews of Germany, who are now in control of the Administration of the Berlin Jewish Community, do not share the views of the Zionists in the Jewish Communities of Germany, in declaring themselves in opposition to the Government draft of the Jewish Communities Law for Prussia (as reported in the J.T.A. Bulletin of the 12th. inst.), and in the course of an article contained in to-day’s issue of the “Juedisch liberale Zeitung”, the organ of the Federation of Liberal Jews, Land-Court Councillor Dr. Arthur Lilienthal sets out the reasons for their attitude.

The law which regulates the affairs of our Jewish Communities in the greater part of Prussia, he writes, dates back to 1847. Nor is that the oldest valid law in regard to the Jews in Prussia. In Hanover there is still the old Hanoverian law of 1842, in Hesse there is the Ordinance of 1823, and in that small part of Hesse which once used to belong to Bavaria, there is still in force the Edict of 1813. It is self-evident that all these laws no longer meet in many respects our present views and wishes. Yet the Prussian law of 1847 is still by far the most modern. On the other hand, the Hanoverian and Hessian laws are a product of the spirit of a real police-State, and it is amazing that such things should still exist nowadays.

Ever since the Prussian Federation of Jewish Communities came into existence, it has been concerned to bring about a new regulation, through a new Jewish Law valid in the whole of Prussia. Such a law must respect the principle of self-administration in the regulation of their own affairs guaranteed to the Communities by the German Constitution. But the significance of the law is two-fold. In the first place it establishes the communities as public bodies with the right of imposing taxation, and in the second place it defines the extent of the supervision over the communities which the State assumes by virtue of the fact that it is conferring upon them the right of public bodies.

Such a law, it appears, will be shortly submitted to the Prussian Parliament by the Ministry. After letting lie for a long time a draft submitted by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Prussia, the Ministry has now, after concluding the Concordat with the Protestant Church set to work on the Jewish law, and has completed it very quickly. But the law is still in the Ministry, and is therefore not yet open for public discussion.


Unfortunately, Dr. Lilienthal proceeds, the Zionist organ, the “Juedische Rundschau”, has already published an article by Dr. Kollenscher, dealing with several of the provisions of the draft law. It is regrettable that the Government’s wish to have the draft law considered confidential until such time as it is presented to Parliament has not been respected. Since I am myself pledged to secrecy in this matter, it

Insofar, however, as the contents of the draft law have been made known through Dr. Kollenscher’s article, there are two directions in which it is essential to express our attitude immediately.

It is well known that the draft of the new Jewish Law submitted to the Prussian Government by the Prussian Federation of Jewish communities was a compromise based on the wishes of the various Parties, and was as good as unanimously adopted at the Federation Conference. Not all the wishes expressed in our draft are given effect to in the Government draft. On this subject we shall have something to say. But Dr. Kollenscher takes the view that the Jewish public has a legal right to demand that the Government should simply adopt the draft submitted by the Prussian Federation of Jewish Communities. He bases this view on Article 137 of the German Constitution, which guarantees the autonomy of the religious communities. He quotes the case of the Protestant communities which conferred a Constitution on themselves which the State recognised while reserving its State rights. From the legal point of view, this view is utterly incomprehensible. The law for the most part does not deal at all with the Constitution of the Communities, but with the supervisory functions assumed by the State in respect to a body enjoying public and legal rights. These things have nothing to do with the autonomy of the Communities. It is absurd to put forward the view that the State is legally obliged to regulate the relations between itself and the Jewish Communities and Federations of Jewish Communities in the way which these Communities propose.

As for the comparison with the 1924 Constitution of the Protestant Churches, these deal to an overwhelming extent with matters which are not subject to State influence, and in regard to which the State does not concern itself at all. Only those basic matters are approved in the Law which are also approved in the Jewish Law. How anyone can on the strength of this law draw the conclusion that the State was obliged on the ground of parity to simply take over as read the draft Law submitted to it by the Federation of Jewish Communities passes my comprehension.

We have given expression to our wishes in our draft law, Dr. Lilienthal continues. We have, of course, the same right as all citizens, all organisations, and all religious communities to ask that our justified interests and wishes should be taken into account. But I can only see a grave danger to our position in putting forward such completely untenable demands as those made in Dr. Kollenscher’s article.


With regard to particular questions, Dr. Lilienthal goes on, I shall deal now only with one. The draft law regulates the question of the franchise. Whether in accordance with the proposals submitted by the Federation of Jewish Communities it establishes the franchise for foreign Jews, is something that has not yet been decided. This point in our draft is one of the matters on which there was a compromise agreed to between our parties. We have presented our views to the Government with regard to our draft law. We are not sure of our success. The opposition to the foreign vote is by no means insignificant, and it is in this regard that no decision has yet been made. We hope, indeed, that our wishes

Recommended from JTA