In early September about 650 invited guests, President János Áder, US Ambassador David B. Cornstein, Chief Rabbi of Holland Benjamin Jacobs and Rabbi Salamon Ábrahám sofér attended the ceremony, which marked the revival of this medieval synagogue that had been abandoned for hundreds of years.

"You cannot destroy the Jewish nation," said Benjamin Jacobs, adding that the Jews suffer from time to time, but the fact that this synagogue has a new rabbi after 350 years is clear proof there is always hope.

The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) – closely affiliated with the Chabad Lubovich hasidic movement – became the new owner of the prayer room. "Today when we have this opportunity to reopen a synagogue being abandoned for 350 years, extend our sincere blessings to its new rabbi Asher Faith," said EMIH Chief Rabbi Slomo Köves.

Asher Faith became more serious about Judaism as an adult. Asher originally wanted to be a journalist, but when the Pest Yeshiva was reorganised and Rabbi Köves asked him to join and changed his mind, the young man quickly found himself learning whatever he could about his faith. He met his wife while continuing his education in a yeshiva in Israel, and now he is the father of three children.

# Rabbi Asher Faith

On a personal note: Asher was teaching Kabbalah classes in his home before his children were born and I happened to be one of his students. From occasion to occasion there were more of us and every week we witnessed his extensive knowledge about Judaism.

Evidence suggests that Jews lived in today’s Hungary in the third century during the Roman times, but sources from before the 10th century are scarce and since the Buda Jewish Community already existed in the 12th century, the actual settling of Jews probably started at some point in the second half of the 11th century.

Historians are still not sure whether the first settlers were Hungarians of Jewish faith, kabars – converted to Judaism in the 8th century in the Kazar empire – or immigrants from the western Slavic provinces and Germany. The character of their rituals seems to suggest the latter but there is no clear evidence of that.

Until the end of the Arpad house kings (1301), Jews enjoyed more freedom and tolerance than during the period of the Anjou kings. Louis I – a.k.a. Louis, the great – expelled them in the middle of the 14th century because the plague was attributed to them. Four years later he invited them back but in the meantime their original houses had been given to the king’s nobles, which is why the returning Jews had to settle in the new Jewish street, which was near what is known today as the Viennese Gate.

At the time there were three synagogues in the Castle area: one near the Sabbath gate and two in Táncsics utca. One of those latter two was the big synagogue and the smaller was the one revived in September.

This smaller synagogue was built in 1364. It was taken from the Jews in 1686 when a coalition of Christian armies recaptured the city of Buda from the Ottoman Turks. The synagogue was turned into a residential building and forgotten about until 1964 when the archeologist László Zolnay discovered the Jewish markings beneath the painted ceiling. Since then the chamber has been opened for visitors as a museum but has not served as a place of religious worship until now.

Except for Monday and Tuesday the prayer room can be visited by tourists through the Budapest History Museum.

#

János Bátki is a tour-guide in the Budapest Historical Jewish Quarter. You can contact him via email: labradorisland25@gmail.com


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