Monday, August 14, 2017

The Hungarian Schism

The history of the Jews of Hungary reads much the same as that of the Jews in other areas of Europe. They were ever at the mercy of the nobility, with their favor waxing and waning drastically from one era to another. By the late 19th century, however, Hungary, like many other European countries, had emancipated the Jews, giving them the same rights as their non-Jewish countrymen.

Unfortunately, the Jewish community was now divided between the "Orthodox" and the “Neologs,” who were proponents of more modern Jewish practices. (It should be noted that the Neolog movement was not the same as the German Reform Movement in that the modifications it sought were more aesthetic, such as the placement of the bima and allowing for indoor wedding ceremonies.)

Prior to the late 1860s, when Hungary became a semi-autonomous part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Hungarian Jewish communities had been loosely associated. In 1868, however, the government called for a Hungarian Jewish Congress to determine a communal leadership for the Jewish community. The Neologs then formed the National Jewish Bureau, which had the support of the government to guide communal affairs, but not the full backing of the Hungarian Jews. Shortly after its creation, the Orthodox community (based in less urban areas and including a large chassidic population) was given permission to open its own communal board - Orthodox Executive Committee. The Orthodox rabbis were ordained at the Yeshiva of Pressburg, while the Neolog rabbis studied at the Budapest University of Jewish Studies. The traditionalists who chose neither organization used the label “Status Quo.” This division, in which there were two governing Jewish boards, was a fairly unique situation. It continued well into the twentieth century when each of the communal boards received seats in the Hungarian legislature.

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