Prague Jewish community divided over the dismissal of rabbi Sidon


Prague's rabbi Karol Sidon was recently dismissed from his position by the board of the Prague Jewish community. The official statement says that he failed to perform his duties satisfactorily. However, there is speculation that behind his dismissal there could also be a dispute between the orthodox and non-orthodox groups in the city's 1600 member strong Jewish community.

Tomas Kraus, who is the head of the Federation of the Jewish communities, admits that there have been some clashes in the community recently.

"There was a discussion between orthodoxy and non-orthodoxy; how to open the community, how to offer various other streams inside the community, but not only the Prague community of course. This discussion is ongoing, it's still not settled. But I think the dismissal might have been [decided based] on various aspects, and this is something what the Prague leadership must answer, what was the principle reason for this."

Why was rabbi Sidon actually dismissed? I asked Tomas Jelinek, the head of the Prague Jewish community executive board:

"The whole dispute is about the survival of the Prague Jewish community. Our demography is extremely weak. We are a community which needs to attract new members from the Czech Jews and from the foreign Jews living in Prague, and for that we need an active rabbinate."

But what was the immediate reason for his dismissal?

"Rabbi Sidon was removed because the board of the Prague Jewish community found enough reasons that it should be so, that he has not fulfilled the expectations of the people who were newly elected in the April elections."

Karol Sidon, however disagreed with the decision of the board of the Prague Jewish community, as he considered it politically motivated, and appealed to a rabbinical court in Israel, the so called Beth Din.

"Beth Din is the rabbinical court consisting of three rabbis - mainly the rabbinical authorities who are really independent and who observe the whole discussion from outside. I think this is very important because sometimes the people who are very much involved lose the perspective of the whole dispute."

Explains Tomas Kraus.

However, rabbi Sidon was taken ill and had to be hospitalised for a short time. Consequently, the decision of the rabbinical court in Israel was postponed until both sides could be heard.

Rabbi Sidon is a very well known figure in Czech social and political life. He was an active dissident during the communist era, and is also renowned as a writer and intellectual. His general qualities are recognized even by his opponent Tomas Jelinek.

"He is a great artist; he has been very successful in his intellectual work. I think there are many reasons why the Jewish community should be thankful to him for the things he did in the '90s for the revival of the Prague Jewish community. Nevertheless, he has been serving the community for 12 years and now there is time for new people to take over his responsibilities and to come up with innovations and new ideas."

However, there are quite a few members of the community who do not share Mr Jelinek's view. Even though rabbi Sidon was dismissed from his position as Prague rabbi, he still enjoys strong support in the Federation of Jewish Communities, which confirmed him as the chief rabbi of the country as a whole. Whether he will also return to his Prague posting will be seen in a few weeks after the rabbinical court in Israel presents its verdict.