Budapest’s three grand main synagogues, located in the central part of the city on Dohány, Kazinczy and Rumbach streets, are local landmarks. But there are a more than a score of other synagogues scattered around the Hungarian capital, most of them home to active — if small — congregations.
In a series of three articles, JHE Contributor Michele Migliori explores the lesser-known synagogues in Budapest.
The first article, which we published two weeks ago, took a look at five synagogues that are no longer being used as synagogues.
This second article explores synagogues that are hidden from view — sanctuaries located within building courtyards and apartments. Some of these synagogues are not visible at all from the outside, while others have signage or some kind of architectural signal that indicates their function. They range from simply prayer rooms to more elaborate synagogues.
Most of the synagogues described here are located on the flat Pest side of the city, where the majority of the Jewish population lived during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The article is divided into four geographical sections: the city’s 6th district, also called Terézváros; the 8th district, also known as Józsefváros; the 13th district, Újlipótváros; and one section dedicated to synagogues located in other neighborhoods.
I. Sixth District
The 6th district lies on both sides of broad, straight Andrassy Avenue, the elegant main artery leading northwest from city center to Varosliget park.
The Dessewffy street Orthodox synagogue is several blocks north of the avenue, at Dessewffy street 23. Opened in 1870, the synagogue was known as the “Porters’ synagogue” at the time, since it mainly served Jewish porters and delivery men. Its red brick walls recall the building’s original use as a coachman’s stable. Its facade is marked by arched doors and windows and topped by the tablets of the Ten Commandments, while inside there is a marvelous Carrara marble art deco bimah, which was brought to the synagogue around 1935.
The Shas Chevra Lubavitch Shul and Pesti Yeshiva located in a courtyard on Vasvári Pal Street on the other side of Andrassy Avenue not far from the Opera House. It has belonged to the Chabad Lubavitch movement since 1992 and was renovated in 1993. The synagogue, which has an arched brick facade of orange and yellow striped brick topped by the tablets of the 10 Commandments, was designed by Sándor Fellner and completed in 1887 in the courtyard of buildings that had hosted the Budapest Talmud Association. Click here to see a photo gallery.
A few blocks away, the so-called Hunyadi synagogue is located on the first floor of a typical Budapest apartment building built at the end of the 19th century next to the district’s big indoor market hall on Hunyadi square. Inaugurated in 1896 to celebrate the millennium anniversary of the Hungarian nation, the synagogue belongs to the Neolog community. The simple prayer room can host around 80 people.
II. Eighth District
The 8th district, known as Józsefváros, was once home of thousands of poor and lower-middle class Jews, many of them immigrants from the eastern territories of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Teleki square, where the market was located, was a busy center of Jewish life: the atmosphere of the neighborhood was brilliantly evoked in the book “Homage to the Eighth District: Tales from Budapest” by the brothers Giorgio and Nicola Pressburger. Click to read a Tablet Magazine article from 2018 about the 8th district
Teleki ter shul. Today, the only remaining synagogue on Teleki square is the orthodox Teleki ter shul , located on the ground floor and entered through the courtyard of the building at Teleki square 22. The synagogue was founded by Galician Hasidim, who brought with them the wooden Ark, which is now renovated. Documents show that in 1910 the apartment already belonged to a Jewish congregation. In the last few years, it has developed a vibrant congregation which has undertaken a valuable research project about the history of the synagogue, the neghborhood, and the local Jewish community. Click here to watch the trailer for “Tales of Teleki Square” a documentary film about this
Nagy Fuvaros synagogue. This lovely synagogue can be found on the ground floor of a building a short walk away from the Teleki square shul. Designed by Dezső Freund in a modified art deco style, it was founded in 1922 by the Orthodox congregation at the time, in a building that was once a casino. The prayer room is relatively large, with a women’s gallery and beautiful glass ceilings. The complex also hosts a winter prayer room and a kitchen.
Rabbinical Seminary Synagogue. Located at what is today Scheiber Sandor utca 2, the Neolog Rabbinical Seminary opened on October 4th, 1877; the day after its eclectic style synagogue, designed by Vilmos Freund and Ferenc Kolbenmeyer, was also inaugurated. The synagogue features modern stained glass windows and a beautifully decorated ceiling; the wooden women’s gallery is located opposite the Ark. After the Holocaust, the seminary was the only rabbinical seminary allowed to function in communist-dominated Europe. Today, the synagogue and seminary form part of the broader Jewish University.
III. Thirteenth District
The 13th district, or Újlipótváros, was (and is still considered to be) one of Budapest’s main Jewish districts.
Hegedűs street synagogue. The district’s best-known still-active synagogue is located in an elegant building at Hegedűs Gyula St. 3, where an apartment was already used as a synagogue at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1911, the congregation bought the entire house, and in 1927 the prolific synagogue architect Lipót Baumhorn, working with his son-in-law Gyorgy Somogyi) redesigned the sanctuary. (Baumhorn had already designed the imposing synagogue on today’s Dozsa Gyorgy street, which is used today as a sports hall — see Part I of this series.) The synagogue is bigger than one might expect from the outside. The bimah is located in the center, and the women’s gallery and ceiling are supported by fluted square pillars. The central part of the ceiling is formed by a striking construction made of colored glass and decorated with a large Star of David, which arches over the sanctuary in a sort of gentle barrel vault. Click here to see a 360 degree panorama of the synagogue.
Visegrádi street synagogue. A few steps away from the Hegedűs synagogue stands an Orthodox prayer room located in the courtyard of the building at Visegradi street 3. This sanctuary was bought in 1948 by a congregation that had met in a synagogue nearby until WWII, when the building was bombed in 1944. The wooden Ark dates from the 18th-19th centuries; the wooden bimah and the benches are the original ones from the old synagogue. Currently, the Ark is under restoration, and the synagogue will reopen its doors shortly.
Bethlen Square synagogue. The Bethlen square synagogue is an eclectic style synagogue that was designed by Lipót Baumhorn together with his son-in-law, György Somogyi — it was the last synagogue Baumhorn, who died in 1932, worked on. The stately sanctuary, with a decorated ceiling and bimah in front of the ark, is situated inside the large building that was inaugurated in 1931 as the Jewish Institute for the Deaf and Mute. It remains an active synagogue, although today the building as a whole now houses the Budapest branch of the American McDaniel College.
Other Jewish prayer rooms in the city include one in Alma street, on the Buda side, inside the Jewish Retirement home, and in Téglagyár square, in the outskirts of Pest in the 20th district.