The "Tabakgasse Synagogue" as it is sometimes called, is the largest synagogue in Europe. Why "Tabakgasse" you ask? It means tobacco in Hungarian. The three floors of the synagogue can hold up to 3,000 worshippers. It is interesting to note the contrast between the design of the building, which includes Islamic features, and what was introduced into it, which included Christian and church characteristics, such as an organ, a stage at the front and more.
On top of it being an operating synagogue, the building is also the site for the memorial of the 565,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, the synagogue was included in the Jewish Ghetto, and it became a central location for detaining many Jews.
The building includes also the Jewish Museum of Budapest, and many Jewish graves of the Jews from the quarter. There is a monument and a plaque for the memory of the Hungarian Jews who were killed during World War I and were murdered during the Holocaust by the Nazis.
The entrance to the synagogue is with a paid ticket, with the funds being used for the upkeep of the building.
The architect Ludwig Förster placed at the exterior of the building two towers 43 meters tall. At the head of the towers are domes shaped like onions. In the center of the facade is a window in the shape of a flower and next to it are decorated windows.
The Islamic characteristics are also reflected in the colorful ceramic tile in which the synagogue is built from the outside, and the synagogue floor, where you can see a mosaic with geometric illustrations. Its walls are also decorated with gold and colorful geometric shapes.
The interior of the synagogue contains, as mentioned, various elements borrowed from Christianity. The most prominent is the organ, which was added to ease the atmosphere in the synagogue and make it happier. This was the practice in the synagogues of the Neolog movement, which grew stronger at that time. Another characteristic of this type is the placement of the synagogue stage at the front rather than the center of the synagogue, as has always been the case. Notice also the two huge and impressive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
This is how the new synagogue was built during 1854-1859. It was built in the Mori style, the North African style, an exotic decision that was interesting and even trendy at the time. Different from other synagogues, an organ was installed inside, reminded more of a Christian church than a traditional synagogue. The organ has 5,000 pipes. Among others, musicians such as the composer and piano genius Franz Liszt and composer Camille Saint-Saëns.
In 1939 Nazi supporters burned the synagogue, and during the war the remains were used for the Nazi radio station. Throughout the war the synagogue continued to be damaged from allied air raids.
After the war, the building was returned to the ownership of the Jewish community of Budapest, however resources for the reconstruction were limited.
In the 1990's, with the fall of the Communist rule in Hungary, the building was renovated and rebuilt. This is also when the monument for the memorial for the Jewish Holocaust victims was added, including the memorial for the Hungarian Jews and Raoul Wallenberg.
Another prominent feature here is the position of the stage at front of the synagogue, rather than at its center.
Some things that cannot be seen during the visit here are as follows:
The language of the prayers, which, as the practice of theologians, is the local language, in this case, Hungarian.
The choir of the mixed synagogue - a choir of men and women together.
Theodor Herzl was born here in the house next to the synagogue on Dohany Street. The surrounding neighborhood was the area where he grew up, played and studied. In this synagogue, imagine Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, a Torah scholar, at his Bar Mitzvah ceremony in 1873. Incidentally, Herzl mentions the event several times in his book "The Tabakgasse Synagogue."
Indeed, the small square in front of the synagogue is now called "Herzl Square."