March 1999 Issue
As we have written in our previous issue, the chairman of the official Jewish community, Mr. Péter Feldmájer, criticised the Hungarian rabbis who delayed for years with issuing gets, the traditional letters of divorce. In the forthcoming debate Mr. Feldmájer criticised the “poor spiritual state” of the Rabbinical Seminary, where only two rabbis were ordained in a period of eight years. In order to defend the previous director of the seminary, József Schweitzer national chief-rabbi, who was indirectly targeted by the criticism, the official Jewish “public opinion” published letters detailing his tremendous contribution. The leaders of the community also offered their unconditional support, while they did not react to any of the issues mentioned in Mr. Feldmájer’s letters. “Why is all criticism regarding rabbi Schweitzer’s activity is immediately rejected, without considering the facts mentioned? – asks the author of our editorial János Gadó. The answer: Rabbi Schweitzer is almost the only person, who is knowledgeable both in Jewish tradition and Hungarian culture. He is also a Holocaust survivor. Therefore he is almost the only appropriate person to be the representative and the symbol of the Hungarian Jewish community, which has been unable to come up with a man of a similar quality (the few who could have been able to compete with rabbi Schweitzer had already been expelled from the community). Thus the unconditioned celebration of Rabbi Schweitzer is in reality a desperate quest of the Hungarian Jewry for an authentic personality, and thus for showing past thirty years in a favourable perspective.
According to the Budget law of 1999, the Hungarian government allocates 30.000 forints (170 US$) to Hungarian Jews for each relative murdered in the nazi death camps. Many people send this humiliating sum directly to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The leaders of the Jewish community encourage this response by publishing the Prime Minister’s address in Új Élet, the Jewish biweekly.
Special supplement: Hungarian Jewish Women in the nineties Katalin Kelemen is the first woman rabbi in Hungary, leader of the Sim Shalom Jewish Community. As Ms. Kelemen tells her own story, she grew up in a liberal, left oriented, atheist family and didn’t care about her Jewish roots. After finishing university, at the time when communist ideology lost its significance, she felt more and more a spiritual and emotional vacuum. Religion was the way, which finally led her back to the lost spirituality and communal life.
Margit Balla is a teacher in Lauder Yavneh Jewish High School, artist, and the producer of the only Jewish theatre of Hungary – that of the Lauder Yavneh school.
Vera Benedikt is director of the orthodox American Endowment School. She comes from a famous dynasty of rabbis. One of the few persons who – as she remembers – observed the commandments during the communist period. She had been working for many years as a software specialist before accepting the job at the school.
Zsuzsa Loránt is a sculptor and she translates literature as well. Being Jewish is not necessarily a positive experience for her. “Once grandma baked us flodni (a traditional Hungarian Jewish cookie) and I proudly explained to my Christian girlfriend: we have flodni. And my parents hissed. They hissed all the time. It was rather humiliating, so I prefer to lower my voice speaking about this. But I am relaxed among Jews when I know that there is no need to whisper any more. That’s how I was brought up: anything Jewish is painful, it is something to be ashamed of.”
Ágnes Peresztegi and Elaine Röhrig organised a Torah study circle for women. According to Jewish tradition women and men cannot learn together (let alone the reform movement). Following the example of Israeli orthodox women who study Torah for their own spiritual needs, Ágnes, Elaine and their friends meet every Thursday for a study session.
Andrea Pető is sociologist, one of the pioneers of women’s studies in Hungary. In her “Feminist reading of Judaism” she summarises, how feminist ideology penetrated first Jewish studies and than Jewish tradition itself.