Jewish population: 35,000-120,000
The Hungarian Jewish community is the largest in East Central Europe. Most Hungarian Jews live in the capital, Budapest, which has some 20 working synagogues and a plethora of other Jewish institutions, both religious and cultural. There are also a number of smaller Jewish communities in provincial cities, including Debrecen, Miskolc and Szeged, with an active religious and cultural life. Before the war, Hungary had a Jewish population of 450,000 and Budapest was home to over 200,000 Jews, who accounted for some 20% of the city's habitants. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarian-speaking Jews lived in territories in the neighboring countries that had once been under Hungarian rule. Beginning in 1938, some of these territories were restored to Hungary. During World War II, Hungary allied itself with Nazi Germany and initiated a series of repressive moves against its Jewish population. These culminated in the deportation to Auschwitz of nearly the entire Jewish population of the provinces. Of Hungary's wartime Jewish population of some 800,000, fewer than 200,000 survived. Immediately after the war, as the country moved into the Soviet orbit and was confronted by acts of anti-Jewish violence, many of the survivors elected to leave. Another wave of emigration followed the abortive 1956 uprising. Eventually the situation stabilized and the ultimate collapse of Communism hastened the revitalization of Jewish communal life. Today, despite antisemitic rumblings, Hungary Jews have every facility to express their Jewish heritage and religious life.
There is considerable debate and discussion about the number of Jews in present-day Hungary. Estimates range from as high 120,000 to as low as 35,000. The great majority of Jews in Hungary are unaffiliated. Some 80 percent of Hungarian Jews live in Budapest. There are also smaller communities in Debrecen, Miskolc, Szeged and Nyíregyháza, among others. The community has a high proportion of Holocaust survivors. By most estimates, about half the Jewish population is over the age of 65. Intermarriage is widespread and more than 60% of marriages involving a Hungarian Jew involve a non-Jew as well. Hungarian Jews are especially well represented in the free professions, science and academia and in business. In recent years, many Israelis have chosen to attend Hungarian universities, particularly in Debrecen, which offers English-language medical studies. In recent years, in response to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Hungary, several hundred Hungarian Jews have left the country, many of whom have settled in nearby Vienna.
The first Jews living in what is today Hungarian territory were inhabitants of the Roman province Pannonia and settled there in the 2nd century CE. Three legions were sent to Judea from Pannonia to beat the revolt (132–135) led by Bar Kochba. The victorious troops brought Jewish slaves to Aquincum (today the northwestern part of Budapest) and Savaria (Szombathely). Apart from the slaves, Jewish merchants from Rome are also assumed to have travelled to Pannonia.
Written documents from the time of the formation of the Hungarian state prove the existence of Jewish communities. In 1251, Béla IV published the Jewish charter, which was later confirmed by all medieval kings of Hungary. In practice, the charter put all Jews under royal protection.
Large numbers of Jews moved to the growing cities in the 15th century; the first "historical communities" were formed at that time (Buda, Esztergom, Sopron, Tata, Óbuda).
After the annexation of Hungary by the Ottoman Turks, life was peaceful as long as the various ethnic groups paid taxes. With the expulsion of the Ottoman Turks, many formerly prosperous Jews moved out of the country or fell victim to murderous rampages. Hence, Jews all but disappeared from Hungary toward the end of the 17th century.
In the 18th century, German-speaking (Ashkenazi) Jews arrived in Hungary, primarily from Czech and German territories. The Jewish population of Hungary stood at around 20,000 in 1769 and increased to 80,000 by 1787. By the end of the 18th century, the first conflicts emerged between Christians and Jews.
The 19th century was for many Jews a time of assimilation and emancipation. A small number of wealthy, urban families were the main representatives of Hungarian Jewry during that period. However, from the 1830s, poorer eastern European Jews began moving to the country in greater numbers. Many Hungarian Jews took part in the 1848/49 revolution, and their social and economic standing rose.
In 1867, Hungarian Jews were granted the same political and civil rights as Christians. During that time, Reform Judaism was born. In Reform synagogues, Hungarian was used as the primary language for religious services.
The liberal atmosphere of th
e late 19th century led to assimilation and, at the turn of the century, many Jews chose Hungarian or German spouses or had their children baptized as Christians. In successive years, Jews made enormous contributions to the development of Hungarian culture, science and industry, and played a particularly outstanding role in Hungarian sports. For example, in the first five Olympic Games, Jews accounted for 5 out of the 9 gold medals awarded to Hungarian athletes. As late as the period of 1960–1972, though the Jewish population had been greatly depleted by the Shoah and the emigration of survivors, Jews still accounted for nearly 20% of Hungarian gold medals.
