BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA) – A Hungarian official said his government is committed to safeguarding religious freedoms, including circumcision and kosher slaughter.
Ferenc Kumin, a government spokesman, delivered the assurances Monday at a news conference by Nir Natan, a representative of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association.
“In the past couple of years there has been a surge of legislation in Europe, mainly bans on circumcision and ritual, kosher slaughter,” Natan said, then asked if it could also happen in Hungary.
“You can quote me when I say that no, for sure not,” Kumin said. “It’s not on the agenda and if it’s put there, we will stop it.”
The meeting was part of the two-day biannual conference of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe this week in Budapest. Hundreds of Orthodox rabbis came to the Hungarian capital as the campaign for general elections on April 6 reached its apex.
“What we are interested in is to make the Jewish renaissance grow bigger and to show to the world that the Jewish community here enjoys nothing but freedom,” said Kumin, who represents the government of Viktor Orban, head of the conservative Fidesz party, which is expected to win with at least 36 percent of the vote.
Orban’s government rejects allegations by critics that it is trying to whitewash Hungary’s Holocaust-era culpability and is too lenient on expressions of anti-Semitism.
“The government has a zero tolerance policy on anti-Semitism,” Kumin said.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the rabbinical centre’s director general, credited the government with “doing a lot for the Jewish community, and not only ahead of elections.” He also lauded the government for its resolve to allow Jewish rituals “that help sustain the incredible vibrancy” of Hungary’s Jewish community.
Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia, in an address at the conference said those trying to ban circumcision are anti-Semites. Resisting them, he said, should be the event’s main message.
“I would even call them, sadly, anti-Semites. I think they dress it up in nice clothing, but sadly what they are trying to do is again take away Judaism from the Jews,” Lazar said. “In the Holocaust it was done by force, by killings. Today they are trying to do it with our souls.”
Margolin said the main topic on the conference’s agenda was preventing assimilation. A survey among 90 European rabbis from 60 communities suggested that 80 percent of European Jews do not visit synagogue on Yom Kippur. Brussels, where 20,000 Jews live, saw 30 Orthodox Jewish weddings, including weddings of Brussels Jews performed in Israel. Margolin said Reform weddings are rare in Brussels.