Home / The Consistory’s role and how it works

Les membres de l’Assemblée Consistoriale présents à l’A.C. du 20 juin 2007

Consistorial Assembly members at the C.A. of June 20, 2007

The legal basis for the Jewish faith’s recognition as an organized religion in our country is the decree of March 17, 1808.  Its official recognition by the Belgian State came about in 1832, via the Royal Decree of May 21.  A law of March 4, 1870, on the “temporal aspects of the faiths” stipulated the rights and duties of the recognized faiths in the kingdom.  A Royal Decree of February 23, 1871, then confirmed the existence of the boards of directors of the five “synagogues” or communities that existed at the time, namely, those of Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Liège, and Arlon, under the aegis of the Jewish Central Consistory of Belgium.  A Royal Decree of February 7, 1876, then went on to spell out the composition of the synagogues’ boards of directors and the procedures for electing their members (vote by secret ballot).

Each community delegates one or more of its members to represent it in the Consistory.  Together these delegates form the Consistorial Assembly, which meets several times a year.  Seventeen Jewish communities are currently recognized:  three in Antwerp, one in Arlon, seven in Brussels, one in Charleroi, one in Knokke, one in Liège, one in Ostend, and one in Waterloo.  The Consistorial Assembly’s role is similar to that of a non-profit association’s general assembly.  Decisions on daily management matters, for their part, are made by the Executive Board or “Bureau.”  The Secretariat is responsible for the Consistory’s daily operation, in parallel with the executive officers.

Whereas the Consistory’s role at the start was to represent and defend the temporal interests of the Jewish faith in dealing with the country’s civil authorities and to serve as the statutory speaking partner in all dealings with the State when it came to recognizing the Jewish communities and appointing their religious officers, the range of matters within the Consistory’s purview has broadened greatly, especially since the end of World War II, ranging from religious observance to cultural matters with education and the media in between.  So that is the versatile framework within which the Consistory works, contributing to:

  • Jewish education through its Jewish religious education networks and support for the two university institutes of Jewish studies;
  • the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage through the establishment of the Jewish Museum of Belgium and Institute of Jewish Audiovisual Memory;
  • the study of the history of Belgian Judaism via the Contemporary Memory Foundation, which was created at the Consistory’s instigation;
  • remembrance of the Holocaust through the creation of the Jewish Museum on Deportation and Resistance in Malines/Mechelen and its involvement in annual events such as the commemoration in Boortmeerbeek of the attack on the 20th transport of deportees that took place April 19, 1943;
  • the dissemination of Jewish culture through the production of radio and television broadcasts concerning Judaism and the publication of a bilingual quarterly newsletter, Nouvelles Consistoriales/Consistoriaal Nieuwsblad;
  • interfaith dialogue on the highest level through its involvement in the consultative body for Christians and Jews in Belgium, the OCJB;
  • actions to take charge of the role of women in our country and problems of discrimination against women through the Jewish Women’s Council of Belgium, which is an active member of Belgium’s French-speaking and Flemish Women’s Councils; and
  • the organization of the Jewish Heritage and Culture Days that are held as part of the annual “European Jewish Culture Day” in September.

Besides the Consistorial Assembly, Executive Board, and Secretariat, the Consistory’s infrastructure includes many committees in charge of various aspects of the Consistory and communities’ affairs, such as the Academic Council, Archives Committee, Conciliation Committee, Broadcasting Committee, Women’s Committee, Finance Committee, Religious Officers Appointment Committee, French-speaking and Flemish Education Committees, and the Pluralist Relations Committee.

Finally, we must stress the many lines of synergy that have been developed jointly by the Consistory and other Jewish and non-Jewish institutions in Belgium in a sociocultural framework guided by the principle of defending democracy.