HUNGARY - THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Contact information for all synagogues in Hungary [February 2009]
Synagogues Without Jews: photo. "The earliest Jews who came to Hungary trailed after the legions that were expanding the Roman Empire northward in the third century C.E. Hungarian Jews proceeded to found 38 communities in the medieval period, the most important being Buda and Sopron. Conditions were favorable for the Jews during Turkish rule (1526-1686), but worsened under the Hapsburgs as urban commercial conflict developed into an ingrained hatred. Impelled to move, the Jews were welcomed on the estates of Hungarian nobles such as Counts Esterhazy and Palffy, who protected them and benefited from their economic expertise.
By 1840, Jews numbered more than 300,000. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 established a quasi-independent state within the renamed Austro-Hungarian Empire. The new Hungarian Parliament soon enacted Jewish emancipation, removing remaining judicial and economic restrictions, allowing Jews to engage in all professions and to settle in all localities. No longer limited to the towns and villages, the Jews-now counting more than 500,000 persons across the country-began to stream into the main cities. The Emancipation period (1867-1914) brought Hungarian Jewry to a crest in political, economic and cultural spheres. Their political position was strengthened in 1895 with the official recognition of Judaism as an equally accepted religion. By 1910 Jews were 5 percent of the population (numbering over 900,000), but comprised about half of the journalists, lawyers and doctors, and nearly 60 percent of the country's merchants.Political emancipation opened the door to higher secular education and adaptation to the outside world. Such radical options engaged Hungarian Jewry in a bitter culture conflict. The Neolog movement favored modifications of the religious ritual as well as cultural and political integration; the Orthodox opposed these adaptations. The conflict came to a head at the government-summoned General Jewish Congress of 1868 and precipitated a major ideological split that plagued the life of Hungarian Jewry until the Holocaust overtook all sides.
Integration and assimilation made deep inroads into the Jewish community. Hungarian Jewry became one of the most assimilated Jewish communities in Europe, with a growing tendency towards apostasy-especially among the upper classes. In contrast, Hasidism swelled in the northeast, in the Szatmar, Bereg (including Munkacs), and Marmaros districts.
Loyalty and patriotic participation by the Jews in the battles of World War I did not prevent overt anti-Semitic riots, known as the "White Terror," in the post-war years. This anti-Semitism was fully manifested in World War II: Nazi troops marched into Hungary in "Operation Margaret" on March 19, 1944. Ghettoization and deportation followed with demonic efficiency. Toiling relentlessly before the advancing Soviet troops, the Nazis managed to murder more than half a million Hungarian Jews by war's end.
Hungarian Jewry now comprises a renewed and active community, with some 80,000 Jews living in Budapest. Nearly 20,000 more live in the rest of the country, particularly in a few of the larger cities. Jewish cultural life has recovered to some extent, with Budapest as the center. The rabbinical seminary trains rabbis for central and east European communities. In addition to the grand Neolog synagogue on Dohany utca and the Orthodox Kazinczy Synagogue, 20 smaller synagogues function in Budapest. Not destroyed by the Germans for lack of time, nearly 100 synagogue buildings still stand in the country. Further, with supplementary municipal funds, former Hungarian Jews living abroad financed the recent restoration of some of the magnificent synagogues still in Jewish use: Szeged, Pecs, and the Dohany in Budapest. These buildings are open to the public as museums, and the large halls serve for prayer only on the Jewish high holidays." [February 2009]