Then and now: The Óbuda Synagogue is 200 years old

The organization „Bennem Élő Eredet” („The Origins Inside Me”) talks about the past and present of the historic synagogue in Óbuda.

Learning from the past is our responsibility. The oldest, still-operating, and once largest synagogue in the country is now 200 years old. The Óbuda Synagogue is currently, in 2021, part of Budapest, but when it was founded, it was still considered a part of rural Hungary.

„Unfortunately, only a few elderly people still attend our synagogue…” — Katalin Peraki, whose family has a century-old history in Óbuda, lamented about the composition of today’s community of Óbuda synagogue. Both her grandparents and parents were married in the community, within the walls of this synagogue, and she herself attended the 200-year-old synagogue for the first time before World War II.

Apart from her, there cannot be many others, who even after more than 75 years are still members of the country’s formerly largest Jewish synagogue district. However,

today it is almost impossible to find a synagogue in Hungary where an active, young community would have been organized as successfully in recent years.

The building, which celebrated its birthday on July 20th and is also scheduled to be publicly celebrated in September, is home to a community that has undergone the most spectacular development in the past decade. People hanging on the chandelier or 600–700 celebrators is not out of the ordinary during larger holidays at Lajos Street.

At the time of its construction, in the first half of the 19th century, the Jews of Óbuda were the largest community in the country. In addition to the some 4,000 Catholic Swabians, 3,210 Jews lived in the settlement, which operated as an independent city.

Therefore, they were owed a historic patinás building. This was achieved in less than a year and a half by the ambitious community. On July 20, 1821, the largest synagogue in the entire Habsburg monarchy was inaugurated according to the plans of András Landherr in a ceremonial setting.

Mózes Münz, one of the most famous rabbis of his time, became the spiritual leader of the synagogue, whose exterior was built per a classicist style and whose interior is reminiscent of the Baroque style.

The gaon had been serving in Óbuda for almost three decades at that time, and his prestige is shown by the fact that he exercised supervision over the faith communities and rabbis of Pest County; for another 10 years, until his death due to a cholera epidemic, he served as a community rabbi. His grave in Óbuda is still a place of pilgrimage to this day.

Based on archaeological finds, the synagogue, which was handed over 200 years ago, may have been built on the remains of a synagogue previously built on the same site, or there may have even been two synagogues. (In 1947, it was even found that the foundation walls of the building were on Roman remains.) Almost 100 years earlier, in 1727, with the permission of the Counts of Zichy, a house of prayer could have operated as well in Óbuda.

According to researchers, this synagogue was further expanded between 1767 and 1769, according to the plans of Máté Nepauer, but even then the craftsmen had to face the fact that due to the unfavorable soil conditions — built on the Danube alluvial plain — their work would hardly be permanent. A few decades later, as the walls cracked, the building had to be demolished per an official decision at the time, although much of the walls remained.

In the shadow of Buda and before the rise of Pest, Óbuda underwent unprecedented development. Polish, German, and Moravian Jewish families settling there were able to reach agreements much more smoothly than most with the Zichys, who owned the land, showed leniency for good money, and provided opportunities; these families were thus able to establish independent economic enterprises here.

The Jewish „batyuzók” („merchants”) in Óbuda were also involved in trade fairs and trading. Among other things, they were licensed to sell sugar, wool, and sheepskin, and several artisans were able to gain a foothold in the town, where important units of silk processing, blue dyeing, and over time, textile production (such as the legendary Goldberger textile factory).

According to many, the later descendants of this generation may have become the entrepreneurs and traders who later belonged to the first Jewish generation of Pest’s commercial and industrial life and who — with their grandiose plans and financial resources — earned timeless merit in creating today’s image of Budapest.

Read more about the history of the synagogue by clicking here!

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