Temple or Synagogue?

The Jewish Triangle in Pest

By the mid-nineteen century a dense Jewish quarter evolved in Teréz- and Erzsébetváros (at that time the latter was still part of the former), extending from the mouth of Király utca to István tér / Klauzál tér.
This was the new Jewish quarter of the old Pest, "Alt-Neustadt", old-new Jewish quarter, meaning old incomparision to Lipót- / Új-Lipótváros and new compared to the original core of the Jewish quarter, the Zsidópiac (Jewish market) and the lower part of Király utca.
We chose to call it "Triangle" because the three grand synagogues or temples, the "Dohány", the Rumbach" and the "Kazinczy" are its geographical as well as spiritual cornerstones, symbolizing the three major religious wings in the history of Hungarian Jewry in modern times.
This Triangle embraces 150 years of Hungarian Jewish history.

(1) Synagogue or Temple?

There is some ambiguity about the use of these terms. Ever since the second Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans (70 C.E.),there is no Jewish temple (heikhal) in the literal sense of the word. Synagogue is a Greek word (synagoge), seldom used in Hebrew or Yiddish. Its a Hebrew equivalent is bet ha-keneset, "house of assembly", or bet tefillah, "house of prayer". The Ashkenazi (Yiddish) term for prayer-house is shul/shil/shül (German Schulr)meaning school, study house (bet ha-midrash/ beis-medresh). The word temple (Tempel) was first used in German (Seesen, Westfalen, 1810) and spread quickly among the German reform movements. As for the sociological context of the words, a (Neolog) rabbi recently argued that it may be more "elegant" to use synagogue in an analytical text,but no one would ever say in Hungary: "I am going to synagogue", except maybe someone who never goes. Those who do go today say temple. This word corresponds best to the cultural context, too. If there is a distinction to be made, than the Orthodox usage is shul and the Neolog one is temple; Rumbach shul but Tabak temple.

The growth of the Jewish community of Pest both in number and in wealth made warranting the construction of a new temple, one that matched the community in size and appearance. By the mid-nineteen century at least 40,000 Jews lived in the capital. Two opinions seemed to have crystallized within the Jewish community, the "synagogue-party" and the "temple party". The formation of various religious tendencies within the Hungarian Jewish community and their institutional separation was most evident in Pest, the largest community. Here, some signs of the future split a speared already in the first half of the nineteen century, although the formal split was to occur later.

Löw Schwab, or Arszlán Schwab, as he was called on the title page of the Hungarian translation of one of his works, with an archaizing Hungarian form of his first name, was elected chief rabbi of Pest in

1836, ten years after Wahrmann's death. He studied on Moses Scheiber's famous yeshivah but became an advocate of moderate reforms as long as these did not violate the laws of the Torah. He supported a assimilationist tendencies, held his sermons (derashah/droshe) in literary German rather than in Yiddish, and even though he himself spoke no Hungarian, he encouraged his congregation to Magyarize themselves.

For him Magyarization meant loyalty to Hungary as its citizen and cultural identification, as it did for Móric Bloch, but he did not consider the Hungarian language itself an important element of modernization. When the community invited him to become their rabbi, nobody asked if he knew Hungarian, and nobody expected him to learn it. He replied to the letter of invitation in Hebrew. Reform per se was not an issue for him, but he did not oppose it either. Schwab was invited to be the rabbi of the whole community, thus he felt obliged to head the progressive party as well, those who yearned for a new synagogue/temple.

In 1837 the community rented the plot of land where the Dohány synagogue stands today from Baron Antal Baldacci (Baldácsy), a landowner, for 32 years. A few years later, in 1841, they rented the neighboring plot, 12 Pfeiffer Gasse/Sípos utca (today Síp utca), too.

Since in 1840 a law was enacted which made it possible for Jews to own property (Lajos Kossuth called Act XXIX of 1840 "a tiny result of great words", Pesti Hírlap, April 24, 1841), the Jewish community bought both plots in 1844. They were planning to build a school there, but finally decided in favor of a new synagogue.

The Jewish community set up a committee headed by Dávid Öszterreicher whose task was to determine which tendency the new synagogue should follow. On the suggestion of R. Schwab the synagogue construction committee decided on September 3, 1845, that the new synagogue would be built according to Wiener Minhag, with a choir and an organ to enhance the festive mood, but in all other respects the traditional ritual would be observed.

Followers of other, even more traditional tendency would have a separate synagogue built. In 1850 the committee was set up again, this time headed by R. Schwab himself. Among its members were Joszéf Bach, Sámuel Löw Brill, the new rabbi of the community, and Júda Wahrmann, the dayyan. They again decided to have a "cult" temple built and the community leadership confirmed it. These decisions prove that followers of the modern tendency were in majority at the Orczy House, that their opinion was decisive for the Pest community by the mid-nineteenth century.

Finally, in 1853 the Königliche Statthalterei authorized the construction. There was no doubt that a temple would be built.

Kinga Frojimovics, Géza Komoróczy, Viktória Pusztai and Andrea Strbik: Jewish Budapest - Monuments, Rites, History


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