by Ilona P. Brestyánszky

The Jewish Museum's collection of Judaica came into being largely through bequests, gifts and purchases. Only a small part id the result of purposeful collecting. The religious, Synagogue and privately owned ritual objects, perhaps a couple of thousand in number- mirror Hungarian Jewry's centuries-old history, full of vicissitude, yet not wanting in luster and wealth. The Jews appeared on the country's territory already in the 3rd century in what was Pannonia in the Roman period. The headstones also mention a synagogue around Intercisa (today Dunaújváros).[1] But its remains have been destroyed by the storm of history just as those of the Synagogues that were built in later centuries which are recalled in written data. Jews settled in Buda after the Mongol invasion, in the 1250s. King Béla IV gave them that privilege in 1251 which among others, assured the right of maintaining a Synagogue. An important role was played in the issuance of the patent of privilege by king's chamberlain, Comes Henel who, with his sons also rented the queen's tax collection and in 1250 was bailiff of the mint in Esztergom. He moved from Vienna to Hungary between 1246 and 1250. With his family, he established the first Jewish quarters in Buda. No trace is left of his wealth for which he was famous, nor of the furnishings of the first Synagogue mentioned by Chronicle of Buda in connection with an occurrence in 1302.[2] From 1364 the Jewish quarters were located on the north- and southwest side of what is today Tancsis Mihály utca. This is where they lived till the Turks were driven from Hungary (1686)[3] with the exception of the short period of time between the Mohács Disaster and the fall of Buda (1526-1541). In this area stood their two Synagogues, one of which was destroyed when the Turks were put to rout.[4] The Buda congregation reached the pinnacle of its development in the 15th and 16th centuries, lasting from King Matthias's ascent to the throne to the fall of Buda. The wealthy and respected leaders of the congregation displayed a great of splendor at crowning and other festivities. Historians noted that King Matthias on his way to be crowned in Székesfehérvár in 1464, was followed by a splendid group of Jews from Buda. A member of the famed and rich Mendel family was riding with 16 shield-bearers in front of the king. The retainer carrying the flag was followed by two pages "whose silver swords were attached to their waist by rich and superb belt. These were followed by Mendel sword in hand and his company in his footsteps..."[5] In 1476 at Matthias's wedding procession the Jews welcomed the king and his wife Beatrice of Aragon at the gates of the city. In the saddle in full dress their elder marched with 32 riders dressed in silver, in his hand a drawn sword, the basket of its grip being felled with ten pounds of silver. Behind him rode his son, also with a sword that had a grip's basket filled with silver. After them came 24 knights dressed in scarlet, finally the procession closed with 200 turbaned Jews carrying a red flag with Hebrew inscription embellished with a Star of David under which were three gold stars and above an embroidered gold crown. The elders stood under a canopy, amongst them one holding a gold-decorated Torah in his hand.[6] When Wladislaw II (1490-1516) entered the city he too was greeted with a Torah.[7] King Matthias heaped hi court Jews the esteemed Mendel Family of Buda, with favors by appointing them to be permanent leaders of Hungary’s Jewish community. The Mendels represented their country’s Jews in a manner that fit their rank and wealth. On festive occasions their appearance was admired by all. The Prefect moved about in Wladislaw II’s wedding procession as the “Prince of the Jews”. The Jews of Buda who had extensive western contacts – especially members of the Mendel Family and Imre Fortunatus, King Wladislaw’s treasurer- must have used high standards in furnishing their synagogue. This shown by the remains of the – even by Central European standards outstanding- late Gothic synagogue excavated in a parcel of land once owned by the Mendel family in the heart of the Jewish quarter. However no trace is left of their wealth through historical documents witness the fact that on the liberation of Buda the Emperor’s men took 35 Torah scrolls of the congregation to Nikolsburg.[8] The Jewish Museum’s oldest ceremonial objects are a couple of pieces of Turkish workmanship made during the period of Turkish occupation. They are a simple pair of copper Rimmonim whose upper part is in the form of pomegranate and the engraved ornament is also pomegranate. According to the inscription, they were made by Tzvi Hersh, son of David in 1602. The Rimmon (finial) is the oldest Torah ornament. The Hebrew name means pomegranate which is the symbol of life and fertility in the East. In the Bible it ornamented the High Priest’s robe. It is put on thetop of the Torah roller which is called Etz Hayyim, tree of life. The oldest Rimmon dating from the 15th century, is preserved in the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. The form of the Rimmon developed differently in countries of the East and the West. To the present the typical Rimmon of the Near East has a comparatively small head on a cylindrical stem whereas in the West, it takes on the form of architecture and is shapes like a filigree turret. Varriations with little bells that jingle when the Torah is carried around came into being in the 18th century. The most artistic ritual object of the Jewish Museum – made around 1700 according ti its engraving- is a pair of Rimmonim donated by Abraham Sopher in 1701. Its mark indicates that it was made by silversmith Angiello Scarbello d’Este of Padua. It was in Italy where the most exquisite Rimmonim were made. In shaping them, the silversmith took advantage of all of his artistic and technical talents. Both the form and the technical execution of these masterpieces whose corresponding example is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, are admirable. The three-tiered Rimmonim are outstanding creations of European silversmiths. This is because of their detailed fine miniature work, the baroque utilization of light and shade effect as well as their variations of interlocking curved decorations, and thelittle compartments opening on latticed balconies containing small gilt cast figures of the Jerusalem sanctuary in them. The Budapest exemplars were executed more lavishly than those in Jerusalem; they also have ornaments hanging in two rows from the bottom. Until most recent times, the Hungarian Jewish community has had close family, commercial, financial and cultural relations with Austria and Germany. Thus it is obvious that the rest of the Museum’s Rimmonim – with the exception of the Krivoi Rog ivory Rimmon- would belong to the Austrian branch of Central European silversmith work. They are simple in form their cylindrical stem is engraved with leaf- decoration in a style characteristic of the period with rather large open crowns on top and bells inside them. Many of them are work of Viennese masters. They show little variations which at the same time is a sign of Jewish traditionalism. They are usually topped by the double-headed heraldic eagle or the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.   The pair of Rimmonim made by Viennese craftsman K.I. in 1818 which look like palm trees with bells among the branches are of special interest. From the middle of the 18th century the number of historical objects grow in number. The pair of Rimmonim of the congregation of Pest was made in 1754 by a Viennese silversmith Joseph Böheim. It probably became the property of the congregation only later, since at the time there was as yet no congregation in Pest. The city had not permitted Jews to come into its territory for a hundred years after the Turks were driven out. Thus the establishment of the congregation can be dated only from 1787.

