Nobody Wishes to Speak of a Split

Die Presse (02/03/04)

The Viennese Conference of Rabbis demonstrates the growing strength of the Chabad Movement also in Austria

Vienna - At a reception on the occasion of the international Conference of Rabbis, Vienna’s Chief Rabbi, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, urged the need for unity within Austria’s Jewish community. He consciously avoided speaking of a "split." It was hardly a matter of circumstance that he chose this particular place and timing to state: "Maintain unity within the community."

Participating in the organization of the three-day Conference of Rabbis, in which forty Chief Rabbis from throughout the world took part, was Chabad Rabbi, Jacob Biderman. Some time previously he submitted a proposal to the Section for Religious Interests in the Ministry of Education for establishing a new Jewish religious community next to the current Israelite Religious Community (IKG). The proposal is still being examined.

Standing behind Rabbi Biderman is a worldwide, active Chabad Movement with around 2,600 branches, which focuses on teaching and learning. As in the Lauder Chabad School in Vienna, it emphasizes a modern, Orthodox Judaism. The representatives of the Viennese Orthodox Jews have expressed an interest in such a community, explained Biderman. It is self-understood that the Head of the IKG, Ariel Muzicant, is not happy about it. And while the Rabbis from Vienna honored President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi and were festively received by Austrian Federal President, Klestil, Muzicant demonstrated criticism of Prodi - but also his own country: "My children have left Austria because they no longer can stand the daily stress of being Jewish."

Rabbi Biderman believes that the establishment of another Jewish community in Vienna need not necessarily lead to a split." He is convinced that separation of the two communities would "lead to living together peacefully" and pointed out the example of Switzerland. There one can find numerous Jewish corporate bodies governed by public law, which at the same time enjoy "close affiliation and harmony among all Jews." Critics claim that the Chabad Movement has an all too strict interpretation of Jewish teachings as well as that of a patriarchal world view.

The main issues of the Conference of Rabbis in Vienna revolved around the new communities in Eastern Europe: new Jewish communities are again appearing all throughout Russia and the Ukraine. On the one hand, these new communities need help in establishing an infrastructure and on the other hand, also appropriate advice.

Moishe Arye Friedman, an orthodox, anti-Zionist who for years has been fighting to no avail for the approval of another religious community, turned his back on the Chabad and the IKG. He declared to be the Chief Rabbi. The IKG contest, however, Friedman’s claims of having an appropriate degree in religious teachings and accreditation as a Rabbi.