Neolog Rabbi Peter Petrovics: The path Mazsihisz offers to its rabbis is unacceptable 

A Neokohn főszerkesztője


As Neokohn reported, the relationship between the Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (Zsima), which seeks to represent the Hungarian Neolog trend, and Mazsihisz, is not exactly without its problems. While Tamás Róna was removed from Mazsihisz by its president, András Heisler, the rabbincal body of Mazsihisz is still headed by him. 

Now, Zsima has informed our paper that the Neolog rabbi Péter Petrovics has also left Mazsihisz and is now officially a member of Zsima. We asked Petrovics about the circumstances surrounding his departure from Mazsihisz. 

What led you to leave Mazsihisz?

Those who regularly monitor the fate of Hungarian Jewry, including Neolog Jewry, find it sad that the media reports almost daily about the juicy scandals associated with Mazsihisz, and yet the organization considers itself the only credible representative of Neolog Jews. Anyone worried about Judaism, including the Hungarian Neolog trend, can rightly ask the question: What does the future hold? How long can things go on like this? Let these fellow believers (and all like-minded people) know that there is hope, there is a future! 

You haven’t been in the spotlight much; what should we know about your work

I am Rabbi Péter Petrovits, one of the founding members of Zsima. In the past year since founding Zsima, I have had an active part in shaping the organization. Before, I served at Bzsh-Mazsihisz for almost 20 years, first as a cantor, as well as a deputy rabbi and then as a rabbi. The last 10 years, I have spent in Kaposvár. But in recent years, with fewer and fewer people in Kaposvar following the Jewish faith and religious life in Kaposvár thus ceasing, I have worked at the Jewish charity hospital, called „Szeretetkorház.”

Why did you now decide to leave? 

The main reason as to why I left Mazsihisz, a decision we mutually agreed upon, was that 

I have experienced an incompatibility between Jewish religious and moral laws and the values and worldview of the present secular leadership, and consequently their actions, which I was no longer willing to be a part of. 

I was not the only one who felt this way. I really wanted to carry out my profession, along with several of my rabbinical colleagues, authentically, in the spirit of tradition and according to the teachings of our masters, but as an employee of Mazsihisz, I constantly found myself facing obstacles. And the Jewish communities, especially the rural ones, were not receiving any meaningful support for the proper operation of religious life, so it is no wonder that religious life has withered away and there are no more believers. 

András Heisler has stated on several occasions that he does not consider Zsima legitimate. Did this contribute to your exit? 

The growing unpopularity of Mazsihisz is also due to the fact that it is not enough for them to neglect the faith, often going against its very statutes; they go further by disregarding the traditional rabbis and cantors who joined Zsima and,

in addition to intimidation and persecution, trying to oust them from the religious communities associated with Mazsihisz but that operate under the old system, or banning them from practicing their profession outside the synagogue. 

I am referring to, for example, the commemoration of Hungarian Jewish martyrs [ed. note: 400,000, some say more, Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis in WWII; memorials take place for these victims every year, usually at a cemetery or monument]. 

Can you give an example? 

I will give a sad example. I have been serving at martyr commemorations for many years and there are three cities where they expect and count on me every year. I could say they love me as one would a family member. This year, as usual, I received a loving invitation to all three places, but the Mazsihisz leadership, using the fact that I had left the organization as an excuse, said I could not hold the service. This decision, of course, is not in line with the statutes, which state that every community has the inalienable right to elect a rabbi, whether he is a member of Mazsihisz or not. 

To make matters worse, it is a matter of reverence, regarding our loved ones, our martyrs, whose memory no organization has the right to expropriate; nobody has the right to politicize a matter of reverence. Of course, if it is up to me, I will of course do my best to hold worthy Holocaust commemorations for the communities that ask me to, wherever they are. 

What can Zsima do for Hungarian Neology? 

I am convinced that a new door has opened with the formation of Zsima, a new beginning, a new future. Burning problems like the one above are being noticed by more and more people, backed by the fact that during our nearly one year of existence, 25 people involved in the Jewish faith, rabbis, deputy rabbis, and cantors, have joined Zsima. It has become clear to us that we can only live a life of faith, we can only build an authentic Jewry if we are not restricted by Mazsihisz, as was their practice.

For the time being, few names of those who have joined Zsima are known, which is understandable since András Heisler is conducting a witch hunt for them. Are more people expected to get in your way? 

It’s only a matter of time. For many of us, the motivation for choosing Zsima is first and foremost that we want to live our lives and pursue our faith based on a deep moral commitment; we want to live and make a living in the spirit of tradition. The path that Mazsihisz offers to its rabbis is unacceptable. 

It is not the secular leadership that needs to show religious direction, but religious leaders who need to show an authentic path based on religious tradition, all the more so because Mazsihisz is registered as a religious institution and receives support as such.

A religious institution must be based on religion, thus why the word „faith” (“hit”) is found in the word “community of faith” (“hitközség”). Zsima takes the future of Neolog Jewry in Hungary seriously, as evidenced by the fact that our organization consists mostly of people who follow the Jewish religion. Today, I think I can rightfully say that authentic Neolog Jewry is not represented by Mazsihisz, but by Zsima.

Joint statement of the five Jewish denominations in Hungary  – Neokohn

Government supports Neolog Zsima with HUF 51 million a year

The Deputy Prime Minister emphasized that while it seeks to support activities related to faith, the government does not interfere in the autonomy, internal affairs or interfaith relations of any religious institution.