Dohány Utcai Zsinagóga

Historical Outline

The history of the synagogue goes back to the 18th century. In those days two old communities - Óbuda and Pozsony - played a leading role in the life of the Hungarian Jews. Although in the first part of the century the local authority of Pest rendered it difficult for the Jews to travel through the city, by the end of the century, 1799, there were already 310 "tolerated" and 765 temporarily staying Jews living in Pest (Terezváros and Lipótváros districts). In the first part of the 19th century great social changes took place among the Jews, with their number in the cities increasing and their social roles altering. In Pest their number already equaled 5,276 in 1827; more than 10,000 in 1848 and, according to the national census, at the time of the construction of the synagogue, in 1857, the Jewish community had 23,101 members registered. In 1848 there were already 126 Jewish merchants in Pest, compared to the 114 Christian ones, which shows not only the continuous increase of their number in the local authority, but also of their social importance.

The growth of the Jewish population brought along the demand for having more places for worship. In Pest the first and very modest prayer room was founded at the end of the 18th century. In the 1840s more and more little of the main festivals extra seats had to be made first of all in Jewish boarding-schools, schools and orphanages.

The above-mentioned details and the opening of the imposing synagogue of Vienna in 1826 started a process leading to the construction of the Dohány Street synagogue. As a precedent, the construction of the Viennese synagogue played an important role: the reformed ritual accompanied by the choir was already initiated in the temple of cult (Kultustempel) of the Orczy building, which was opened in 1828. From this point on, the planning and construction of a new, great synagogue was well on its way. In 1845 a council of religious and secular leaders decided about the construction of the synagogue- a synagogue which respects the traditions, though admits liberal endeavors. The service was to be made more solemn by the organ and the choir. After a lot of efforts, the site was finally enrolled in the land register on 24th July 1845.

By the beginning of 1854, after several disputes and trouble there were three plans at the disposal of the committee in charge of the construction; the first architectural plan in neo-classic style made by József Hild, the second in Byzantine style by Frigyes Feszl, and the third in Moorish style devised by Ludwig Förster. Out of these plans the committee accepted that of the German architect, Ludwig Förster (1797-1863), the designing architect of the Viennese synagogue and professor at the Viennese Academy. The affection for eclecticism and the forms of expression of the Italian Renaissance are characteristic of his work. He made the plans not only for Vienna's Ringstrasse and many Viennese public buildings; also his name characterizes the new, romantic synagogue architecture style. The direct predecessor of the Dohány Street Synagogue was the Synagogue located at the Tempelgasse in Vienna, which was finished in 1854 based on the plans of Ludwig Förster. It’s layout, the cast iron support pillar system and the two-level female gallery and decorations were introduced in the Dohány Street Synagogue, which the foundation-stone was laid on 5th September 1854. When Förster was not on the site of the construction, the work was directed by Ignác Wechselmann, as an architectural foreman. The ceremonial opening of the synagogue took place on 6th September 1859, before the High festivals. The Tempelgasse and the Dohány Street Synagogue became the first monumental examples of the next decades European and especially Hungarian synagogue construction style, they had a strong impact on the latter synagogue plan. It is a well-known fact, that the New York Central Synagogue (East 50th Street) shows the direct effect of the “Dohány”.

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