Today, Budapest has a total of 16 functional synagogues. They belong to different factions of the local Jewish community thanks to the 1868 schism of Budapest's Jews following their divergent views on assimilation. All three communities built beautiful, often artistically significant synagogues and cemeteries. Naturally, many of them are inside the old Jewish Quarter, most notably the main synagogue of each of the three factions (the "synagogue triangle").
#1 - Dohány Street “Neolog” Synagogue (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 4,500 admission, which includes a guided tour to the synagogue and entry to the Jewish Museum): This enormous building, which was commissioned by the progressive "Neolog" faction of Budapest Jews, is the largest synagogue in Europe. Some of its features, including the towers, the pulpits, the organ, and the absence of a lattice separating men from women, were novelties—in the eyes of orthodox Jews: blasphemies—at the time of its buildings (1859). Altough the congregation today has only about 300 active members, it still gets packed during High Holidays. The plaque on the building's façade shows where once stood the house where Theodor Herzl, the "father of Israel," was born.
Next to the synagogue is the Garden of Remembrance, a mass grave for Jews murdered by Hungarian Nazis in 1944/45. In the back is the weeping willow memorial whose leaves are inscribed with the names of Hungarian Holocaust victims. In front of it, the Tablets of Stone are symbolically stripped of their content. Also here is the symbolic tomb of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
Attached to the synagogue is the Jewish Museum (entry is included in the admission ticket), showcasing Jewish relics from Hungary. Highlights include an ornate seder plate made by Hungarian porcelain manufacturer Herendi, and a 3rd century A.D. tombstone with a carved menorah on it.
#2 - Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue (location; opening hours vary, closed on Saturday; HUF 1,000 admission): This impressive art nouveau synagogue from 1913 dominates the winding Kazinczy Street, which has long been home to Budapest's orthodox community (and more recently to Budapest's nightlife). The inside features pale-blue walls, stained glass windows, and benches adorned with Hungarian folk motifs. This fortress-like edifice also has a kosher butcher shop and convenience store (35 Dob Street), a kosher restaurant (Hanna), two prayer rooms, and a wrought iron canopy (chuppah) under which a Jewish couple stands during their wedding ceremony. Today, the congregation has only about 70 members.
#3 - Rumbach Street “Status quo ante” Synagogue (location; currently closed for renovation): This tastefully grand synagogue was designed by renowned Viennese architect, Otto Wagner, in 1872. The synagogue's members consisted of the “status quo ante” faction, which favored some religious reforms but was put off by the modern designs of the Dohány Street Synagogue nearby. The Islamic ornaments—minaret-like towers and slender, Moorish-style Alhambra columns—evoke the medieval architecture of Sephardic Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. The building is currently closed for renovation.
#4 - Salgótarjani Street Jewish Cemetery (location; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on Saturday; free admission): Opened in 1874, this is the oldest still-existing Jewish cemetery in Budapest. The Jewish business and political elite is buried here, as signaled by marble and granite mausoleums designed by leading architects of the time like Béla Lajta. A highlight is the cubic structure of the funeral home (ohel). Most tombs are abandoned, overgrown by ivy and creeper, and partially collapsed, as many family members either died in the Holocaust or fled from Hungary, leaving no one to maintain the graves.
#5 - Mikveh at Kazinczy Street (location; advance registration necessary to visit or to use the bath: +36 20 961 5419): Oddly, Budapest’s only Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) is located right next to Szimpla Kert, the world-famous ruin bar. To meet the strict religious requirements, the bath uses rainwater collected on the roof, and spring water through wells drilled in the garden. The bath, built in 1928, was partially refurbished in 2004, when a New York-based Hasidic mikveh specialist commuted every week between New York and Budapest to supervise the renovations.
#6 - Budapest University of Jewish Studies (location; opening hours vary, call +36 1 318 7049, extension 110 to schedule a visit; €10 admission): In 1877, Neolog Jews opened a Rabbinical Seminary to educate a secularly inclined clergy. During communism, it was the only rabbinical seminary in the Eastern Bloc. Today, 180 students are enrolled with an academic staff of 80. Departments include rabbinic and Jewish studies, and social work. There's a charming synagogue inside the building, and the university is also home to the world's most complete library on Jewish topics. You can arrange guided tours using the phone number listed above.
#7 - Dessewffy Street Orthodox Synagogue (location; opening hours vary, usually open only in the mornings from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.; call +36 30 200 7674 to schedule a visit; no admission): Hidden behind a nondescript, one-story building, it's the oldest orthodox synagogue in Budapest. It was known as the "porters' synagogue" as many of its congregants were carriers at the nearby Nyugati railway station. The bima (reading table) is made of Carrara marble. Today, with only three active members, they are unable to assemble a minyan, but meet every weekday morning for prayer. You can arrange a visit using the phone number listed above.
#8 - Medieval Jewish Prayer Room (location; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed on Monday and Tuesday; HUF 800 admission): Of Budapest's medieval synagogues, only this one, a teeny-tiny Sepharidc prayer room has survived, which today operates as a museum and also the local Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidics use it for services. In the courtyard, they display remains of the massive Ashkenazi synagogue, which was destroyed in 1686 when Christian allied forces recaptured the city from the Ottomans. Inside the prayer room, the paintings and Hebrew inscriptions convey the existential worries and quest for peace of the local Jews. Next to the entrance are excavated medieval tombstones.
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