Viktor Orbán’s favorite Jews: Slomó Köves and his tiny Chabad congregation

It often happens that topics that catch my imagination at first seem simple and straightforward, capable of being adequately covered in a blog post. But then the unpleasant recognition comes that the subject is actually hellishly complicated and cannot be dealt with in its initially conceived form. This is what happened today when I decided to write about the political endorsement of István Hollik, the Christian Democratic People’s Party’s candidate in District #5 in downtown Pest by, of all people, Rabbi Slomó Köves, the founder of the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH).

On the surface the story is uncomplicated. István Vágó, the popular television “quizmaster” of the Hungarian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” turned politician, discovered a Hollik campaign flyer with the following endorsement: “Jewish cultural and religious life in downtown Budapest has been revived. For the continuation of this renewal and for the preservation of the Jewish communities’ peaceful life and security we need help. In the person of István Hollik I see a guarantee of all the necessary assistance for our cultural and religious attainment” — Slomó Köves, leader of the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation. Vágó without any comment posted the flyer on his Facebook page. The comments that followed were uniformly negative.

Viktor Orbán’s “favored” Jewish group is Köves’s congregation, which is allied with the Chabad movement. Many people suspect that he uses it against Mazsihisz, the mainstream umbrella organization of Jewish communities. Köves’s group has been the recipient of considerable amounts of money, grants and loans, although it is hard to tell just how much money it has received from the Orbán government because EMIH refuses to reveal its secrets. Only recently Átlátszó, a group of investigative journalists, tried to force Köves to give account of the public money his organization has received in the last seven years, but after six months of “hiding, delaying, and prevarication,” which included going to court, the congregation announced that it would supply the information, but it would cost Átlátszó 2,346,960 forints.

Last summer I wrote a post about a joint business venture of the Orbán government and EMIH, a kosher slaughterhouse that specializes in slaughtering geese. At the opening, Agriculture Minister Sándor Fazekas said that making food from water birds is a centuries-old tradition in Hungary, and therefore it is a “Hungaricum” which deserves financial support. EMIH received a 1.75 billion forint loan for construction, and the government will cover 15% of the cost of the planned enlargement of the slaughterhouse.

Mainstream Jewish groups and secular Jews are not the Orbán government’s favorites because they are not supporters of the regime. This small group of fundamentalists, however, is quite ready to cut deals with the powers that be. For instance, Köves supported the government when he declared that the anti-Soros campaign had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest last July, Köves was invited to meet the Israeli prime minister and his wife, while the leader of Mazsihisz wasn’t.

More recently the Orbán government sold the Zsigmond Király Főiskola (King Sigismund College) to EMIH, which Köves and Co. renamed Milton Friedman University. The Magyar Fejlesztési Bank (Hungarian Development Bank) provided a 1.1 billion forint loan for the purchase. Highlighting the close relationship between the Orbán government and EMIH, the Milton Friedman University is starting a course for future managers of sports facilities, including football stadiums. The sponsors are Defense Minister István Simicskó, Tünde Szabó, undersecretary in charge of sports, and Balázs Fürjes, the man who was in charge of the World Aquatic Championships held in Budapest last summer.

A Szombat editorial in eloquent philosophical terms pointed out the differences between EMIH and Mazsihisz’s affiliated congregations. “They represent two different worlds. Mazsihisz has its roots in the Hungarian Jewish past; its legitimacy comes from the saintly forefathers whose memories are guarded by today’s descendants…. Chabad is looking toward a messianic future.The relics of the past and the political actors of the present are merely instruments in the struggle for the desired Advent.”

However noble all this may sound, opponents of Slomó Köves’s close association with the Orbán government don’t appreciate Chabad’s yearning for the coming of the Messiah. What they see is an overly friendly relation with a regime that tries to whitewash the Horthy regime, which was complicit in the death of over 400,000 Jewish Hungarians. They don’t appreciate Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz-KDNP officials, including Hollik, praising Miklós Horthy as an “outstanding statesman,” and they are not convinced that Köves didn’t know that his statement was solicited for the sole purpose of the election campaign. They are not moved by Köves’s insistence that he would be glad to give the same endorsement to all those running for office, regardless of party affiliation. Föld S. Péter (actually Péter Földes) wrote a funny piece on the subject. “The democratic parties will most likely not rush to get endorsements from Rabbi Köves, although it would be decidedly amusing to read, right next to Rabbi Köves’s photo, the following in the leaflets of all opposition parties: ‘I see a guarantee of the assistance to Jewish religious and cultural life only in MSZP, DK, LMP, Együtt, Párbeszéd—the correct one should be underlined.’”

