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Friday, June 12, 2015

MY VISIT TO THE DOHANY SYNAGOGUE IN BUDAPEST







In early June (2015), my wife and I visited the famous Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, and were fascinated by it.

Located in the old Jewish section of Pest, the so-called Tabakgasse synagogue (“dohany” means “tobacco” in Hungarian, from the Ottoman Turkish and Arabic “duhan”) is the largest house of worship in Europe and one of the biggest temples in the Jewish world (Temple Emanuel in NY is larger). It can accommodate close to 3000 worshipers, and looks very much like the Central Synagogue of NYC.  It costs about $13 to get in as a tourist. 

Originally built in the Moorish style in 1859, the synagogue is a part of a complex that also houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum. Behind the impressive Ark (see picture above), there is a huge organ that was played by famous musicians like Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens. It also has a mixed choir. Worshippers, both men and women, can sit on the ground floor but women are segregated to the sides.

The synagogue was bombed by the Hungarian pro-Nazis in Feb.1939, and used as a base for the German Radio and stable by the nazis during the WW2.  Thanks to the generosity of many American Jews, like Estee Lauder and Toni Curtis, the temple was restored between 1991-98.

The congregation practices what they call “Neolog” Judaism that is based on the teachings of Rabbi Zecharias Frankel (1801-1875, died in Breslau) of the Positive-Historical Judaism, and is somewhere between Reform and Conservative Judaism in the States. However, they are not formally affiliated with either movement in America.

Before arriving in Budapest I wrote a note to the Rabbi of the temple. When we got there, I tried to see him personally but he was not available, so I left him a message.

It is not clear how many Jews live in Hungary today. The estimated range is from 120,000 to as low a 35,000.

When you have a chance, do visit this magnificent structure. You will be very impressed by it.

Rifat Sonsino
June 12, 2015