Today, Budapest has a total of 16 functional synagogues. There was a schism among Budapest's Jews in 1868 over their divergent views on assimilation, so the synagogues actually belong to three different factions of the local Jewish community. All three communities built stunningly beautiful temples and cemeteries for themselves before WWII. Naturally, many of them are inside Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Most notable is the central synagogue of each congregation, which together constitute the so-called "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—when it was built in 1859. Although the congregation today has only about 300 active members, the Dohány Street Synagogue still fills up during the 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 are the Tablets of Stone, symbolically stripped of their content. The symbolic tomb of Raoul Wallenberg commemorates 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 a 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 anchors the winding Kazinczy Street, which has long been home to Budapest's orthodox Jewish 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 includes 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 graciously grand synagogue was designed by renowned Viennese architect, Otto Wagner, in 1872. The Rumbach Street Synagogue's congregation once belonged to the “status quo ante” faction, people who favored some religious reforms but were put off by the modern designs of the nearby Dohány Street Synagogue. The Islamic ornaments—minaret-like towers and slender, Moorish-style Alhambra columns—evoke the medieval architecture of Sephardic Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. Today, the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic group manages the building.
#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 evidenced by ornate marble and granite mausoleums that were designed by leading architects of the time. One of the highlights is the cubic structure of the funeral home (ohel) at the entry. Most of the tombs are abandoned, overgrown by ivy and creeper, and partially collapsed, because the family members of the deceased either died in the Holocaust or fled Hungary, leaving no one to maintain the graves.
#5 - Mikveh at Kazinczy Street (location; advance registration necessary to visit or use the bath: +36 20 961 5419): Bizarrely, Budapest’s single 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 only 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 oversee 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, Budapest's Neolog Jews founded a Rabbinical Seminary to educate a secularly inclined clergy. During communism, this 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 of Jewish theology. You can arrange a guided tour 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, Dessewffy is the oldest orthodox synagogue of Budapest. It was known as the "porters' synagogue," as many of its congregants worked as carriers at the nearby Nyugati railway station. The bima (reading table) is made of Carrara marble. Today, there are only three active members, meaning that they're unable to assemble a minyan, but they 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 teeny-tiny Sepharidc prayer room has survived. Today, it operates as a museum, and also the local Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidics use it for services. Some of the remains of the once-massive Ashkenazi synagogue, which was destroyed in 1686 when the Christian allied forces recaptured the city from the Ottomans, are displayed in the courtyard. Inside the prayer room, the paintings and Hebrew inscriptions convey the existential worries of local Jews. Next to the entrance are excavated medieval tombstones.
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