This Hollik-Köves encounter brought back old memories about Hollik, who has become in the last year perhaps the most vocal apologist of the Orbán government. He was one of those who emphatically denied any sign of anti-Semitism in Hungary in the midst of the anti-Soros campaign, which pretty much coincided with Netanyahu’s visit. Ildikó Lendvai, former MSZP chairman, wrote an amusing little article titled “István Hollik, the walking Jewish list.” Hungary was safe for Jews, Hollik maintained. He himself saw three weeks earlier, while driving, “two Jewish children, a boy and a girl, happily out for a stroll.” You can imagine what fun Lendvai had with this sentence.

Péter Juhász, who is hoping to run against Hollik in the district, wrote a letter to the rabbi, which includes the following: “In case on April 8 I get elected parliamentary representative of downtown Budapest, one of my first duties will be the removal of the shameful memorial erected [on Viktor Orbán’s insistence] on Freedom Square. It is regarding this matter that I would like to have a conversation with you as a rabbi, representing a section of the Jewish community. I would like to ask your support for the memorial’s dismantling. Please indicate a time when we can meet on Freedom Square.”

During several interviews Köves repeatedly stated that he would support the removal of the memorial dedicated to the victims of the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. He also promised to speak to Hollik and tell him that he disagrees with him about the statesmanship of Admiral Horthy. He was warned by his opponents that he then might as well talk to Viktor Orbán himself.

Here we see a clash of opposing worldviews. Chabad-affiliated EMIH doesn’t care about the source of its money as long as that money goes to a cause that it considers  essential to its mission. The majority of Hungarian Jews, however, look upon the Chabad movement as something totally alien to Hungarian Jewish tradition, and they regard its close connection with the Orbán government, whose views on the Hungarian Holocaust are ambivalent at best, with growing apprehension.

February 8, 2018
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tappanch
Guest

“Tiny Chabad congregation” – tiny like the entire Jewish community in Hungary, but growing and dynamic.

Chabad is like a popeless Catholic church (Menachem Mendel Schneerson died in 1994): it emphasizes financial and organizational success for long-term survival.

Therefore it follows, worldwide, the New Testament advice to cozy up to governments:
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”
(Mark 12:17)

Jean P
Guest

Chabad … emphasizes financial and organizational success for long-term survival.

Sounds like a Jewish version of “Prosperity Theology”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology

wrfree
Guest
In looking at Chabad and the fundamentalists it stands to reason that they regrettably represent the symptoms of a wayward regime where they act as religious tools political ends. Autonomy is almost out of the question. And there is worse when we view the problem. From ‘The Holocaust Chronicle A History In Words And Pictures 2009 The writer Herbert Luethy in an essay in 1954, ‘Der Fuehrer’, dismissed the notion that Hitler was an ‘unstoppable force of nature’ and ‘elemental’ where he was both human and more than human. In his estimation he was neither but rather a part a a few ‘small men with few convictions who ‘ fell upon Europe not out of the steppes (like Attila) but from the Viennese gutter’. The historian Irving Kristol also noted those ‘small men’ as ‘petty and colorless and superficial …without dignity, fanaticism, obsessive hate or the stature that large scale wickedness often bestows. In comparison with John Dillinger, Herman Goering looked like an indignant pickpocket’. Eavesdroppers on current goings on in the country at this point cannot say the regime completely mimics the times of German Lebensraum in the 20th. But if one peeks underneath there is a trove of… Read more »
Observer
Guest

The unprincipled focus on “financial and organizational success” by sucking up to a dictator doesn’t ensure long term survival. Regimes come and go, the people remain and their next actions will be influenced by the established image. And by simplistic implication this may be towards all Jews. History offers countless examples.

