European rabbis rally to increase the fight for religious freedom

RCE director: We must wake the EU from its dangerous slumber.

SOME 300 participants from 27 countries take part in the Rabbinical Center of Europe conference in Bucharest that ran from  Monday to Wednesday. (photo credit: ITZIK BELENITZKI)
SOME 300 participants from 27 countries take part in the Rabbinical Center of Europe conference in Bucharest that ran from Monday to Wednesday.
(photo credit: ITZIK BELENITZKI)
BUCHAREST – A prominent European rabbi urged 300 participants of a rabbinical conference in Bucharest to step up efforts to “wake the EU from its dangerous slumber.”
Rabbinical Center of Europe director Rabbi Menachem Margolin addressed members of the organization during a three-day conference held from Monday to Wednesday in Bucharest.
“You are the answer – if not for the rabbis of Europe, there is no future for European Jewry,” he said on Tuesday, addressing rabbis and foreign diplomats who attended a dinner event to celebrate 18 years since the founding of the Rabbinical Center of Europe.
The conference was attended by Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau. The conference was attended by rabbis from 27 countries, of various Orthodox branches with a majority affiliated with Chabad.
Much of the discussion focused on how rabbis across the continent can bring their communities closer to the Torah. Punctuating this, Yosef told the conference that “only through Torah learning can Jewish communities be sustained around the world.”
But Margolin also highlighted additional kinds of activity necessary to fight for basic religious freedoms in Europe.
“Never before have I heard so many concerned voices from my fellow Rabbis at the situation affecting Jewry in Europe,” he said.
“Instead of spending our time talking about the enriching and continuing development of Jewish life in Europe, we find ourselves instead of talking about existential threats in the form of legislation from many countries that, if implemented, mark the beginning of the end of Jewish life there. I’m talking about laws that ban kosher food, kosher slaughter, circumcision, the way we choose to dress, you name it and it seems it’s fair game from some politicians scraping the very bottom of the populist barrel.”
Margolin is active in trying to thwart attempts to ban religious slaughter and brit mila in various European countries, most recently calling on the Polish government not to legislate a ban on kosher slaughter, after hearing about a proposal for a bill to restrict the export of kosher meat from the country.
“Enough is enough. The conference is resolute. We must wake the EU from its dangerous slumber. We will begin a large and effective outreach drive from across our membership to EU leaders,” he continued.
“Our message is a simple one: You say you believe and enshrine freedom of religion. You say it’s an intrinsic part of EU membership. Prove it! Every week, we are taking legal cases against member states to defend our way of life from needless and discriminatory legislation. Words are not enough. We need concrete action from the EU leadership, to make it clear that such legislation is out of step with European values of tolerance and respect. And that breaching these values carries with it penalties.”
Lau, a survivor of the Buchenwald extermination camp, told the rabbis that their work in reviving European Jewry was the greatest revenge on the Nazis, who tried to destroy Judaism in Europe. He noted that before the Holocaust, Romania was “the cradle of Hassidic Judaism.”
“Even today, the manifestations of antisemitism in Europe are growing. They are trying to stifle the voice of Judaism in various ways,” he said, asserting that the activities of the rabbis in the Diaspora were the best response to antisemitic lawmakers.
Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands Binyomin Jacobs, told The Jerusalem Post that antisemitism is getting worse in his country, and warned that history could repeat itself. Noting the high percentage of Dutch Jews killed during the Holocaust, he says that many Dutch people were “cold” and indifferent to the fate of their Jewish countrymen. “That could happen again,” he said.
The famous story of Anne Frank, he said, is deceptive in leading people to believe that most of the Dutch tried to help the country’s Jews.
Jacob’s own house is surrounded by police cameras after having been attacked by stone-throwers. He is also accompanied by security personnel.
Today, he said, it is normal for the expression “Dirty Jew” to be heard in the street.
He partly attributes the increase in antisemitic sentiment to the influx of refugees to Europe from countries where they were raised on antisemitism. Education, he said, is missing and vital to counter this.
The writer was a guest of the Rabbinical Center of Europe.