Judaism World Religions

Places of Worship – The Great Synagogue of Budapest


Place of Worship:        The Great Synagogue

Location:                        Budapest, Hungary

Belief:                             Judaism

Date Opened:                1854 CE

The Great Synagogue on Dohany Street in downtown Budapest is the largest in Europe, with a capacity of around 3,000 people.

Construction began around 1854 led by architect Ludwig Forster from Austria. It was completed and consecrated in 1859. The design was influenced by Andalusia and the two towers are reminiscent of Muslim minarets. There is an inscription from the Torah above the main entrance; ‘And have them make Me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.’[1] The interior design allowed for the separation of men and women during worship.

Interestingly, this was the centre for Hungarian Neolog Jews. The Neologs were more moderate than the Orthodox Jews, and believed in assimilation into mainstream society. This was influenced by prejudice against Jews in Europe and their need for security. Some of the moves in Hungary to assimilate included shifting the Sabbath day to Sunday, relaxing kashrut food rules, abolishing circumcision and changing the language of worship to Hungarian from Yiddish.

As with much of Europe, Hungary suffered during the Second World War at the hands of the Nazis and the synagogue’s location marked the edge of the Jewish ghetto in the city and sheltered hundreds of Jews as troubles flared. It is estimated that 400,000 Hungarian Jews were killed by the Nazis and the synagogue suffered a lot of damage whilst being used as a radio station and stables.

During the Communist era of Hungary, the synagogue was returned as a place of worship for the Jews of the city, but it was only once Communism fell that the synagogue was restored, and a Holocaust Memorial was added. The temple area now also includes Torah scrolls recovered from other synagogues destroyed across Europe during the Holocaust. The Central Synagogue of New York is modelled on this Hungarian historic synagogue.

[1] Tanakh, Exodus 25:8.