The Great Synagogue in Budapest is not your typical Jewish temple. If you ever visited a synagogue before you probably noticed they are quite simple and austere places of prayer. But not this one!
Located on the Pest side of Budapest, in the Jewish Quarter, the Great Synagogue stands tall and majestic. This is the largest Jewish temple in Europe and the second largest one in the world.
The History of the Great Synagogue in Budapest
The second half of the 19th century was a period of prosperity for the Jewish community of Hungary. As a result, the Jews founded many institutions during this period, including the Great Synagogue in Budapest.
The building was designed by Ludwig Förster, a German architect who believed that there was no distinctively Jewish architecture. As a result, he chose “architectural forms that have been used by the Israelite people.” The construction ended in 1859.
At the time, the Great Synagogue in Budapest was quite an architectural achievement. With its golden dome and its lavish interior, the synagogue was the pride of the Jewish community in Budapest.
Sine Jews have always been entrepreneurial merchants, many of them were very affluent people. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that there is so much opulence in this synagogue
During World War II, the Germans used the synagogue as a radio communication center. As many other structures in Budapest, the synagogue suffered a lot of damage during the bombings of 1944. The building remained in a state of total disrepair until the 1990s, when a full-scale restoration began.
What to Expect Inside the Jewish Synagogue of Budapest
The Great Synagogue in Budapest has a central nave resembling that of a cathedral. The nave has Moorish decorations with a mixture of Byzantine and Gothic elements.
The interior walls have oriental motifs in shades of pink. There are beautiful frescoes and ornaments, many chandeliers, lamp-brackets, a beautiful pulpit and even an organ.
In line with the ancient Jewish tradition, at the east wall of the Synagogue stands the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contains the Torah scrolls (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible).
During the World War II a couple of Catholic monks hid the scrolls, thus saving them from the Germans. The scrolls were returned to the Jewish community.
On top of the synagogues you can see the stone tablets with the ten commandments. Above the main entrance gate there is an inscription in Hebrew. The inscription reads: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25,8).
Today the synagogue’s community is more inclined toward integration into the Hungarian society. As such, they practice a less traditional form of Judaism which allows women to sit in the same room as men. In the same new spirit, they allow organ music during the ceremonies.
The Great Synagogue Complex
The synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the Cemetery, the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum.
The Heroes’ Temple was added to the complex in 1931. The Temple is a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during World War I. The temple can seat about 250 people and serves as the meeting place for religious services during winter time.
In the backyard of the Synagogue there is a small Jewish Cemetery. This may come as a surprise, as it’s not customary to have a cemetery next to a synagogue. However, this burial place was the result of a historical circumstance.
During the winter of 1944-45 over 2,000 people died in the Jewish ghetto. Since they couldn’t find any other place to bury them, the community created a mass grave in the back of the Synagogue.
The Holocaust Jewish Memorial sits in the rear courtyard, behind the Synagogue and the Heroes’ Temple. It resembles a willow tree on whose leaves are the names of the 400,000 Hungarian Jews who died by the hands of the Nazis in WWII.
The Jewish Museum is adjacent to the synagogue. The museum features Jewish traditions, costumes, as well a detailed history of Hungarian Jews.
Tips for Visiting the Jewish Synagogue in Budapest
You can visit the Great Synagogue in Budapest every day of the week except for Saturdays, during their prayer services. Guided tours in several languages are available between 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
The tours are very informative and even entertaining, therefore I highly reccoment booking one if you plan to visit the synagogue complex. You’ll hear amusing stories and get valuable insights into the Jewish community in Budapest.
Inside the synagogue men have to wear a small skullcap called kipah or yarmulke (handed out at the entrance). Women have to have their shoulders covered.
The Great Synagogue in Budapest is primarily a house of prayer and worship, but it occasionally hosts cultural events and music programs. Visiting it is a must of you have at least 3 days in Budapest.
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