When Hungarian Jewry won its emancipation seventy-five years ago and secured the lawful recognition of the Jewish religion in the same way as other faiths of the country, the various kehillahs in Hungary were unable to weld themselves into one united Jewish religious organization.
The Jewish community split into three sections. There was a strange creation of three diverse Jewish confessions. The Orthodox wing kept the Sabbath on its own, establishing a separate countrywide association of orthodox kehillahs, which do not intermingle with the “other Jewish religions,” and their kehillah associations. The point is not that orthodoxy has its own religious autonomy. That would be quite legitimate. Why should orthodox Jews eat meat killed by non-orthodox slaughterers, or put their religious difficulties to rabbis who are not particularly observant?
But they created a specific, separatist, different sort of orthodox Jewish religion. As a similar separatist organization was formed by the advanced non-orthodox Jewsâ€”the so-called Neologe or Reform-Jewish religionâ€”they too had their separate kehillah association for a “separate Jewish confession.” And in between these two arose a third Jewish confessionâ€”the so-called status-quo kehillah with its separate countrywide association. This is the “Just so” Jewish community, to which belong all sorts of Jews, observant and non-observant, as long as they confess themselves as being of the Jewish faith.
This state of affairs, this fissure in the Jewish confession, with its tripartite “kehillahs” associations, was a standing joke in Hungary, among both Jews and Christians. It was called sarcastically Tripartarianism, in contra-distinction to a certain Trinitarianism, which is associated with Rome. After a while, when the old religious battles between the Neologists and the “Just-so” Jews had ceased, this tripartarianism became void of meaning, and lost all real justification. There are no warriors left for Reform Judaism, nor is the status-quo Jew any longer the “Just – so,” steeped-in-Jewishness Jew of the past. There is now only still the distinction between the “Just-so” Jews, and the hundred-per-cent Jewish orthodoxy.
And now the Hungarian Jews are setting out to overthrow this ironical Roman principle, viz: Quod non est in acta non est in vita. The Hungarian Jews have arrived at a more correct principle: What no longer lives should cease to be recorded in the acts. There should be an end to this tripartarianism.
It is not just a question of eliminating an outworn form of organization. The condition of the Jews in the surrounding countries, in conjunction with certain suspicious stirrings in a part of Hungary itself, makes it necessary for Hungarian Jewry to stand together more united in a closely welded Jewish organization. So they have taken in hand the rebuilding of the organizational structure of both of these kehillah associations, and neologe and status-quo Jews will be organized henceforth in one association. It is hoped that in time Jewish orthodoxy will also find its way into this united body, so that eventually there will be in Hungary one single Jewish community.
REGIME BACKS PROJECT
There was some uneasiness in certain Jewish quarters whether it was desirable at the present time to enter into conversations with the government with regard to such changes. But the government placed no difficulties in the way. The Minister of Education and Worship issued a decree, with the consent of the Regent, Admiral Horthy, empowering the qualified Jewish leaders to convene a special Jewish, countrywide congress, for the purpose of completing and modifying the obsolete form of organization of the kehillah statutes in Hungary.
The government immediately realized that the statutes and forms of organization that were in force in 1868 need reformâ€”and so it gave full powers to the president of the Hungarian Israelite Chancellery, Hofrat Samuel Stern, that he should himself appoint the place and time of this congress of Hungarian Jewry. Considering the bitter times in which Jews now find themselves in adjoining countries, this is indeed a sign of good and friendly relations on the part of the Goemboes government toward Hungarian Jewry.
The congress will be held this year, for the elections of delegates must be completed at latest by October 15. This is a considerable democratic revolution in the public life of Hungarian Jewry. In the past there was no such thing as elections. The delegates used to “elect” or nominate themselves. And now there are to be electionsâ€”even a secret ballot.
It will indeed by a kind of a democratic parliament of Hungarian Jewry, which will create new public forms of organization for the Jewish social, national, and religious life in the community.
The first congress of Hungarian Jewry is convened solely for one specific purpose. But it is hoped that the process of democratization will continue, and that the Hungaro-Jewish Congress will become a permanent institution, which will be regularly convened whenever Hungarian Jewry finds it necessary to decide momentous problems of the day.
The new government decree does not yet altogether abolish the old Jewish tripartarianism in Hungary. For the present the decree has admitted two very important principles:
1. “That the Jewish confession of Hungary will be guaranteed a lawful autonomy.
2. “That there exists only one Jewish faith with its organization (community of faith), irrespective of the previous organizational division in Hungarian Jewry.”
So far, the decree is not very clear. One does not know exactly what the government means by the words, “irrespective of the previous organizational division in Hungarian Jewry.” It is hoped that it means only that orthodoxy continues to retain its separatist kehillah organizations. Certainly tremendous progress has been made, when for the first time it has now been definitely laid down in an official government decree, in the name of the highest authority of the country, Nikolas von Horthy, that there is in Hungary only one single Jewish Community of Faith. The government only reserves to itself the right to examine the decisions of the first Jewish parliament in Hungary, and to suggest modifications in consonance with the laws of the country, which are in force for all other confessional organizations, but without this being construed as a veto by the government. The same Jewish parliament may reassemble to consider the proposed modifications.
RABBIS TO PARTICIPATE
It is of interest to note that the decree definitely sanctions the participation of rabbis and political Jewish representatives in this Congress. Thus the members of Congress will include all leading rabbis of the recognized kehillahs, the director of the Rabbinical Seminary and the representative of the Jewish faith in the Hungarian upper houseâ€”and in addition, the eight presidents of the eight kehillah districts throughout the country. The remaining 200 delegates are to be elected by secret ballot.
The preparations for the congress, the election movement and the reawakened need felt among the masses of Hungarian Jewry for the democratization of Jewish community life and a stronger interest in Jewish problemsâ€”all this is a most hopeful sign of Jewish consolidation in Hungary.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.