In terms of economic development, the Manfred Weiss Works, named for its Jewish founder, became the largest machine and munitions factory in Hungary. The company eventually employed tens of thousands of workers at its vast plant in Csepel, Budapest and exported its products all over the world.
After the defeat and dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, Hungarian Jewry—including many members of the Orthodox and Chassidic communities—suddenly found themselves living within the borders of Czechoslovakia, Romania, or Yugoslavia. In 1919, when the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic (in which Hungarian Communists of Jewish origin were depicted as a foreign menace) collapsed, a period of "White Terror" ensued, during which some 3,000 Jews were murdered.
In the 1920s, the situation became more stable, but by the late 1930s, the first of a series of anti-Semitic laws was enacted, restricting socioeconomic activities of Jews in Hungary.
According to a 1941 census, 6.2 percent of the Hungarian population of 13,644,000, i.e., 846,000, were considered Jewish according to the racial laws in place at that time. 725,000 of them were identified as Jewish by religion: 184,000 in Budapest, 217,000 in the pre-1938 provinces, and a total of 324,000 in Northern Transylvania, Carpatho-Ruthenia, southern Slovakia and Bácska—territories seized from neighboring countries.
Large-scale deportation to the Nazi death camps began after German troops occupied Hungary in March 1944, but even though deportations began so late in the war, they were carried out with frightening speed. Up to 600,000 Jews from "Greater Hungary" perished in the Shoah.
After the war, some 200 Jewish communities were reconstituted, but most dwindled rapidly due to migration to Budapest and emigration from the country. In 1946, anti-Jewish sentiment led to the pogroms in Kunmadaras, Miskolc and elsewhere. Communist rule resulted in the closure of many Jewish institutions and the arrest of Jewish activists. Many Jews were expelled from Budapest, but later allowed to return.
During the 1956 uprising against Communist rule, 20,000 Jews opted to leave the country. However, the situation of Hungarian Jewry began to improve in the late 1950s. The community was allowed to reestablish links with the Jewish world, and with the collapse of Communism, all restrictions on ties with Israel were also lifted.
Budapest boasts a wide variety of Jewish institutions catering to nearly everybrand of Jewish expression. The modern Balinat Community Center (Bálint Közösségi Ház ), established in 1995, is the venue of a wide variety of Jewish cultural activities, including a club for those learning Hebrew and an amateur theater troupe. It aims to foster dialogue not only among community members but also with anyone seeking to know more about Judaism.
Beginning in 1998, an annual Jewish Summer Festival hasbeen held in Budapest featuring exhibitions, concerts, dance performances, and film. The festival draws participants and performers from Hungary and abroad. Significantly, such cultural activity draws large numbers of unaffiliated Jews. The majority of the affiliated Jews are connected with the Neolog community; smaller numbers belong to the Orthodox and Liberal communities.
Also every summer, around 1500 Jewish campers from over 20 countries attend Camp Szarvas, which is sponsored by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The camp is located on the banks of the Körös River in the resort town of Szarvas, Hungary.
Since the collapse of Communism, a number of Jewish organizations, including youth groups, have been reactivated. Among the largest Jewish organizations are B'nei Brith are WIZO. The Maccabi sports club continues the tradition of Hungarian Jewish sportsmanship.
Hungarian Jews also have at their disposal the Charity Jewish Hospital and Nursing Facility, and there are two homes for the aged, one of which is Orthodox.
Following negotiations with the Hungarian government in 1997, a law was passed establishing a restitution fund to compensate Hungarian Jews for a part of the value of assets seized from them during the Holocaust.
In May 2013, Budapest hosted the Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress. On that occasion, Jewish leaders from around the world expressed their solidarity with the local Jewish community and pledged to struggle against anti-Semitism, which has become especially prevalent in recent years. In particular, attention was drawn to the activities of the extreme right-wing Jobbik Party, which is represented in the Hungarian Parliament and espouses an unabashed anti-Semitic platform.
Budapest has some 20 synagogues in which prayers are conducted in a variety of styles, including Neolog, Orthodox, Liberal and Chabad. There is also a congregation that worships according to the "status quo" liturgy. The Neolog Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest is the second largest synagogue in the world, and its size bears witness to the importance and cultural ambitions of the Jews of the capital during the 19th century. Though men and women are seated separately, services are conducted with an organ (played by a non-Jew) and a choir. There are also functioning synagogues in a number of provincial cities as well, including Miskolc and Debrecen.
