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Reform Judaism: Neology

NEOLOGY (Neologism), unofficial name of the communities in Hungary belonging to the *Reform movement. On the basis of the decisions of the General Jewish Congress (1868–69; see *Hungary ), they constituted the majority and therefore called themselves the Congressionals. Reform tendencies had already appeared in the community organizations of Hungary from the beginning of the 19th century. Some were expressed in programs like that of Rabbi A.L. Rappoch (from the town of Veszprem, 1826) which called for centralization and supervision in the choice of rabbis, teachers, and communal officials. At about the same time Aaron *Chorin urged the convention of a synod of rabbis and laymen. From 1850 the Austrian government sought to assure the supervision of Jewish schools in Hungary. At that time a commission was set up to draft a constitution of 285 articles encompassing every aspect of Jewish communal life. One of the demands was for the establishment of a rabbinical seminary, which became one of the main questions of reform that led to the disputes between the communities of *Nagykanizsa , *Papa , Győngyős, and others.

The organizational activities of the advocates of Reform aroused the energetic but disunited opposition of *Orthodoxy , expressed particularly in the decisions of the *Michalovce Orthodox convention (1865). After the attainment of full civil rights (1867), the leaders of Pest, the most powerful Neologist community, took the initiative of preparing a memorandum on the organization of Hungarian Jewry which they submitted to the Minister of Public Instruction and Religious Affairs, Baron J. *Eőtvős . They suggested that a convention of the delegates of Hungarian Jewry be held without the participation of the rabbis, in order to prevent a debate on theological questions and because the latter were liable to intervene beyond the scope of their function. This approach, which aroused the objections not only of the Orthodox but also of the Neologist Leopold *Loew , became one of the fundamental platforms in the organization of Neologist communities. Differences of opinion were already apparent at the congress's preliminary meeting, to which Orthodox delegates were not invited. In their discussions with Eőtvős, the Orthodox requested permission to convene a separate congress, but Eőtvős rejected any move which was liable to imply that there were two sects within Judaism. Subsequently, however, it was decided that rabbis would also be invited to the congress. The elections, which were held after extensive propaganda and not always by valid processes, assured a Neologist majority with 57.5% of the vote (the Orthodox gained 42.5%). At the end of 1868 Minister Eőtvős opened the congress, whose principal theme was the organizational structure of the communities. Violent disputes broke out at once over the determination of the objectives of debates. While the Neologists tried to define the community as "a society providing for religious needs," the Orthodox insisted on the declaration that "the Jewish community of Hungary and Transylvania consists of the followers of the Mosaic-rabbinic faith and commands as they are codified in the Shulḥan Arukh." The question of the rabbinical seminary, which was to be financed by the "school fund" granted by Francis Joseph I from the fine paid by the Jews of Hungary after the 1848 Revolution, was also a much disputed one. In the end, 48 of the 83 Orthodox delegates walked out and the decisions of the congress were ratified. The Orthodox, however, succeeded in organizing themselves, obtaining the authorization of the emperor. On several occasions the Neologists endeavored without success to convene another congress. Finally a meeting was held in 1935 (at which only the Neologists were represented). In 1950, on the instructions of the Communist government, a decision on the unification of Hungarian communities was passed.

The attempts of the Neologists to amalgamate with the Orthodox were to no avail. The hope of establishing this union caused the Neologists not only to refrain from introducing drastic reforms in the prayers and religious services (with the exception of the question of the organ and the pulpit, which was removed from the center of most synagogues) but also to adopt a distinctly conservative orientation, particularly in the district synagogues of the capital. There is no doubt that this preserved the unity of Hungarian Jewry in spite of the ideological split. The hoped-for ideological consolidation of the Neologist camp did not materialize either and many differences remained. As early as 1848 a circle of the younger members and even some important personalities of the Pest community sought to establish a Reform synagogue, but the community, which had already alienated itself from Orthodoxy, wished to prevent a complete split; it therefore obtained from the authorities a liquidation order against the small Reform organization (1852). In 1884 a number of individuals once more attempted to establish a Reform community. However, the national office of the Neologists intervened to deny them this right. Some stood for a liberal orientation, and for the adoption of the conservative ideology (1943). The ideological consolidation was hindered by the special organization of the communities. These contradictions were particularly evident after World War I, when the community became the sole focal point for the social activities of those who had been estranged from Judaism over a lengthy period and were attracted by communal life only because they were excluded from general society. These extreme assimilationists prevented Zionism from penetrating the communities.

During the period of Hungarian Jewry's utter isolation from the social and economic life of the country (1938–44), there was a great awakening within the Neologist communities. Their educational and charitable activities were extended until they were among the most developed in the sphere of widespread mutual assistance (where they also collaborated with the Orthodox). When the communities were reorganized after World War II, they were imbued with Zionism and a readiness to maintain relations with world Jewry, but this evolution was halted with the official prohibition of Zionist and foreign relations activities in 1949.

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

J.J.(L.) Greenwald (Grunwald), Korot ha-Torah ve-ha-Emunah be-Ungarya (1921); idem, Le-Toledot ha-Reformaẓyah ha-Datit be-Germanyah u-ve-Ungarya (1948); L. Loew, Der Juedische Kongress (1869); N. Katzburg, in: Hungarian Jewish Studies, 2 (1969), 1–33; idem, in: Bar-Ilan Sefer ha-Shanah, 2 (1964), 163–77; Weisz, in: Libanon, 7 (Hung., 1943), 67–72.