BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– A funeral service was underway Wednesday, March 10, for a former Hungarian chief rabbi who was persecuted under Communism because of his involvement in spreading the Jewish faith, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) confirmed.
Tamás Raj, who died Monday, March 7 at the age of 70, was to be buried in Kozma Street Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in Hungary’s capital Budapest, MAZSIHISZ added in a statement.
Raj supervised the revival of Judaism and Jewish culture in Hungary, despite opposition from atheistic Communist authorities.
A survivor of the Holocaust, Raj emerged as a leading rabbi in Szeged, a major city in southeast Hungary, where he served in 1964-1970. He was ousted by Communist police in 1970 because his “inspiring meetings” led to renewed public interest in the Jewish faith, his supporters said.
Years later, Raj was allowed to continue his rabbinic work and eventually became chief rabbi in Budapest in the 1990s. His efforts cultimated in the annual Jewish Summer Festival in Budapest, held since 1997 as one of Europe’s largest Jewish cultural events.
Raj also played a key role in improving ties between Jews and churches following the collapse of Communism in 1989. That relationship had been tense since World War Two, when 600.000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust.
On Wednesday, March 10, Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom signed a law making Holocaust denial punishable by three years in prison. The law was approved last month by Hungarian lawmakers, after more wide-ranging versions of the law had been rejected by courts for limiting free speech.
Hungary was a close ally of Nazi-Germany most of the war.
Raj was also active as a lawmaker in 1990-1994 for the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats, a party founded by former dissidents.
He used his political contacts for trying to improve lives of over 100,000 Hungarian Jews still living in Hungary, including Holocaust survivors, the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe outside Russia.
The rabbi also published some 20 books on Jewish issues aimed at reducing misunderstanding between Christians and Orthodox Jews and was editor of several major publishing enterprises, including the Jewish Makkabi Press.
Additionally, Raj was involved as a professor and historian in several theological institutes, universities and other educational organizations.
His funeral Wednesday, March 10, came amid international concerns over rising far right groups and parties in Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe ahead of upcoming elections here.
There have been reports of attacks against the Jewish and Roma, or gypsy, communities in the region. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).