Shlomo Köves: Mazsihisz does not take the rules of Judaism seriously 

According to EMIH’s head rabbi, it is absurd to examine whether the Jewish religious court has jurisdiction – writes following an interview with Rabbi Shlomo Köves on the recent Beth Din ruling regarding proper distribution of the Hungarian state annuity to Jewish communities. 

The civil section of the Jerusalem Supreme Rabbinate Court recently ruled in a lawsuit filed by the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community Hungary (MAOIH) and the Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities (EMIH) concerning the redistribution of the state perpetual annuity to Hungarian Jewish denominations. 

The Beth Din (religious court of Judaism in Israel and the Diaspora) ruled that property and other assets taken from Jewish communities during World War II or during communist rule should be returned to the original religious community or their successors; the same applies to “goods” for compensation. In determining the proportions to be distributed, the activity of each community and the number of those who benefit from the beneficial effects of said community’s faith and complementary activities should be taken into account. If the distribution has not previously been based on the above criteria, it is correct to apply positive discrimination to remedy the already established disproportions, so that “past misallocation is compensated toward all concerned,” read the MAOIH communication. 

Journalist and radio personality János Fiala and Shlomo Köves, head rabbi of EMIH, discussed the matter on the show Keljfeljancsi (“Get UpJancsi”). During the show, Köves explained how the Beth Din religious court works. All three organizations concerned should have been represented before the judges, but Mazsihisz did not show. The rabbi assessed that “according to Jewish religious law, one who rejects judgment under Torah law questions the tradition of Moses itself.” 

According to Köves, the organizations first tried to reach an out-of-court agreement on the distribution of the annuity, but this failed. The rabbi said the religious court operates in a similar way to a civil court, although it cannot enforce its decision. 

“The court decides on the basis of the claims filed, as would happen during a civil lawsuit. They request the documents, set a date for the hearing, and if the parties show up, the court hears all pages submitted; if there is still any question, the court sets additional dates and then makes a decision. What is special about a religious court is that if one side does not appear, the court can issue a decision in principle, which is different from a civil case, as the religious court has had no executive power for 2,000 years,” the rabbi explained. He added, however, that a Jewish religious organization must settle disputes first and foremost before a religious court. 

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The other two Jewish organizations in Hungary (EMIH and MAOIH) were represented by a lawyer who was both a civil lawyer and a specialist in religious courts. He stressed the decision has a written version, which will also be received by all concerned. “It was written in this that the party that did not show up in fact still listed itself among the Jewish religious communities,” Köves added. 

In its ruling, the rabbinical court upheld its earlier interim order. Accordingly, it calls on the Hungarian government to suspend the payment of the funds until new criteria for distribution, based on legal criteria and fair distribution, are somehow established — something the Hungarian government has promised to do. According to the information of Zoltán Fürjes, Deputy Secretary of State for Ecclesiastical and Ethnic Relations, the Hungarian government intends to take into account Beth Din’s legal position in principle. 

Shlomo Köves added that in the distribution, there should be mutual respect between the parties, and it would have been worthwhile to sit down at a table to negotiate. He further said that Mazsihisz did not accept the decision of Beth Din in Jerusalem, which could have consequences if the Hungarian state also takes the decision seriously. 

According to the EMIH senior rabbi, it is absurd for anyone to investigate whether Beth Din has jurisdiction. “The question is not whether this court has jurisdiction — it is primarily a moral and religious issue, as well as a historical question, whether there is an organization that has received 30 billion forints from the Hungarian state as compensation for a perpetual annuity in the last 20 years. In addition, there are two other Jewish communities that did not receive five percent of this. The question arises as to what was done with this amount,” says Shlomo. According to him, there is also a question as to whether it is legitimate that so much money has gone to an organization that is registered as a Jewish religious institution, while, in the meantime, Mazsihisz does not take the rules of its own faith seriously. 

The Chief Rabbi stressed that “there is an unfair situation, and therein lies a matter of good faith, not legitimacy.” He added that he hopes that there will be truth at the end of the story: “I trust in God, not earthly legislators.” 

It was also mentioned during the conversation that the court ruled that the president of Mazsihisz, András Heisler, who Köves had previously described as a “textile entrepreneur uncertain about the existence of God,” was not an atheist. Nevertheless, Köves thinks it is absurd that the head of Mazsihisz is a secular man who bankrupted an inherited textile business and added that he maintains his position that Heisler is not interested in religion and yet leads a Jewish denomination. „I don’t care about boxing, so I’m not going to head up a boxing association,” the rabbi stated, emphasizing his dismay at Heisler’s position.

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