Czech Jews mull non-Orthodox alternatives


PRAGUE, May 31 (JTA) — The umbrella group representing the Czech Republic’s Jewish community is poised to allow non-Orthodox branches of Judaism to participate in the community’s official functions.

Bowing to growing calls from its membership to open its doors to alternatives to Orthodoxy, the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities said this week it is considering including the Reform movement’s World Union for Progressive Judaism as a potential partner. The federation also has not ruled out including other Jewish streams by the end of the year.

The federation said it was reacting to the results of an opinion poll conducted among the country’s 10 official Jewish communities. The poll showed that 80 percent of several thousand respondents want to see the federation open its doors to the non-Orthodox Jewish streams.

Orthodox Jews account for only a small proportion of Czech Jewry, which is largely secular or non-Orthodox.

The federation’s executive director, Tomas Kraus, said the poll followed discussions within the various communities about the future direction the federation should take.

He said the federation would have to alter its regulations to allow non- Orthodox branches to operate officially.

“There is quite a lot of good will on this issue, so I don’t think there will be a problem with the rules,” he said.

“There will be a problem, however, if there is no follow-up because we would be in a situation with people coming in to the community who are non-Orthodox but have no access to non-Orthodox services,” Kraus added.

Local Jewish communities reacted positively to the federation’s announcement.

“I think most people here are extremely happy that at last they may see alternatives to the Orthodox system,” said one senior member of Prague’s Jewish Community who wished to remain anonymous.

Kraus said the federation may invite representatives of specific Jewish umbrella groups — including the World Union for Progressive Judaism — to Prague to explain to the federation’s governing council what they stand for before any final decision is made.

The country’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Karol Sidon, has not opposed the possibility of changing the federation’s makeup.

“There has been a lot of talking, but at present the regulations do not allow alternatives,” he said of the federation’s current rules.

“There are negotiations going on about changing the regulations, and I believe it is possible to reach a consensus. Everything is possible in this world.

“If the community had an absolutely different point of view from me, then we would have to leave each other, but I believe we can reach a consensus,” he added.

Kraus stressed that Orthodox members of the community should not be alarmed at the prospect of other branches officially co-existing within the community.

“We are not harming the Orthodox community here. Quite the opposite, in fact,” he said. “All we want to do is introduce pluralism into the life of the community.”

Assuming a consensus is reached, the Czech Republic’s first non-Orthodox, full-time rabbi could be in place within a matter of months.

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