Rabbi Köves: „There is a way out for those who want to leave their antisemitism behind

Shlomo Köves sat down for an interview with Partizán’s Márton Gulyás to discuss a variety of relevant topics today, including Rabbi Oberlander Báruch, the House of Fates project, and, of course, those Soros posters. Köves also spoke about the roles of women in Orthodox Judaism and erroneous stereotypes that still exist today about Orthodox Jews. 

The abbreviated version of the full Spotify interview was posted on YouTube; here below, we give an even-more abbreviated summary of the discussion in English. 

What does it mean to be a Jew? 

In response to Márton Gulyás‘s first question of „What does the word ‘Jew’ mean?”, Rabbi Shlomo Köves responded by revealing that this was one of the most defining questions of his career, saying:

„Jewry is basically a civilization built upon basic theological values. Jewry would not exist without Judaism.” 

Köves continued, stating that Judaism does not only stand at the core of Jewry but that Jewry would not have been able to persevere for the past millennia without their religion.  

Early life and Rabbi Oberlander

The rabbi first visited a synagogue at 11 years old, he told Gulyás, more specifically the Újpest Synagogue, where he attended Torah classes. This decision was motivated by his interest in the big questions of life: 

„God, humanity, consciousness, existence, religion.”

After one year at the Újpest Synagogue, he heard of a bar mitzvah camp in Israel. He tells us how, at the camp, he „became acquainted with multiple children who studied with Rabbi Oberlander, an Orthodox Rabbi from the US, who had recently arrived” in Hungary. He continued his studies with Rabbi Oberlander Báruch, his later mentor, for two years. At this point, Köves had already decided that he would study at a Talmud school in Israel. 

„Authenticity was the most defining” feature of Rabbi Oberlander, and how he respected how enthusiastic his attitude was, even though he was in a completely new and foreign land, where he didn’t fit in.

EMIH and women

“I believe it is clear how much we appreciate women and how important and strong we consider the values they represent. Multiple organizations of EMIH are led by women; EMIH’s monthly magazine, Egység (Unity), has a female head editor; a woman is the head of our elementary school; a woman is the head of our middle school; a woman leads our charity organization.”

„From a philosophical aspect, the values that we often attribute to a female character will become dominant when the Utopia arrives and the Messiah arrives, then man will revolve around woman.” 

Köves also dispels the myth of forced marriage in Judaism, emphasizing that „Judaism bans, and regards forced marriages as invalid.” Marriage intermediaries do exist; he was also introduced to his wife by one. And his wife was introduced to five or six other men before meeting Rabbi Köves and knowing he was the one. As to the rabbi, it took him all of two weeks to know he would marry her. 

But neither a woman nor a man is allowed to be forced into a relationship per the laws of Judaism. 

EMIH and the government

When asked about the relationship between EMIH and the government, Rabbi Köves says „If I wanted to summarize it quickly, then I would say I am happy that the outlook on the world, […] the model of Jewish and religious beliefs represented by us, have started to have an equal chance.”

House of Fates 

Regarding the House of Fates project, Köves said it will take „around one more year” to complete. He also denied there being any political motivation for the opening of the museum to take place right after elections next spring; they just need more time since there was a nearly complete change in the concept of the museum one and a half years ago. 

The reason a change was needed was due to the current perception of Jews and the Holocaust. He explained that „we can see that during the last 15–20 years in Hungary, people have been speaking more about the Holocaust, but the expected result is exactly the opposite. 

If we look at how the number of Holocaust deniers has changed, between 2006 and 2018 the number doubled. We must take these factors into account.”

The rabbi further explains that it is important that „a Jewish community gets an opportunity to tell its own history, an opportunity that has never been given. He emphasizes, 

„In many cases, in a state museum such as this, Jews are portrayed as victims, exclusively as victims. This does not always make people empathetic.”

The Soros posters

When asked to differentiate the poster advertising the film Der ewige Jude, which the interviewer called „one of the most shameful antisemitic propaganda films from 30s Germany,” and the anti-Soros posters, Rabbi Köves replied with his own question to the interviewer: „What do you find similar?”

After failing to get a real answer out of Gulyás, Shlomo Köves says that while the Soros poster „is very far from his style, and he doesn’t believe it is good,” he doesn’t consider it antisemitic; he then quoted a Median poll that found only „some 2 percent of the Hungarian population see a connection between Judaism and Soros.”

Csanád Szegedi

Rabbi Shlomo Köves is then asked if he doesn’t believe giving ex-antisemite Csanád Szegedi „a free pass” and forgiving him so quickly set a dangerous precedent. Köves answered that he „saw it in the exact opposite way” and also clarified that „we didn’t give him a free pass, we gave him a chance to be better.” 

The rabbi then asks the interviewer: 

„If I don’t give a person like this a chance, then how can I expect other people who have lived an unacceptable, sinful life to change their opinions?” He says this precedent shows similar individuals that „there is a way out if they want to leave their antisemitism behind.” 

He also differentiates the cases of Szegedi and Gyöngyösi Márton, acting executive vice-president of the far-right (supposedly now “mainstream”) Jobbik party who has expressed regret for his previous acts of antisemitism, including requesting a list of all Jews in parliament. Köves says: „Gyöngyösi Márton has never called me, not knowing what I may say, and say, Rabbi, here I am, I have made mistakes, I want to ask for forgiveness and for you to tell me what I should do to make this right, even if I can never completely do so. These are the two things that Csanád said to me the first time we met.”

Shlomo Köves: „Without marriage, family life, sexuality, raising children, and love, I would not be who I am today” 

The Férfiak Klubja (Men’s Club) talked to Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Köves, the founding leader of EMIH, the Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities, and rabbi of the Óbuda Synagogue, about marriage, family, lessons learned and life.