Farkas
Guest

Sure, Chabad/EMIH is growing: over the past 29 years, it has grown from two persons (the Chabad missionary Oberlander and his wife) to around 200 adherents today, but whether this could be called a dynamic growth is somewhat of a moot point.

I think that Chabad/EMIH would have to get up very early in the morning to make even the slightest dent in the utter indifference and profound secularism of the vast majority of Hungarians of Jewish decent – try as they may.

As we would say here in Australia, the whole Chabad project in Hungary is a w*nk, and they are well and truly pi**ing in the wind in the good ol’ Carpathian Basin.

Sorry for the vulgarity, but I think it is more than apt in this instance.

:-)))

tappanch
Guest

Latest official data: tax year 2016, as of 2017.12.01

Out of 4+ million tax payers, less than a quarter (1046549) people gave 1% of their personal income tax
to one of the 31 churches or religious denominations recognized by the Orban regime.

Catholic Church: 54.85%
Calvinist Church: 21.33%
Lutheran Church: 5.90%

Hare Krishna: 4.19%
Faith (“Hit”) Church: 3.19%
5 Buddhist Denominations:3.06%
Baptist Church: 2.55%

The three recognized Jewish denominations received voluntary support from 10829 taxpayers (1.035%).
(Reform Judaism is not recognized as supportable from this 1%)

MaZsiHiSz (Neolog): 8025 (74.11%)
EMIH (Chabad): 2571 (23.74%)
Orthodox: 233 (2.15%)

tappanch
Guest

2010:
The last tax year before the Reform Jewish congregations (like many other religious denominations) were repressed financially by the Orban government.

2 Reform congregations: 5.54%
Neolog: 76.49%
Chabad: 14.27%
Orthodox: 3.69%

tappanch
Guest

Chabad/Neolog ratio:
tax year:

2004: 11.65%
2005: 11.90%
2006: 16.65%
2007: 18.12%
2008: 18.42%
2009: 19.71%
2010: 18.31%

2011: 21.02% (Reform Judaism is no longer entitled to this 1%)
2012: 22.87%
2013: 20.89%
2014: 25.92%
2015: 38.40%
2016: 32.04%

Farkas
Guest
Very well put, Éva, short and to the point. Mazsihisz (The Federation of Jewish Congregations in Hungary) is the umbrella organisation of the three time-honoured Jewish “denominations” in Hungary – Hungarian Neolog, Hungarian Orthodox and Hungarian Status Quo Ante – whose roots go back to the period immediate after the emancipation of Jews in Hungary in 1867. The Neolog and the Status Quo Ante are not recognised as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel – the sole arbiter in Israeli law of who is a Jew and who is not – similar to the non-recognition as Jewish, by the Chief Rabbinate, of the American Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements either. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is of course firmly in the grip of ultra-orthodox fundamentalists, for political reasons that go back to 1949, when Ben Gurion made a dreadful deal with the ultra-orthodox, which secular Israeli Jews have been bitterly rue-ing ever since. Chabad is a Jewish missionary cult based in the USA, and EMIH (United Hungarian Israelite Congregation) is its Hungarian subsidiary. Its origins were in eighteenth century Russia and it never had any presence whatsoever in Hungary until it suddenly appeared there around the time of the… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Although I do not like rabbi Köves’s spiritual prostitution, but Chabad is not “ultra-orthodox”.

Most “ultra-orthodox” sects regard other Jews as not even Jewish, but Chabad is open to secular Jews.