The congregation in Buda in constant struggle with the city’s council after liberation from the Turks, merely vegetated. In 1746 it was finally driven out altogether. Many of the exiled families moved to Óbuda which was flourishing under the protection of the wife of Count Péter Zichy.

The Jews moved into Óbuda during the first decade of the 18th century. By the time of the 1737 census 43 families had settled there. Their synagogue is first mentioned in 1738.[9] Ábrahám Trebitsch wrote about them in 1746 that they were a big congregation, “full of sages, rich and wealthy people.”[10] Beside  commerce, they were also engaged in trade and were craftsmen among them too.

The Jewish Museum’s 17th century cup probably belonged to the first synagogue’s utensils. There are three circles engraved on its side with garlanded heads of antique warriors in them and the inscription that the cup had been made at the order of the Óbuda Holy Society in 1749.  This simple in that period widely used drinking cup is clear illustration of the fact that utensils, cup beakers, sugar bowls, originally made for secular use, became with the passage of time Jewish cultic objects. This change in function can be found all over Europe, not only among Jews but also in other denominations, for instance among Protestants. The Museum has quite a collection of excellent work by European silversmiths consisting of silver goblets and cups originally secular in nature and later used for ritual purposes.




[1] Sándor [Alexander] Scheiber: “Zsidó sarok az új régészeti kiállításon” [Jewish Corner int he New Archeological  Exhibition], Új Élet XVIII (1962), No. 2,2.

[2] Sándor Büchler: A zsidók története Budapesten a legrégebbi időktől 1867-ig [Jewish History in Budapest from the Earliest Times to 1867], Budapest, 1901, 22-41.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Büchler: op. cit., 45-46

[6] László Zolnay: „Középkori zsinagógák a budai várban” [Synagogues of the Middle Ages int he Castle of Buda], Budapest régiségei XXII (1971), 271-284

[7] Büchler: op. cit., 47.

[8] Büchler: op.,cit., 169.

[9] Büchler: op. cit., 270-271.

[10] Büchler: op. cit., 269.