The Jewish Story in Pest

In 1783, the Austrian government issued an Edict of Tolerance, which was a semi act of emancipation, and allowed Jews to live amongst non-Jews on a number of conditions:

  • They had to pay lots of money
  • They had to learn German
  • Their children had to go to German schools
  • Only the marriage of the eldest son in each family would be officially recognised by the state.

This presented a number of advantages:

  • No distinguishing marks had to be worn
  • All taxes on moving were abolished
  • Jews were able to join guilds and engage in normal professions
  • The Jews were allowed to move into Pest

HOWEVER, the authorities of the city of Pest in Hungary, decreed that Jews were not allowed to own property in Pest.

The answer to the problem was provided by Count Orczy, who purchased a large building in Pest and rented rooms to Jews. These were known as the Orczy Houses. The first Jews moved to Pest in 1795 and by 1800, 1000 Jews were living there.

The Orczy houses began to expand and became a modern urbanised ghetto, also known as Judenhof. By 1796 it had its first prayer house and later expanded to fit luxury apartments, shochtim, a Mikveh, a restaurant and in 1814 a school, which also taught secular subjects and German.

In 1820 a larger Synagogue was built with an Ezrat Nashim which could seat 585 people.

Five years later, there was a split in the community. A new minyan was established in the older prayer house. This minyan had sermons in German, had a choir and a chazzan and allowed the Shaliach Tzibor to pray on behalf of the congregation whilst the congregation sat quietly. This became the first Hungarian Nealogue community.

The Nealogue movement formed itself along similar lines to the Reform movement in Germany, which was working to its theology around the same time, but there was never an official link.

In 1830, the community was officially recognised as the official representative body of Hungarian Jews. By this point it was as big and as popular as the regular community in the newer Synagogue.

By the 1850’s it was the clear dominant movement taking its name, Nealogue, meaning ‘New Thought’. During the 1850’s, the Jews were given permission to move out of the Orczy Houses, but before they did, they decided to make a bold statement, to show the Hungarians that they were a modern community, ready for emancipation. They therefore built a new Synagogue, which was finished in 1859, the Dohany Synagogue.

The Dohany Synagogue

The Dohany was a Synagogue with a concept, to show that Judaism was a modern religion. With this in mind, the Dohany was built to be loud and proud. The Synagogue that they built, therefore, is the largest Synagogue in Europe and the second largest Synagogue in the world. The Nealogues were a prospering people, who were primarily Hungarian, and thought of Judaism as their religion and not their nationality.

The opening ceremony of the Synagogue took place in September 1857. Once everyone was seated, the doors were flung open, and children ran in holding torches and throwing flowers. During his address, the Chief Rabbi thanked G-d, Hungary and the Emperor. The building itself is very trendy, with a Moorish style (including lots of onion domes), 3 naves, an electric Parochet, two Ezrot Nashim, no bimah, a choir and an organ. In fact, the organ is so big that the technology to use all of its pipes was only developed in 1932, 75 years after its consecration. Incidentally, the organ was only ever played by a non-Jew, so that Shabbat was not being broken.

The Synagogue has two pulpits because in 1867, the Jews were given two seats in Parliament, one for the Orthodox community and one for the Nealogues. There were two candidates for the Nealogue seat, Dr. Emmanuel Low, the Rabbi of the Nealogue Synagogue in Szeged and Dr. Simon Hesevi, one of the two Rabbis of the Dohany. Low was eventually elected, which made Hesevi very unhappy. Hesevi was the one of the two Rabbis of the Dohany, along with Rabbi Dr. Gyula Fisher. Hesevi was mollified by the community after his loss of a seat in parliament by being promoted to leading Rabbi of the Dohany. This angered Fisher, who refused to share a pulpit with him, so a second pulpit was built.

In 1876, on the death of Count Széchenyi, a large memorial was held in the Dohany. In 1896, a celebration was held in the Dohany on the 1000th anniversary of the arrival in Hungary of the Magyars. Similarly a memorial was held on the death of Lajos Kossuth, all to show just how Hungarian the community was. It is a matter of note that no commemoration was held the year before to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Jews coming to Hungary.

The Orthodox community, from the outset, looked upon the Nealogue community with distain. This was manifested most publicly in 1984, when the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, a traditionally Orthodox Jew, came to the Dohany to take part in a Holocaust Memorial service. Despite the fact that he was sitting in the front row, he got up and walked out of the synagogue half way through, ran down to the Orthodox Synagogue, recited Minchah, the afternoon prayers and then went back to the Dohany!


  • Touring Notes - Richard Goldstein
  • Jewish Journeys - Jeremy Leigh

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