Other Synagogues in Budapest
Bethlen téri zsinagóga
István Street 17
Tel: +36 1 342 6170
Budakeszi úti zsinagóga
Budakeszi Street 51/b
Dessewffy utcai zsinagóga
Desseffy Street 23
Frankel Leó utcai zsinagóga
Frankel Leó Street 49
Tel: +36 1 326 1445
Hegedűs Gyula utcai zsinagóga
Hegedűs Gyula Street 3
Tel: +36 1 349 3120
Hunyadi téri zsinagóga
Hunyadi Square 3 1067 Budapest
Tel: +36 1 342 5322
Károli Gáspár téri zsinagóga
Károly Gáspár Square 5
Tel: +36 1 361 1965
Kazinczy utcai zsinagóga
Kazinczy Street 29-31
Cserkész Street 7-8
Nagyfuvaros utcai zsinagóga
Nagyfuvaros Street 4
Lajos Street 163
This synagogue belongs to the Jewish Theological Seminary – University of Jewish Studies.
Páva utcai zsinagóga
Páva Street 39
Rumbach utcai zsinagóga
Rumbach Sebestyén Street 11-13
Teleki téri zsinagóga
Teleki László Square 22 GF/6
Berzeviczy G. Street 8
Vasvári Pál utcai zsinagóga
Vasvári Pál Street 5
Synagogues in other towns
15. square Jászai Abaújszántó 3881
Currently used as warehouse.
Deák Ferenc Street 4
Hunyadi Street 7
Iskola Street 5
This synagogue recently received the Europa Nostra award for its excellent reconstruction.
Munkácsy Mihály Street 9
Klapka Street 50
Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Endre Street
Becsey Oszkár Street
Bajcsi-Zsilinszky Endre Street
Kossuth Lajos Street 3-5
Also includes a Holocaust museum.
Petőfi Sándor Street
Kertész József Street
Nagykőrösi Street 8
Kossuth Lajos Street 20-22
Petőfi Sándor Street
Eötvös Street 15
Rákóczi Street 21
Mártírok Square 6
Petőfi Sándor Street 24
Kossuth Lajos Square
Füleki Street 55
Paprét Street 12-14
Hajnóczy Street 12
Jósika Street 10
Szent István Square 28
Templom Street 2
Rákóczi Street 3
9700 Szombathely 9700
Fullánk Street 8
Tel: +36 1 392 6200
Several Jewish youth organizations operate in Hungary.
UJS – Zsidó Fiatalok Magyarországi Egyesülete
PO BOX 333
Hasomer Hacair Baloldali, cionista ifjúsági szervezet
Lovag Street 5
Kidma, Cionista zsidó diákszervezet
Révay Street 16
Marom, Konzervatív vallásos, cionista diákszervezet
Szigetvári Street 6
Websites: www.marom.hu, www.pilpul.net
Habonim Dror, Cionista ifjúsági szerezet
Jávorka Ádám Street 15
Tel: +36 20 547 0304
Bnei Akiva Vallásos, cionista ifjúsági szervezet
Révay Street 16
1065 Budapest 1065
Síp Street 12
Telefon: +36 30 314 1947
Maccabi Vivó és Atlétikai Club
Kmoskó Street 8
In Budapest there are more than ten kosher butchers, as well as a kosher bakery and restaurant. Hungary exports matzot, kosher wine, spirits and meat to other countries.
Hanna's Kosher Kitchen
Dob Street 35
Tel: + 36 1 342 1072
Kazinczy Street 31,
Tel: +36 1 342 4585,
Tel: +36 1 322-1834
Pékség, Kóser Pizza
Kazinczy Street 28
Tel: +36 1 342 0231
Café Noé kávézó (coffee-shop)
Wesselényi Street 13
Tel: +36 1 344 4208
Rotschild kóser élelmiszer bolt
Dob Street 12
Tel: +36 1 267 5691
Klauzál Street 16
Tel: +36 1 322 6898
Dob Street 35
Tel: +36 1 344 5165
Visegrádi Street 16
Tel: +36 1 320 4454
Dob Street 35
Tel: +36 1 342 1072
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
Budapest has several Jewish kindergartens as well as Jewish primary and high schools. The non-denominational Lauder Javne Community School, with its 5-acre ultra-modern campus, is sponsored by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and was opened in 1990. Today it has some 600 pupils from kindergarten through high school. The Anne Frank Gymnasium continues the tradition of Budapest's pre-war Jewish high school.
