What is really happening in the Hungarian Orthodoxy?
For our previous account on this developing story, titled „Hostile takeover…”) CLICK HERE
The delights of Adar and some somber facts about the plot against our community
(Background, comments, and updates by the legitimate membership of the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community; February 28, 2023)
A group of infiltrators held a General Assembly on Febr. 22 in which they elected a new president and a general secretary for MAOIH. Major rabbinic courts and Orthodox organizations worldwide – and of course we, the “old guard” of MAOIH – consider that General Assembly illegal, and its decisions null and void, for a number of reasons. (Cf. our previous account on this developing story, titled “Hostile takeover …”.)
The sad story that we go through, displays recently elements of a farce or pre-Purim amusements. A few days ago Mr. Amichai Chikli, Minister of Diaspora Affairs in Israel sent his greetings to R. Oirechman (a Chabad/EMIH rabbi residing in Budapest) on the occasion of the latter’s election as secretary general of MAOIH. Today other Ministers and politicians in Israel sent similar greetings to the “newly elected leaders”. These respectable politicians apparently have little idea of the communal, legal, and political contexts of the “general assembly” in which the mentioned gentlemen were elected. As for Minister Chikli, he apparently let himself misled by his interlocutors in his meeting with the Hungarian delegation organized by R. Köves a few weeks ago. In the coming days we will see whether these politicians are victims of their (and their assistants’) negligence, or fell into some more sophisticated trap set by these Chabad/EMIH-machers. The Jewish Agency for Israel (known as Sochnut) was more circumspect and did not respond to a letter by the EMIH-mercenaries eliciting their blessing.
The Jerusalem Post published a piece on Febr. 26, 2023 (https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/article-732769) in which our voice is also heard. Living up to standards of his profession, the journalist solicited the response of EMIH (the Hungarian branch of Chabad). In the mix of their partly amusing, partly outrageous comments we read the following: “recent events have nothing to do with our community [EMIH], and we respect the decisions of the orthodox community and its leadership”. From other sources (https://www.szombat.org/politika/egy-komoly-elnok) we also learned that Gábor Keszler, elected president of the EMIH-dominated group of illegitimate MAOIH “members”, was a Board member of a Neolog / “status quo” congregation, until the last minute – or more precisely, apparently, after the last minute – that is, until or even after his election (on February 22) as president of an orthodox community. (Keszler was convicted in a criminal case in the past; his career is one of the more colorful and impressive careers in the EMIH-controlled empire.) So, piecing together the puzzle, the EMIH-storyline is as follows: (1) EMIH has nothing to do with the infiltrators in MAOIH; and (2) of course Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, the senior Chabad-rabbi in Hungary, has nothing to do with EMIH. In their version of the story it is apparently the case that (3) Neologs pull the strings and control the infiltrators. Chances are that shortly we will be told that R. Oirechman, elected to be the CEO of the assembled infiltrator-sect – and brother-in-law of R. Shlomo Köves, head of EMIH – acts in the unfolding coup attempt on behalf of the Reform groups in Budapest.
These were some of the more delightful moments of the last days’ events. Now we have to turn to more substantial and grim aspects of the current predicament and plot.
MAOIH suffers from decades of mismanagement. This is an undeniable fact, even if we admit that the community’s leaders operated under difficult circumstances and rolled before them a challenging historical-organizational legacy. Another undeniable fact is that Chabad – and EMIH, that is, Chabad Hungary – brought, and still brings, basic Jewish resources, services, and skills to Hungary which local Jewry was and is unable to provide or develop. Is the political influence that they buy in Hungary (as their comrades elsewhere) through their political marketing services a precondition of their ability to provide these resources and skills? We doubt it. But in any case, Hungarian Orthodoxy – broken and suffering from immense problems – still exists and has a chance and potential to live up in the longer term, if only in a most modest and inferior way, to the legacy of its glorious past. MAOIH currently does not have a resident chief rabbi (the last chief rabbi had to leave his post at the beginning of the pandemic), but for the minimal needs of the community, it enjoys the advice and services of its past rabbis and their Rabbinical Court.
For many years, R. Baruch Oberlander tries to fill a rabbinic “vacuum” in Hungary. In the last two-three years there is a sorely felt lack of permanent or continuous rabbinic presence in our Community. But there is no rabbinic vacuum in the narrower sense of the term; and if there were a vacuum, R. Oberlander, with all due respect, is not the one who could fill it. כבודו במקומו מונח – ולא במקומנו.
Some historical issues need to be addressed here briefly, in order to substantiate this assessment. The current “hostile takeover” attempt is orchestrated by two protagonists: by EMIH, directly, and with the tacit approval of its spiritual leader (and mentor of its rabbi, R. Köves) – R. Oberlander. As for the first protagonist: in order to gain historical legitimacy, state recognition and government funding, EMIH defined (and defines) itself as an heir of Hungarian “status quo ante” Jewry. (The term denotes a group of Jewish communities in Hungary which aligned neither with the Orthodox nor the Neolog camp in the wake of the Hungarian Jewish Congress of 1868-69.) Leaving aside the perverted historical-ideological jugglery of this claim, and the emergence and character of this faction of Hungarian Jewry, what is important for us here is that Hungarian Orthodoxy did not acknowledge “status quo ante” Judaism as part of Orthodoxy. This is of course the reason why EMIH had to hide behind strawmen in their hostile takeover attempt until the most recent stages (and even now to a large extent), resort to a mass-scale infiltration (well-known to Hungarian citizens from the post-World War II Communist takeover), and not dare to propose and present to the Hungarian government and to Orthodox Jewry worldwide, at the current stage at least, a formal “fusion” between EMIH and MAOIH.
The second protagonist of the current plot is R. Oberlander, who – presumably to his great regret – can not hide anymore behind the back of his EMIH protégés. In their (undated) response to the injunction issued by the BaDaTz, the Rabbinic Court of the Edah ha-Haredit on Febr. 20, some of the protégés of his protégés came up with the brazen claim that the mentioned Rabbinic Court has no authority and jurisdiction over issues pertaining to Hungarian Orthodoxy, because there is a local Rabbinic Court which has authority and jurisdiction over it: namely the Court of R. Oberlander. (A similar argument, in the name of R. Oberlander himself, was mentioned in the “General Assembly” of the intruders by the Chair of the assembly.) This of course reveals the true loyalties of the plotters and the real chain of command in their plot. In Judaism (and particularly in Ashkenazic Jewry) a community and its rabbi (or rabbis) choose and legitimize each other, and this mutual legitimacy defines the religious identity of both. R. Oberlander overstepped his boundaries already in 2014 (if we are correct), when he appointed himself (mostly for practical kashrut-purposes) as “Head of the Rabbinic Court of the Ultraorthodox [Haredi] Communities of Budapest”; this amounted almost to a declaration of war on the small Hungarian Orthodox community. MAOIH, an “Autonomous” Orthodox community, never conferred on him this title, and never recognized this title of him. This will not change. We wish him much success as “Chief Rabbi” or “Head of the Rabbinic Court” of EMIH – or whatever other title with which EMIH finds appropriate to honor its respectable spiritual leader.
The rabbinic-legal-political struggle continues.