Jewish-Christian dialogue in Hungary

The International Council of Christians and Jews noted with growing concern the reports about growing anti-Semitism in Hungary. It was therefore decided to visit our two Hungarian member organizations: the Christian-Jewish Society and the Hungarian Council of Christians and Jews. Dr. József Szécsi, General Secretary of the Society and Board Member of the Council, is very helpful in preparing the visit, which will take place most probably end of November. He wrote a report on the situation in Hungary, the history of both ICCJ members in the country and what they do trying to turn the tide. Excerpts from this report may be found below.

About the Hungarian inter-religious dialogue – 2012

We can really talk about inter-religious communication in Hungary since the establishment of the Christian-Jewish Society in January 1991. Our organization holds monthly meetings, lectures and conferences in Budapest, capital of Hungary, as well as in the countryside. We keep in touch with Hungarian communities abroad, by organizing events several times a year, once or twice a year abroad.

The foundation of our organization was initiated when the political regime in Hungary changed. At that time the government was negotiating only with the Catholic, Presbyterian and Lutheran Churches. Due to our influence the Jewish community could join these negotiations. We started to eliminate the theological anti-Judaism in Hungary.On the Jewish side we initiated good relations with the Hungarian Reform movement, but we have good contacts with all other Jewish religious and civil organizations. We have in our board not only representatives from major Hungarian churches but also there are leaders of less numerous protestant and Christian orthodox church. We do not take side in disagreements re. policies of the churches nor in political controversies. We do not issue declarations.

In the years since the start of our organization the leaders of the Hungarian churches have taken only slow and careful steps against the anti-Semitic incidents in our country. This changed fundamentally when the Hungarian Catholic Episcopate issued an encyclical letter against „neo-paganism”, requiring it should be read out in every church. The essence of this letter was to raise the attention for certain philosophies that doubted Jesus’ Jewish origin and propagate a Sumerian or Parthus, even Hungarian origin. There is political anti-Semitism in Hungary. It is difficult to judge the quantity of this anti-Semitism, compared to other Western and East-European countries such as Germany, Russia or the USA. This year there have been radical changes in the attitude of the Hungarian Christian churches (the episcopates of Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Lutheran Church) towards antisemitic incidents. For the first time in Hungarian history, at the initiative of the Christian-Jewish Society, there was a joined Christian-Jewish prayer in January this year, in which the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Adventist, Methodist and Christian Orthodox Churches participated. The prayer was led by Peter Cardinal Erdős and József Scweitzer, retired national rabbi.

A little later the Episcopates of the Catholic, the Presbyterian and the Lutheran Churches condemned an anti-Semitic parliamentary speech (a Jewish community accused of bloodshed, Blood Libel). Cardinal Peter Erdős gave a speech during a demonstration in Budapest saying that a Christian must not be an anti-Semite. The same Episcopate issued a declaration in which they rejected the government’s request to ring the bells in Christian churches commemorating of the Trianon peace treaty when Hungary was unjustly divided. Rabbi József Schweitzer was abused verbally by a man in the street, to which the Episcopate of Catholic, the Presbyterian and the Lutheran Church reacted immediately, condemning the act. As a summary: the Hungarian Churches are not idle, but react immediately and daily to the anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary.

There are two Christian-Jewish organization functioning in Hungary, one of them is the more than 20 years old Christian-Jewish Society, the other is the Hungarian Christian-Jewish Council founded in 1990. The latter one published two books, organized conferences for four years consecutively when Asztrik Várszegi, a Catholic bishop, was appointed as president. Last year Janos Szekely was appointed head of the Christian-Jewish Council.

At the meeting of the first semester this year it was decided that in January 2013 there will be a Christian-Jewish day, not only in one church, but also in other places around the country. The day of prayer will be preceded by a Christian-Jewish conference; the lectures of this conference will be published. A series of periodicals will be compiled in topics such as: Judaism in Christian religious education or a brief overview of the history of Judaism in Hungary.

Budapest, 2012-08-11

Dr. József Szécsi
General Secretary, Christian-Jewish Society
Board member Hungarian Christian-Jewish Council