Synagogue Sunday: Tabakgasse, Budapest
I primarily wanted to see the Tabakgasse Synagogue for “Church on Sunday” material, but it turned out to be one of Budapest’s most interesting sights. The synagogue holds three thousand people and is the second largest synagogue in the world. That means it can also hold a lot of visitors, but don’t plan on strolling inside–we waited in line for about 20 minutes to purchase tickets for a tour.
Tabakgasse (also known as Dohany Street Synagogue) is a neolog synagogue, a specific brach of Judaism that originated in Hungary. That’s unusual in itself, but the interior is even more unique. It’s gorgeous–but something gave me pause. I couldn’t quite explain my puzzlement until the tour guide confirmed that the the altar-like podium, pulpit and general byzantine design were more common in churches than in synagogues. There’s even an organ, something highly unusual for a synagogue.
Our tour guide explained that when the synagogue was built in 1859 it was purposefully designed to echo Hungary’s Christian houses of worship as a kind of see, we’re not so different gesture. Unfortunately, sinister forces disagreed. In 1944 Germany occupied Hungary and the Arrow Cross imposed brutal restrictions on the Jewish Community. The synagogue became part of the Jewish ghetto. That same year, thousands of Jews died in the ghetto from malnutrition and cold were buried in the synagogue’s courtyard.
Yet the synagogue’s best feature can’t be shown in photographs: the expert tour guides and organized atmosphere. Tabakgasse’s patient, informed staff made our visit even more interesting. If you’re planning a trip to Budapest, make sure to stop here for a Synagogue Sunday of your own–there are no tours on Saturdays.