Orthodox Renaissance in Hungary?

Orthodox Renaissance in Hungary?

Orthodox Renaissance in Hungary?

The Kazinczy Street prayer house was innagurated in the „Jewish Triangle” of Budapest (Dohány – Rumbach – Kazinczy streets) only in 1913. The synagogue became a new pride of the then largest Jewish community in the country, the Orthodox. The date tells a lot about their situation at that time when the reform Jews ( in Hungary they are called „neologs” ) had already have their prayer houses stood in the Dohány Street (1859) and in Rumbach Street (1872)

Up to the end of the First World War more than half of the country’s Jews were orthodox, but the neologism urging assimilation has been the most popular trend in Budapest for decades,

therefore, they also had the greatest ability to assert political interests. But due to reform attempts of the religion, an avalanche was started, which led to the division of Hungarian Jewry into three parts in 1868-69 (proclaimed at the Jewish Congress).

The tention was initially fundamentally religious: adherents of the so-called Status quo ante would have continued the original traditions, neologs found compromises on structural (intellectual and material) changes of their age, whereas orthodoxy still envisioned the future according to the strictest religious principles. It is no accident that

the first official name of their independent new organization was called Guardian of Faith – Hungarian Jewish Association. Their current legal successor is called the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community and they have been operating independently since 1993.

Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community, Photo: Márton Merész 

A couple of weeks ago, Robert Deutsch was elected new president, replacing Eduard Deblinger after eight years. The presidential office faces Dob Street. From below you can see one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in all of Budapest, a masterpiece of the Löffler brothers. Right under the president’s office there is a kosher butcher shop which has seen more beautiful days and richer selection of goods. Once upon a time, one of the most important kosher butchers in Budapest operated here.

Now they want to revive that, says the president, whom we asked why it is in his interest neglecting his New York-based dental business for leading a community that now has barely a hundred (!) members?

“It was formulated by a friend of mine, so if there is pathos in it, it does not come from me: I serve the Mighty Lord. I’m not taking a penny here for my work. I’m still trying to keep my own business in check” — said Deutsch, who left for America more than thirty years ago and devides his time between Budapest and New York. Some years ago, he helped his community for a short time as a  one of the community leader, but now he has been empowered with presidential rights for four years.

As to whether he consider it a privilege or an unsustainable condition that their institutional system, and material heritage with a total of ten buildings (including five synagogues in addition to a school and a senior home), is disproportionate to the real presence of their community, the president says: religious Jewish communities are growing everywhere, but are nonetheless still in the minority.

Robert Deutsch, president of the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community Photo: Márton Merész 

In Hungary after the 20th century, “it is a miracle that there are a hundred religious Jews at all. That’s where you can build.” — said the president who wants strengthening this religious base from abroad. They are trying to lure those who do not feel safe living their faith in their homeland — mostly from Western European countries.

In addition to the alarming anti-Semitic phenomena in many European states, the continental restriction of kosher slaughter may, in their view, create the reality of this. Smaller gastro-revolutionary instruments would also be used for the hoped-for human imports. They also want to provide their community with a kosher deli, a fish shop and a milk deli on Kazinczy Street, where they feel the opportunity to do so in their unused courtyard.

By the way, Hanna, one of the most famous kosher restaurants in Budapest, has been operating there for decades. The president envisions a “world-class” community for which he feels it is essential to launch a religious school for adults – Kolel. The educational institution established to teach the Talmud, one of the holiest writings of the Jews, is believed to be organized by a rabbi who understands not only Yiddish and Hebrew, as before, but also English.

Viktor Cseh, a writer-cultural historian, joined the Orthodox in his twenties by reviving family traditions. He says it’s not a problem at all that there aren’t many because “quality isn’t measured by quantity”. Rather, he believes that

if their habits are strange to today’s world, it reinforces them even more in the belief that it is important for them to follow their traditions in order to survive.

According to the writer, in order for them to be characterized not only by stagnation but also by prosperity, it may be necessary to follow examples that have already been proven by others.

Inviting foreign religious Jews is not a unique case in Hungary, the EMIH (United Hungarian Jewish Community) has been doing this for years, and although many are researching their methods, their effectiveness is hard to dispute.

– this position is shared by several people on Kazinczy Street-community. Zév Paskesz is also among them. He is known by everyone in the community, serving his fellow believers for decades. He used to before a secretary general and a rabbi as well, and the new president counts him as the leader of the religious affaires. He accompanies us as a tour guide between the buildings. Paskesz, like Deutsch, was born into a Hungarian neolog family, but returned to the faith of his ancestors and raised all five children in this spirit. It soon turns out that a humorous, sober-minded man accompanies us around the orthodox center built on the corner of Dob Street and Kazinczy Street.

“Many say we are fanatics. That’s why they also find us a little scary. But we are a big family that is open to others. ”

Zév Paskesz, member of the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community, Photo: Márton Merész 

— he says at one of our stations, the “winter prayer hall,” where, according to unofficial news, they gathered in a unique way in the city to pray even during last year’s first pandemic restrictions. Three groups of worship a day and continuous learning give them a secure system for life. The guardians of the faith live this way.

According to Paskesz, they are trying not to get involved in the dispute between the two largest organizations of Hungarian Jewry (so called Mazsihizs — body of neologes and the EMIH — government-friendly body which originates from the Chabad movement).

“From the outside, it seems that the conflict is not about Jews at all, but rather about issues of power,” says Paskesz, whose childhood friend Robert Frölich, the well-known neolog rabbi, but at the same time, solely because of his belief in faith also – he would not set foot in the Dohány Street Synagogue for any money.

Despite religious differences, about a possible conciliatory role for Mazsihisz-EMIH, he believes the parties should settle their own affairs. Citing the Talmud, Pascal added

peace requires three things: reconciliation with ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the Mighty Lord. The first way to do that, he said, would be for everyone to return to their roots. It could even bring unity.

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