Once prestigious rabbinic seminar in Budapest turns to reform movement for academic recognition

The rabbinical seminar of Budapest, Jewish Theological Seminary and University of Jewish Studies was founded in 1877 and is one of the oldest functioning institute of its kind in the world, now is in the spotlight of the local struggle of the neolog movement.

Operated by the Hungarian neolog movement’s Jewish community, Mazsihisz (short for the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities), the institution that was considered to be the bastion of neolog academics. Following the devastation of the Holocaust and during the socialist regime, the seminar was practically the only place for Jewish studies in Hungary and in the region, though its curriculum had to be in line with the country’s political agenda.

Jewish Theological Seminary and University of Jewish Studies in Budapest

Following the fall of the iron curtain, the seminar was renovated, its valuable library reorganized and restored, but the institution has remained somewhat isolated, lacking serious connections to mainstream centers of Jewish scholarship.

Recently there has started public debate in Hungary regarding the self-definition of neology, a uniquely Hungarian phenomenon, that is mostly similar to the conservative denomination.

Mazsihisz, as owner and maintainer of the seminar has recently appointed Prof. Dr. Károly Vajda as dean of the seminar, the first ever non-rabbinic leader of the institution, who lately stirred some controversy by signing an agreement with the Potsdam University’s Jewish Theological Faculty, hoping that the cooperation will channel the seminar into mainstream Jewish scholarship.

Prof. dr. Károly Vajda, dean of the seminar

The move was considered by many a clear sign of the seminar’s wish to tie closer relations with the reform movement, as the German university’s faculty is a reform institution led by Prof. Walter Homolka.

UPDATE: We have previously wrote, that „The move surprised some of the leaders of even the neolog community, especially in the light of the fact, that the seminar’s newly appointed dean of the Faculty of Holy Scriptures and Talmud is now led by an evangelical pastor, Prof. Jutta Hausmann”, which is based on our information source. Officially though the dean of the Faculty is Zoltán Radnóti.