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Czech Republic and Slovakia

(For earlier history of these regions, see *Czechoslovakia.) Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993. Israel established formal diplomatic relations with both new countries.

Czech Republic

Jewish life in the Czech Republic continued the process of revival that began after the fall of Communism in 1989. As the only rabbi in the country, Prague Rabbi and Czech Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon, who took up his post in late 1992, was a major catalyst in this. About 3,000 Jews in the Czech Republic, including 1,300 in Prague, identified with the community in the early 21st century.

There were numerous classes, conferences, cultural and social events. An old age home was opened in Prague in late 1993, and a Jewish kindergarten opened in 1994. The ritual orientation of the community was strictly Orthodox. This alienated some people, particularly younger people, products of mixed marriages, who felt a Jewish identity but were not Jewish according to halakhah. A number of them gravitated to an alternative Havurah group, Bet Simcha, that functioned outside the mainstream of the official Jewish community and made a point of appealing to people who were not halakhically Jewish but wanted to take part in Jewish activities. In 1994 another "liberal" Jewish group, Bet Praha, was formed, mainly appealing to the hundreds of American, English, and Canadian Jews in the city. At the High Holidays in 1994, Reform services, conducted by a visiting rabbi, were held in Prague's High Synagogue.

A new segment of Czech Jewry were Jews from Carpatho-Russia, who in the years 1946–48 opted to settle in Bohemia and Moravia rather then remain citizens of the Soviet Ukraine. They chose to settle in the big cities, like Prague and Brno, and in the region formerly called "Sudeten," where the old German community was expelled to the German Federal and Democratic Republics. Remnants of Carpatho-Russia Jewry could also be found in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), Liberec, Usti nad Labem, and Teplice-Sanov. The Carpatho-Russian Jews comprised the pious element of Czech Jewry.

The former pious Moravian Jews were all but annihilated. Traditional Orthodox communities of the Silesia-Teschen region and the Orthodox of southern Moravia almost disappeared. The ancient synagogue and cemetery of Mikulov is a tourist attraction but does not represent Jewish communal life.

A large part of Prague's Orthodox Jews were also immigrants, newcomers from Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia. Therefore the recurring tension between Orthodox Jews and self-identified Jews sometimes also reflected the differences between the remnants of old-time Czech Jewry and the immigrants. Thus issues of faith, the generation gap, and intellectual differences upset the communal life of the Prague congregation. The center of Bohemian-Moravian communal life was nevertheless concentrated in Prague, which offered regular educational-intellectual and social activities and preserves a modicum of religious life.

The memory of Czech Jewry is preserved in the Pinkas synagogue, on whose walls the names of all Bohemain-Moravian Jews have been inscribed. The Jewish Museum of Prague, and naturally the Altneuschul and the adjacent ancient cemetery, preserve the memory of Czech Jewry. Memorials were erected in numerous towns and municipalities also care for surviving synagogues and cemeteries, but by and large it can be said that, except for Prague and Brno, intensive Jewish life, for all practical purposes, has ceased to exist in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic had very good relations with the State of Israel. Economic ties are close. Restitution of Jewish property remained an issue. A number of properties that had been owned by the Jewish community in 1938 were returned to the community. The most notable was the Prague Jewish Museum, including its priceless collection of Judaica and half-dozen synagogue and other buildings in which the collections were displayed, all of which was returned to the community in October 1994.

There was continuing concern at incidents involving right-wing and skinhead groups who primarily attacked gypsies but also shouted antisemitic slogans.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.