The Budapest University of Jewish Studies was originally established in 1877 as a Neolog rabbinical seminary. It continues to train rabbis and cantors but has broadened its reach. A center for Jewish studies is attached to Eötvös Loránd University, the largest school of higher education in Hungary, and students can also pursue higher Jewish studies at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The English-language Central European University, established by the Hungarian-born financier George Soros,offers a Jewish Studies major focusing on Jewish culture, society and history.
Faculty of Rabbinical Studies
Bérkocsis Street 2
Tel: +36 1 317 2396
BZSH Benjamin Óvodája
Ungvár Street 12
Tel: +36 1 251 0577
Scheiber Sándor Gimnázium és Általános Iskola
Laky Adolf Street 38-40
Tel: + 36 1 221 4215
Lauder Javne Zsidó Közösségi Óvoda, Általános, Közép- és Szakiskola
Budakeszi Street 48
Tel: +36 1 275 2240
Amerikai Alapítványi Iskola
Address: Wesselényi Street 44
Tel: +36 1 322 5495
BZSH Anna Frank Kollégium
Révay Street 16, Budapest 1065
Tele: +36 1 353 4396, +36 1 311 9214
This is used by the students of the American Endowment School, Lauder Javne Jewish High School, Scheiber Sándor Primary and High School and the Jewish Theological Seminary – University of Jewish Studies. The institution provides accommodations for its students five days a week, from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon.
Gán Menáchem óvoda
Address: Budapest XII. kerület
Tel: + 36 1 395 4470
Budapest contains numerous sites of interest for Jewish visitors.
The 19th-century Dohány Synagogue in Budapest is the largest in Europe (second largest in the world) and was recently renovated. It is usually the first stop on most visits to "Jewish Budapest." Designed by German architect Ludwig Förster and built in only four years, the synagogue was consecrated in 1859 and has since been the most iconic symbol of Hungarian Jewry.Composer Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens have played on the synagogue’s organ. Adjacent to the synagogue is the Hungarian Jewish Museum, which houses an impressive collection of Judaica and other original artifacts.
The Emanuel Holocaust Memorial, in the courtyard of the Dohány Synagogue, is called the Tree of Life. On this modern sculpture, each leaf symbolizes a victim of the Shoah. A statue in Budapest honors Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued several thousand Jews in Budapest from deportation to the Nazi death camps.
Along the banks of the Danube, on the Pest side of the city, is an evocative monument to the Jews who were murdered by the Arrow Cross along the banks of that river in January 1945. The monument consists solely of shoes made of bronze, recalling the fact that the victims were made to leave their shoes along the shore.
The Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center is a situated outside the traditional Jewish quarter. Designed by Frank Gehry, it is linked to the former Páva Street Synagogue, one of the largest Jewish houses of worship in Budapest. The Glass House [Üvegház] in which Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz saved thousands of Budapest Jews is now a museum devoted to the story of rescue. The Terror House [Terror Háza], located in the Andrássy Avenue building once occupied by the Arrow Cross and later the Communist secret policy, is devoted to the victims of both Fascists and Communists. However, many will be troubled by the way in which Hungarian culpability for the fate of Hungarian Jews is minimized and the deliberate emphasis on the Jewish roots of many of the Hungarian Communists responsible for atrocities committed in the post-war years.
Outside of Budapest, nearly every city has at least one synagogue. Many of these are monumental edifices that bear witness to the wealth and self-confidence of Hungarian Jewry in the late 19th century. That of Szeged, constructed in a late eclectic style, was designed by Lipot Baumhorn, who was responsible for many of the most beautiful such buildings in East central Europe. Today, after painstaking restoration, the Szeged synagogue serves as a museum. Szentendre, a city known for its artist colony and one of the most popular stops on every tourist's itinerary, contains an especially noteworthy Jewish site. The Szanto Memorial House and Temple in Szentendre was officially opened in 1998. It is the first new synagogue to have been built in Hungary since the end of World War II. It contains a simple memorial to the Jews of the city who perished in the Holocaust and boasts of being the smallest synagogue anywhere in the world.
Holocaust Memorial Center
Páva Street 39
Tel: +36 1 455 3333
The weekly Új Élet [New Life], founded in 1945, is the official journal of MAZSIHISZ. There is also a monthly called Szombat [Saturday],devoted to Israel, international Jewish issues and Jewish life in Hungary. In 1988, the pre-war intellectual and cultural journal Múlt és Jövő [Past and Future] was reestablished and is published as a quarterly. A large number of Jewish books are published in Hungary, including many translations of Hebrew and foreign language Jewish literature.
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