Hungarian government grants Orthodox Jews formal recognition

The award marks the first time such standing has been given to an Orthodox community since the Holocaust

Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and Rabbi Shlomo Koves, head of the EMIH sign a special agreement, November 18, 2019 (photo credit: MTI)
Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and Rabbi Shlomo Koves, head of the EMIH sign a special agreement, November 18, 2019
(photo credit: MTI)
The Hungarian government gave formal standing on Monday to the Orthodox Jewish community in Hungary as an officially recognized religious denomination. This is the first time an Orthodox community has enjoyed such recognition since the Holocaust.
Until now only the Neolog community, a non-Orthodox denomination associated with the Conservative movement, has had such recognition in the post World War Two era, but the growing Orthodox community and its good relations with the Hungarian government led towards its new recognition.
The EMIH - Association of United Hungarian Jewish Congregations which has now been recognized - is led by Chabad rabbis, but includes within its various institutions a diverse cross-section of Hungarian Jews.
On Monday, a special agreement was signed by Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén and Rabbi Shlomo Koves, head of the EMIH, who now becomes an official representative of the Hungarian Jewish community.
The agreement was signed in the presence of the head of the Orthodox Rabbinate of Budapest, Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau, and the Director of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe Rabbi Arie Goldberg.
According to Kovesh there are some ten thousand to twenty thousand Jews in Hungary who are actively involved in the community, although estimates as to the total number of Jews in the country reach up to 100,000.
Kovesh told The Jerusalem Post that some 6,000-7,000 Jews in Hungary associate with EMIH, although other estimates are much lower, and said that the community was growing and active, with weddings, Brit Milah circumcision ceremonies and educational and social welfare activities.
“The fact that the Hungarian government puts such an emphasis on recognizing all streams of Jewish affiliation, and goes out of its way to rebuild Jewish life in Hungary, tells a lot about how important the topic of its relationship to the Jewish community and relations with Israel is to the Hungarian government today,” said Kovesh. 
“Hungary has one of most positive governments in Europe to Israel and is proudly one of the safest places for Jews in Europe today,” he added.
Kovesh said that the new legal status would mean that EMIH and its various institutions can now benefit from government funds.
The rabbi said that EMIH schools would now benefit from such funding, as well as the Milton Friedman University it has established.
Additionally, the new status will help with the establishment of a new kindergarten in Budapest, new Jewish centers in the capital, and with the establishment and funding of Jewish centers which EMIH plans to open in the cities with the highest Jewish population outside of Budapest, Miskolc and Debrecen.
Historically, the Neolog, Satmar hassidic community, and general Orthodox community all had recognition from the state, beginning in the 19th century.
After the Holocaust and the Communist take over, only the Neolog community had formal recognition and was considered an umbrella body for all Hungarian Jews in the country who survived the Holocaust and did not emigrate afterwards.
Communal tensions have surfaced between the EMIH and the Neolog community over certain issues, including a controversial Holocaust museum, with the latter more wary of the current government that has undercut freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary in the country. 
In September last year, the EU sanctioned Hungary for breaching EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption.