There was once a "Golden Ages" of Hungarian Jewry from the period of 1867-1918. In the capital city of Budapest twenty-three percent of the pre-war population of the city was Jewish. Fifty-four percent of the commercial businesses were Jewish and another eighty-five percent of its financial institutions were Jewish. It was indeed the "Golden Age" of the Hungarian Jews. Before the War 184,000 Jews lived in the city.
Jews played an important role in the government, 17 were members of
the Upper Chambers of the Imperial Diet, another 103 were deputies in
the Lower Chambers. Jewish bankers built up the banking industry more
than anywhere else in central and Eastern Europe, forty-five percent of the lawyers were Jewish. Jewish doctors amounted to seventy-eighty percent. Budapest in a derogatory way was called "Judapest".
This was pre-war Budapest. The picture would change. Before the close of
World War II, the Jews of Budapest were decimated. In the provinces of
the city more than 450,000 were sent to their death to Auschwitz. More
than fifty percent of the Jews of Budapest perished. There would be the
notoriovs death march when in the freezing rain and cold. sixty thousand
Jews of the city were forced to travel by foot to the German border. At the
close of the war seventy per cent of the Jews of the country. Eighty-five
thousand Jews who had remained in the two main ghettos in the city and
in the legations of the neutral powers and those who had been in hiding
were among those who survived the Holocaust.
Today, the Hungarian Jewish community is the largest Jewish community in Central and Eastern Europe. Figures vary between about 80,000 to 100,000 Jews. Many are not registered as Jews, and eight out of every ten Jews in Hungary live in Budapest. There are also small communities in Debrecen, Miklosc, Szeged, and elsewhere.
Budapest, capital of Hungary, formed officially in 1873 from the towns of
Buda, Obuda and Pest, which each had Jewish communities. In Buda a
community was formed by the end of the 11th century. Obuda had a Jewish
community and in the 15th century. In Pest Jews are first mentioned in 1496.
After their 1490 the Jews of Buda were subjected to continual persecution, their property was frequently confiscated and the debts owing them were often unpaid. In 1660 the Jewish community numbered approximately 1,000 and was one of the wealthiest in Hungary. Fighting between the Ottoman and Austrian imperial forces put an end to this prosperity. The Jews sides with the Turks in 1686 Buda was taken by Austria and only 500 Jews survived the siege, the Jewish quarter was pillaged, and the Torah scrolls were burnt. Jewish residence in Buda was prohibited until 1689, when a few Jews began to resettle there and had a prayer room by 1690. Two synagogues are knows to have existed in 1647.
The first rabbi whose name is recorded was Akiva b. Menahem ha-Kohen (15th century). In the second half of the 17th century difficulties in finding appropriate candidates for the rabbinate of Buda compelled the community to employ as rabbis scholars passing through Hungary on pilgrimage to Erez Israel. Ephraim b. Jacob-ha-Kohen, a refugee from Vilna, became Rabbi of Buda in 1660. The Austrian capture of Buda is recorded in the Megillat Ofen of Isaac b. Zalman Schulhof.
Obuda had a Jewish community in the 15th century which disappeared after the Ottoman conquest in 1526. Around two hundred years later in 1712 the Jews came to live there under the protection of Counts Zichy. The census in 1727 show that 24 Jewish families were living in Obuda. By 1752 there were 59 families and the community employed two rabbis and three teachers. By 1803 there were 527 Jewish families living in Obuda. Rabbi Moses Muenz was the Rabbi in Obuda from 1781 to 1831. The old synagogue of Obuda was demolished in 1817 and an imposing new one, still in existence, was consecrated in 1820. Rabbi Julius Wellesz was of Obuda from 1910 until 1915.
Pest had Jews living there dating back to 1406. In 1505 they owned houses and land. In the 16th century records showed Jews living there. However, after the Austrian conquest in 1686, Jews were not allowed to live in the city. By the 18th century Jews were only allowed in the city to attend the weekly markets held there. The only Jews who were permitted to stay in the city for a certain time were Magranten ("transients"). By 1840, the restrictions on Jews living in Pest were abolished. The half century preceding World War I was a period of prosperity for Pest Jewry. Their numbers increased, and they played a prominent role in the capital's economic growth. The first synagogue was opened in 1787. Moses Muenz of Obuda officiated as Rabbi. The first Rabbi of Pest was Benjamin Ze'eev (Wolf) Boskowitz in 1793. Other noted Rabbis of the community were Loew Schewab, S.L. Bril, W.A. Meisel, S. Kohn, M. Kayserling, S. Hevesi and J. Fischer. A separate Orthodox community was established in Pest in 1871. In 1859 the Dohany Synagogue was built on Dohany street. In 1872 a Synagogue was built on Rombach Street and in 1913 the Orthodox Synagogue was erected in Kazinczy Street. The Orthodox congregation
of Pest opened its school for boys in 1873, and the Rabbinical Seminary opened in 1877
helped to make Pest the center of Jewish learning.
There were 44,890 Jews living in Budapest in 1869, 102,377 in 1890, 203,687 in 1910 and 204,371 in 1930. In 1941 there were about 184,000 Jews in Budaspest.
The Emancipation Act of 1868 the granted the Jews equality before the Law, and they were no longer excluded from owning property and holding public office.
The language and cultural tradition of Hungarian Jewry was northwestern divided into three sections: Jews of the northwestern districts (Oberland) of Austrian and Moravian origin spoke German or a western dialect of Yiddish the Jews of the northeastern districts (Unterland) mostly of Galician origin, spoke an eastern dialect of Yiddish; and the Jews of central Hungary, the overwhelming majority of whom spoke Hungarian.
The Jews were party to the struggle between the ruling Magyars and the other
Minorities of Hungary striving for national recognition.
Internal Jewish life during the 19th century was marked by a struggle between the Orthodox, Torah observant Jews and Jews following the dogma of modern culture, integration and assimilation with the gentiles. A strict Orthodox spirit was established in Hungary under the influence and leadership of Rabbi Moshe Schreiber Sofer, the Chasam Sofer, whose yeshiva was located in Pressburg. This yeshiva became the most important in central Europe; and it exerted much influence over the hungarian communities and even beyond them. The Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) was one of the towering Torah leaders of his time, a personality who transcended the generations. Rabbi Moshe Sofer and his school decisively influenced the development of Orthodox Jewry in western and central Hungary. Torah study became widespread among large sections of Orthodox Jewry, and yeshivot were established in every large community. During the 19th century the Hungarian Rabbinate was of a high standard and produced halakhists, authors of religious works, and community leaders.
Rabbi Moshe Sofer was an unwaivering fighter against the
Enlightenment-fearless in his dedication to insure total observance of
was a leader who was completely dedicated to insure total observance
of Torah and mitzvot. He was a leader who was completely dedicated
to Hungarian Jewry. Rabbi Sofer's influence was felt throughout the
length and breadth of Hungary long after his petria(death, passing away).
His teaching were carried on by his eldest son Rabbi Avraham Shmuel
Binyomin Sofer, know as the Kisav Sofer.
1815-1871 who became Rosh Hayeshiva after his father. Rabbi
Shimon Sofer the second son of the Chasam Sofer known as the
Michtav Sofer. Presserg (now known as Bratslavia) became a spiritual
center for the Orthdox Jews of Hungary and its yeshiva the most important
in central Europe.
The Budapest Jewish Theological Seminary has survived constantly since 1877.
Today it still teaches rabbinical and cantorial lessons and is the only one remaining
in Eastern Eruope. Here there are 100,000 to 150,000 books and one can still see
the bullet holes in the books themselves fired during World War II.
The Seminary also served as the center of scientific work, especially the publication
of source material on the history of the Jews in Hungary (Monumenta Hungariae Judaica).
It was headed by the well known scholar Rabbi Alexander Scheiber.
Budapest alone boasts thirty synagogues and houses of prayer, Talmud Torahs, a number of rabbis, a mohel a Jewish day scholl, ritual slaghter house, kosher butchers, a matzot bakery, a mikveh, a kosher restaurant.
There is a significant Orthodox minority centered in Budapest which has its own Beth Din (rabbinic court), slaughter house, houses of worship. The small area enclosed by Kazinczy utca is the center of Budapest orthodoxy, and there is the Kazinczy Synagogue. It was completed some fifty years after the famous Dohany Synagogue and finished in 1913. It is based on the Loffler's design and was consecrated on the Friday preceding the High Holidays, on September 6, 1913. The synagogue can seat 479 men and 522 women, it continues to be the most important center of Budapest orthodoxy.
The Dohany synagogue is where about 200 woshippers gather each Sabbath. The Dohany Synagogue was consecrated on September 6, 1859 (7th of Elul, 5619). It seats about three thousand people and one of the forces responsible for the realization of the Synagogue project was Rabbi Low Schwab, community rabbi from 1836 until his deasth in 1857. The eminent Viennese architect Ludwig Von Forster was chosen because his designs were in the Moorish mode of pure orintal design. The Dohany Synagogue in Budapest, is the largest Jewish house of prayer in Europe and the second largest in the world. Its interior consists of three enormous skylights, and varicolored lights pour through file stained glass windows. In the period betveen the hwo World Wars there were always four rabbis in the Dohany Temple, simultaneously They seemed as if they were in an oratorical contest. Their pulpits, stood at opposite corners. Today the Synagogue is filled only on the High Holidays. In the 1990's the Synagogue underwent a major renovation - both inside and outside. The building was covered with a new layer of dark red bricks similar to the original. In its grounds lie buried Hungarian Jewish victims of the Nazis. In the final year of World War II during the summer of 1944, the Dohany Temple was transformed into a military command post. The Germans used the building as a detention camp. The Dohany Temple is situated in the old Jewish quarter of Pest.
In 1996, the renovation was completed. The re-opening,
Ceremony was held a few days before Rosh Hashanah on 22 of Elul 5756 (September 5, 1996) in the presence of the President of the Hungarian Republic Arpad Goncz and the former Prime Minister of Israe Yitchak Shamir as well as prominent members of the Orthodox community.
Afer the War there were about 80,000 - 90,000 Budapest. In 1956 about 25,000 left the city and emigrated. There were twenty Rabbis in the city. The Orthodox Jews maintained a yeshiya with about 40 students and its community consisted of about 20% of the total, due to the mass extermination of Orthodox Jews during the Nazi occupation and a large immigration of Orthodox Jews to Israel. In all of Hungary, the total Jewish population during the time of the War was 825,000, of which about 565,000 perished during the Holocaust.
Copyright © 2004 by Stanley Mann
Michlalah Jerusalem College All Rights Reserved