I would characterize contemporary Chabad as business-oriented modern orthodox with Chassidic roots, but with the slogan “the brain rules the heart” (more emphasis on learning than on songs and esotericism)

Farkas
Guest
It depends on your definition of ultra-orthodoxy. In my books Chassidism is by definition just as ultra-orthodox as its opponents in the ultra-orthodox ranks, the Agudist so-called mitnagdim. And unfortunately you are quite mistaken in describing Chabad as “being open to secular Jews” and “business-oriented modern orthodox with Chassidic roots.” Chassidism is not at the roots of Chabad, but its very essence; so let’s not confuse appearances with reality or form with substance. They are not at all “open” to secular Jews; their objective is to CONVERT secular Jews to the Chabad version of ultra-orthodox Judaism, and in pursuit of this objective they of course put on a warmly welcoming front to whichever secular Jew that might show the slightest interest in becoming religious. Exactly like the Scientologists; in fact, this is a very typical bait and switch tactic that many other American religious cults commonly use in their respective membership drives. Apart from their membership/conversion drive, the main difference between Chabad and other ultra-orthodox sects is Chabad’s propaganda, promotional and marketing efforts to burnish their image in the non-Jewish world in the interests of the pursuit of their strategic objectives, whereas other ultra-orthodox sects seek to absolutely isolate themselves… Read more »
Melanie Zuben
Guest

In a not too distant past, I remember reading about Slomo Koves, organising a Jewish Festival of some kind and invited the people of Budapest to experience Jewish Culture/food, etc. I was so happy to see that!
He was adamant to build bridges, to educate people to put a stop to the ever growing hostility between some Jews and Christians. Name calling (Anti-Semitism and anti- Hungarianism) is slowly becoming a norm (at least in the media) and is used as a political tool in today’s Hungary.
This pains me immensely.
Slomo Koves has God on his side and I want to wish him and his congregation all the very best in a hope that he will (with the help of theCatholic Church) succeed in bringing back some kind of normality into the lives of the Hungarian people.

Guest

God on his side
Are you sure? Which god?

Member

I, myself, always get that warm, peace-and-kindness feeling when I see refugees living in storage containers without modern sanitation or healthcare. Or Gypsies forced to work below minimum wage. Or racist hate campaigns against Africans, Middle Easterners and octogenarian Jews.
I thank God for sending us His servant, Slomo Koves, to give aid and comfort to the people who impose these policies. That old guy upstairs can be a real kidder.

Ivan
Guest

😜!!

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Wolfi,
The one that brings you peace and kindness.

Farkas
Guest

Good luck with that in Hungary, Melanie.

And in any case, the mission of Chabad/EMIH in Hungary is not peace and kindness, but to convert as many secular and non-orthodox Jews as possible, to their mystical Jewish missionary cult.

And if, in order to facilitate that objective, they consider that they need to pretend to peace and kindness, they will most certainly do so, and they will also go to bed with any antisemitic politician too, as long as they consider that this would serve their objectives.

In a word, they are completely unprincipled in the pursuit of their objectives, exactly the opposite of what you seem to think about them, rather naively, if I may say so.

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Farkas,
If the “mystical Jewish missionary cult” is working towards peace and harmony by building bridges between the “us and them” group, then what can I say? God bless them!

Guest

Which god? There are so many to choose from …

Farkas
Guest

Melanie, sorry but you are deeply mistaken. I am completely with you in your desire to see bridge building between Hungarian Jews and non-Jews. But Chabad/EMIH is not about “building bridges between “us and them”.”

It simply tries its best to get in bed with whoever is in political power and uses American-style PR to burnish its public image, and it does both these things very effectively indeed, in order to embed itself in Hungary as deeply as is possible for an ultra-orthodox Jewish religious cult that had no history in Hungary prior to 1989. Which is perfectly OK as far as it goes, but does not make the slightest dent in Hungarian antisemitism or Hungarian Jews resenting Hungarian antisemitism.

The primary strategic objective of Chabad/EMIH in Hungary is indeed to build bridges, though not between Jews and non-Jews, but between Chabad and non-orthodox religious Jews and secular Jews, in order to convert them to Chabad’s ultra-orthodoxy. So where is the bridge building between Jews and non-Jews in Hungary that you seem to have noticed in their activities?

Melanie Zuben
Guest

Farkas,
Please read my first post re: rabbi Koves. Politics aside, at least he tries to fulfill his mission as a spiritual leader.

Guest

Politics.hu just retweeted from Benjamin Novak that the big O told Hungarian industrialists that Hungary must protect its ethnic homogeneity.:
We want to be as we were 1100 ago here in the Carpathian Basin.
Really? 🙂

My wife and I almost fell from our chairs …
Who made him say this? Doesn’t he use his brain at all before opening his mouth?

