Orthodox and Reform Jews Feud in Poland

Maneuvering To Represent Country's 6,000-Strong Community

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Published November 26, 2012.
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Beliak describes the union’s effort to strip Beit Polska of government recognition as proof that the union is opposed to Reform Judaism. The Union of Jewish Religious Communities is “attempting to maintain an absolute Orthodox monopoly” over Polish Jewish life, Beliak said.

This is hardly the only clash between Reform and Orthodox communities in Eastern Europe.

Until the fall of the Iron Curtain two decades ago, Jewish life was largely conducted underground in communist countries, and non-Orthodox communities were virtually nonexistent. Orthodox Jewish institutions took root quickly after the fall of communism, gaining government recognition and funding when it became available.

But non-Orthodox institutions are gaining strength across Europe, and in many countries the fight for government funding has put them on a collision course with the local Orthodox establishment.

In Hungary, which has some 100,000 Jews, taxpayers earmark a certain percentage of their taxes for donations to recognized religious communities. The Hungarian government had been funding a variety of Jewish communities, but in 2011 the government significantly reduced the number of religious communities it recognizes, omitting the Reform community.

Hungary’s two main Reform synagogues, Sim Shalom and Bet Orim, are appealing the decision at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as part of a suit by a host of Hungarian religious organizations.

In Austria, the Reform community is awaiting the implementation of a new system for distributing funds to religious communities and hopes to receive about $100,000 annually. Under the old system, Or Chadash, Vienna’s Reform community, was not represented on the Jewish community board, which essentially is Orthodox, according to Bergman.

Back in Poland, Rabbi Boaz Pash, the Orthodox rabbi of Krakow, says the inclusion of Ec Chaim under the umbrella of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities could be a model across Europe for Jewish religious streams operating under one administration but without interfering with one another’s religious practice.

“I think the arrangement reached in Warsaw is the way forward, not only in Poland but in other countries,” Pash said.

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