Already? Csanád Szegedi Goes to the Rabbi

by Dr. David Mandler

Unbelievable. But a little more than a week after Csanád Szegedi, the former VP and one of the cofounders of the rabidly anti-Semitic and xenophobic Jobbik Movement, was forced to resign all of his positions within the party following the scandal that erupted around the way in which he dealt with the discovery of his Jewish ancestry, the European Parliamentarian has visited the leading Chabad rabbi of Budapest, Shlomo Köves.

Even more unbelievable is the sudden turnaround represented by his statement that he is “going to visit Auschwitz this year in order to pay [his] respects to the victims.” That is huge. From a politician who had made a career out of maligning Jews, portraying “them” as anti-Hungarian parasites whose activities hurt Hungarian interests (“desecrating the Holy Crown” as he put it in an interview in 2010), such a statement in and of itself is worth noticing. From a politician who had dedicated his public life to a party that outright questions and denies the Holocaust, such a statement is huge.

It will surely incite the ire of his former colleagues, comrades and followers. Szegedi will become the new enemy, the clearest representative of “the Jew” whose ideals are never firm but move according to personal interests.

While some things are becoming clear to this, so to say, graced politician, he still does not seem to get it. He is still living in the grand delusion that his former Jobbik buddies will continue to embrace him. In the same interview given to HVG, Szegedi continues: “There are many misunderstandings between the nationalist radical side and Jewry, and I think it is very important that one with Jewish ancestry can be a committed nationalist.” (

The news has already sparked debate amongst Jews. Should a person like Szegedi be even allowed to approach the Jewish community of Hungary? By seeing him, Shlomo Köves has given an answer: yes. But Köves is not Hungarian Jewry, a most vibrant and colorful community with many contradictory approaches to religion, patriotism, nationality and everything else, like good Jewish communities are all over the world.

Should Szegedi be allowed to do teshuva, to repent?

From a halachic perspective (the perspective of Jewish law), the answer is obvious: yes. Will it, perhaps, allow Szegedi to repair the damage he has caused both in his own psyche as well as in the many who had blindly followed his hotheaded and utterly despicable embrace of the most anti-humanistic Hungarian chauvinism the 1920s-1940s produced? Perhaps. The question is how he can effect such a change.

How will Szegedi retain his street credibility after all this? Hungarians despise flip-floppers even more than Americans do perhaps because there are so many more of them in Hungary. Changing one’s political views, while unsavory, is the definition of survival in Hungarian politics (just look at the many FIDESZ politicians who used to be members of the Communist Party, which the FIDESZ officially deprecates). Yet, Szegedi, with visiting the archenemy of the radical camp, Rabbi Köves, and by repudiating one of the many “sacraments” of the Jobbik Party, namely, Holocaust denial, has irrevocably written himself out of that camp. One can only image the onslaught of filth from the internet portal that best represent that camp, I am sure that such an avalanche of hatred toward Szegedi will make even him dizzy.

Certainly, nothing anyone could say would change the pathological minds of committed Jew-haters. Their worldview is so warped that any approach to reality is seen as a manipulation by Jews. So much more so when it comes from a person who’s been “discovered” to have been a Jew all along (never mind the fact that Szegedi, I’m almost convinced, only learned that his beloved grandmother is Jewish in the past few years). That group of people, thus, is hopeless.

But there is a large number of people in Hungary for whom Szegedi’s story could serve as rather educational, raising a lot of questions.

Szegedi’s fate, while important to him as a human being and to everyone concerned about the universal struggle to maintain humanity in the face of atrocious ideologies that aim to dehumanize, is significant to Hungary’s own development as well. How will a person like Szegedi be treated in private and in public? (Judging by some Facebook comments, I can already see the answer shaping up to that question: with disgust).  What future developments in his thinking will occur regarding the place of Jews in Hungarian cultural, economic and political life? Will Szegedi be marginalized now? Will he even have to run away from Hungary? Will his story make Hungarians reconsider their firmest beliefs about Hungarianness, Jews, political leaders, and humanity in general?

Many of these questions that are still unresolved.

With the Jewish High Holidays approaching, Szegedi–whether from Rabbi Köves or other Jewish sources–will learn the line from the prayerbooks Jews repeat during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: “teshuvah, tefillah u’tzedakah, ma’avirin et roah hagezayrah. “Turning yourself around [repentance], prayer, and righteous generosity lessen the severity of the decree.” And make no mistake: Hungary as a country is experiencing the effects of a severe decree making suffer a severe economic (if not cultural and political) decline despite the occasional good news coming from the London Olympics.

It is my ardent hope that not only Szegedi achieves repentance coupled with prayer and charity but also those in Hungary who have allowed themselves to denigrate the contributions of Jews to the economic, cultural and political life of Hungary since they were allowed within the gates in 1848 and especially after 1867 until they were suddenly shut out in the 1920s and were almost totally annihilated in 1944.

If Hungary as a country is able to have a real dialogue about its own values, about how human beings, be they Jews, gypsies, Chinese or any other ethnic or religious minorities, are valued then it has a chance to turn itself around and rise from the moral morass into which it has sunk in recent years.