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[Page 200]

The Life and Activities of
Dr. Lipot Kecskemeti

Translated by: Susan Geroe

Dr. Lipot Kecskemeti was born on February 27, 1865, in Kecskemet, where he attended elementary and the first year of middle school. At the same time, he received private instruction in customary Jewish knowledge for boys of his age.

His religious parents' original intention was that he becomes a lawyer, but when they saw their son's enthusiasm for Hebrew learning, they directed his already vivid interest towards the rabbinical profession. Where should he study? Precisely in 1865, the year of his birth, the two religious streams within the Hungarian Jewish Community separated into orthodox and neolog. The young man convinced his parents not to send him to a Yeshiva to study, but rather to the Rabbinical Seminary of Budapest.

Following successful studies at the Seminary, University, then at the “Hochschule” in Berlin, and the conferral of a doctoral degree, the Budapest Jewish Community employed him as assistant rabbi to the elderly Chief Rabbi of Budapest. There, he was already noted for his original, poetic, and engaging sermons. His first literary publication, “About Jewish Poets” came out around this time, in 1887, and represented the first literary translation into Hungarian of Middle Age Hebrew poetry.

Oradea, where the seat of the Neolog Chief Rabbi had only been temporarily filled, invited applicants to fill the permanent position. At the ecstatic recommendation of the Board, Dr. Kecskemeti was elected Chief Rabbi in the fall of 1890 and served there until his death in 1936.

Fifteen years of work in Oradea made him renowned throughout the country and when the Neology in Budapest was ready to elect a new Chief Rabbi, many took for granted that Dr. Kecskemeti would be the choice as they still remembered him from his early days there. He excelled among the invited guest Rabbis, yet was not elected due to a sermon he gave in 1903.

It was not an insignificant sermon! The Ferenc David Unitarian Association invited him to give a sermon at the Unitarian Church. The attendance, composed of Christians and Jews, received with revered admiration Dr. Kecskemeti's sermon, entitled “The Great Prophetic Era”. The lecturer saw the essential of the prophetic era in that morality meant everything in the teaching of the prophets: morality meant religion, morality meant life, there was nothing was superior to morality. The Rabbi expressed hope by quoting Amos and Hosea that “in the world to come, all humanity will understand its own moral uniformity”. He ended: “ Even if astonishingly few attest to it, this moral monotheism of prophecy is the only possible world religion, where all religions serve together the Only God in love and justice, and will forge sword into sickle, and Earth will know the existence of one God”. Part of the media in the capital wrote with great accolades about the sermon, while the religious press, including the Jewish remained silent.

The greater public not having been present, only those who attended were familiar with the contents of the sermon. Thus, campaigning officials for the other candidates, able to allege whatever they wished, including at times not shying away even from calumny, were successful in thwarting Dr. Kecskemeti's election.

This had not been the only undeserving attack against him. During the so called Darabont administration, which had no parliamentary majority and was trying to deflect shortcomings politically to the social-democratic party, Dr. Kecskemeti gave an important sermon in Oradea for Yom Kippur, based on “tora v'avoda” (God and Doctrine), entitled “Worship and Work”. Only the word “work” caught a vigilant reporter's attention, and this came in handy for him to trumpet: the great Rabbi is on the side of the social-democrats! This time, however, Dr. Kecskemeti was more cautious! He printed his entire sermon… and the media quickly edited it.

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