Member

The link: https://budapestbeacon.com/orban-uses-conference-mayors-vow-protect-hungarys-ethnic-group/
Fidesz may now as well be rechristened the Magyar Ku Klux Klan with Fat Viktor (the physique of whom is not a prime example of The Master Race it has got to be said) as its Chief Wizard. He is nothing but a piece of racist filth- shame on his voters, shame on the EU for continuing to fund this scumbag.

wrfree
Guest

I was intrigued with reading and coming across ‘egyszinuseg’. A followup in translation came to ‘monchromicity’ which makes sense. But the second synonym was interesting as it was ‘procrypsis’. Giving this ….

‘a pattern or shade of coloring in insects that is adapted to concealing the insects from their natural enemies : protective coloration in insects.

As if being like ‘white on rice’ can protect them from the other ‘insects’ apparently wanting to eat them alive. A little bit of entymological learning for the day in the classroom.

Ferenc
Guest

from “Poland in the Early Middle Ages” (wiki):
The Magyars were at first yet another wave of nomadic invaders. Of the Uralic languages family, coming from northwestern Siberia, they migrated south and west, occupying the Pannonian Basin from the end of the 9th century. From there, until the second half of the 10th century, when they were forced to settle, they raided and pillaged vast areas of Europe, including Poland.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland_in_the_Early_Middle_Ages

Istvan
Guest
There are also several genetic studies on this issue. A. Z. Bíró, A. Zalán, A. Völgyi, and H. Pamjav. “A Y-chromosomal comparison of the Madjars (Kazakhstan) and the Magyars (Hungary).” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139:3 (July 2009): pages 305-310. B. Csányi, E. Bogácsi-Szabó, Gy. Tömöry, Á. Czibula, K. Priskin, A. Csősz, B. Mende, P. Langó, K. Csete, A. Zsolnai, E. K. Conant, C. S. Downes, and I. Raskó. “Y-Chromosome Analysis of Ancient Hungarian and Two Modern Hungarian-Speaking Populations from the Carpathian Basin.” Annals of Human Genetics 72:4 (July 2008): pages 519-534. A. Völgyi, A. Zalán, E. Szvetnik, and H. Pamjav. “Hungarian population data for 11 Y-STR and 49 Y-SNP markers.” Forensic Science International: Genetics 3:2 (March 2009): pages e27-e28. E. Nadasi, P. Gyurus, M. Czakó, J. Bene, S. Kosztolányi, S. Fazekas, P. Dömösi, and B. Melegh. “Comparison of mtdna haplogroups in Hungarians with four other European populations: a small incidence of descents with Asian origin.” Acta Biologica Hungarica 58:2 (June 2007): pages 245-256. I have a data base of even more genetic studies on the limited number of pure Magyars there likely were 1,100 years ago and that genetically we are today largel very similar to other Slavic people.… Read more »
Farkas
Guest
@István February 9, 2018 6:55 am Language is quite obviously the sole marker of nationality in Eastern Europe, rather than ethnicity or race, and the only two European groups that are excluded from this general rule are the Jews and the Gypsies. Nationalists, however, deliberately pervert the language issue into an ethnic or racial issue. The fact of the matter in Hungary is that significant portions of the direct descendants of the original Uralic/Turkic Hungarians that entered the Carpathian Basin with the seven tribes under Árpád got totally wiped out during the Mongolian invasion and the Turkish occupation, and over the centuries the remainder totally merged with Slavic, Germanic, Illyric (Romanian) and Turkic, as well as other elements, including Jews and Gypsies. There are basically no “pure bred” Hungarians today who could trace their lineage to the seven tribes, and the ancestry of all contemporary Hungarians is a mix mostly of Slavic, Germanic, Romanian and Turkic elements, as well as other elements in smaller percentages. Any claim that contemporary non-Jewish and non-Gypsy Hungarians would be “pure bred” descendants of the original seven tribes (or even any kind of descendants of the seven tribes) is no more than mere self-serving nonsense… Read more »