Rabbi Friedman’s Complaint

A Disagreement Over Israel Leads to Children’s Dismissal

News | Anna Claessen, Dardis McNamee | March 2007

Rabbi Friedman and his wife Lea Rosenzweig with their five children (Photo: Moshe Friedman)

Moishe Arye Friedman, the chief Rabbi of the Orthodox Anti-Zionist Community in Austria, has been heavily criticised by many both in- and outside the Jewish community for his opinions and his actions. But he had no idea that his attendance at the Holocaust conference in Teheran would later become grounds for his children being expelled from a Talmud-Torah school.

It was all done very impersonally with a letter addressed to their house.

"Other parents do not want to have their children educated with children whose father shows such infuriating behavior," was Viennese Talmud-Torah school of Machsike Hadass’s reason for why Friedman’s four children attending school there were being expelled.

Rabbi Friedman attended in December the conference sponsored by the Iranian government questioning the Holocaust. He was among the Jewish participants who hugged Iranian President Mahhmoud Ahmadinejad, who has described the Holocaust as a myth and has said in October last year that Israel should be "wiped off the face of the earth."

Friedman rejects the idea of a Jewish state: "It is our people’s fate to live in Diaspora, it is God’s will. Our religion teaches us that wherever Jews live, we shall get along with the people in the respective country," he said.

Friedman will not comment directly on the Holocaust, due to Austria’s laws disallowing controversial discussions in this matter and in the wake of British historian David Irving being sentenced by an Austrian court to serve three years in prison for questioning the extent of the Holocaust 16 years earlier.

"Austria always tries to present itself internationally as neutral, as a mediator, but they do not dare to speak up against the IKG (the Israelite Religious Community of Austria)," said Friedman. He finds this disappointing as it prevents many historians from addressing this issue.

For example, a leading expert on the Holocaust, American professor Raul Hilberg told Austrian daily Der Standard on June 10, 2006, that only 20 per cent of the horrible events of the Holocaust have been explored yet.

Friedman feels he has been misunderstood regarding his thoughts on Zionism. He says, he thinks it’s wrong to "abuse the Jewish religion and use it for politically and economically motivated goals where neither God nor religion matter."

A lot of media attention has been directed at his wife, suggesting that she was not happy with her husband’s opposition of Zionism, even going as far as claiming she wanted a divorce.

"This was nonsense and completely made up," said Friedman’s wife Lea Rosenzweig, who suggested it was an attempt to damage their reputation. She said she totally supported her husband in all his efforts.

In the letter, the school presented other points to support their case for his children’s expulsion by saying that they will take only children from a family that respects Shabbat, the religious law commending Jews to rest on Saturdays.

The incident the school was referring to took place in Berlin, where the Rabbi supposedly gave a public speech on Shabbat. "I was speaking and someone behind me held a microphone," Friedman said. If the event had not been recorded it would not have qualified as a public speech and therefore considered to be in violation of Shabbat.

The school also claims that the family did not pay the school’s fee for his children. His response was that his children are being supported by the state and the state covers all cost. By Austrian law, the state is required to provide for any children the right to attend and complete school.

Friedman reports being furious at the expulsion of his children, which he sees as a substitution for action the IKG can not take against him.

Friedman describes their behavior as Sippenhaftung, meaning the punishment of a whole family when one member of the family commits a crime.  The National Socialists revived this law and often employed it when dealing with political dissidents and Jews.

"They fight against the crimes committed by the National Socialists, but use the same tactics," Friedman sees here a clear case of the IKG exercising a double standard.

"It came as a total surprise, as our children have always been very good at school, the teachers kept lauding them," said Rosenzweig in her only interview with the press. "But they are too young, they don’t understand all this yet."

Their children spend their days at home now. "They play, sleep, sometimes we bake a cake together or go for a walk when it isn’t too cold," Rosenzweig said.

Friedman says he would be willing to send them to another school including a Catholic school, if he could find a suitable one.

"I am very open-minded towards other religions, particularly the Catholic Church, but the problem are among other things the daily routines required by our religion, the religious services and the segregation of the sexes," said Friedman and explained that there is not a single Catholic school in Austria that has segregation of the sexes, only one in Switzerland.

His children can’t go to school in any other Jewish school of the IKG because it does not work with the exercising of their religion. Thus his children’s school is the only school, Jewish or otherwise, they can attend in Vienna.

Friedman and his lawyer have filed an action against the school and the court has advised the Rabbi that the outlook is positive.

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