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Subotica Synagogue, Serbia
Szeged Synagogue, Szeged, Hungary - Famous Synagogues
58    Dibyendu Banerjee    16/11/2022

Located in Szeged, the third largest city of Hungary, the Szeged Synagogue is the second largest synagogue in the country and is considered as the masterpiece of the famous Jewish architect Lipót Baumhorn. It was built on the site of the first building, while the second building, known as the Old Synagogue, is still standing; but has lost its religious function.

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To meet the demand of the rapidly growing community for a more representative synagogue to fulfill their needs, a competition was arranged for selecting the design of a new synagogue in 1897, which was won by Lipót Baumhorn, the architect of 22 other Hungarian synagogues. The construction of the new synagogue in Szeged started in August 1900 and was ceremonially opened on 19 May 1903, becoming an outstanding structure of the city and its era, representing the touch of modernity with its iron columns and iron structure. While the breathtaking structure and its decoration followed the Eclectic style of the late 19th century, it reflects a unique fusion of Arabic, Moorish and Mediterranean architectural styles. The style was much favoured in synagogue buildings at the time of emancipation in Hungary, which can be termed as the Hungarian blending of Art Nouveau and Historicist styles, also known as the Magyar style.

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The majestic building of the Szeged Synagogue, soaring to a height of around 150 feet (49 m), with a width of 115 feet (35 m) and a length of 157 feet (48 m), has a sitting capacity of 700 on the main floor and another 600 on the upper floor galleries. However, the focal point of the building is the towering dome that rises 96 feet (32 m) above the main hall, supported by columns featuring Hebrew inscriptions emphasizing the foundations of Jewish ethics on work, good deeds and culture.

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While the 24 columns supporting the dome’s cupola represent the hours of the day, the briar bush flowers on a blue background signify faith. While Art Nouveau style is reflected on the cupola, as well as on the richly decorated stained glass windows, the Roman and Gothic style elements are evident on the outer side of the synagogue, along with the manifestations of Moorish influence. Again, the rib-like wall above the organ has a Gothic origin, but the columns supporting the galleries are absolutely Roman.

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The interior of the symbolic glass dome of exceptional beauty and a unique ornament of the eclectic synagogue was made in the workshop of the eminent artist Manó Roth, along with the painted glass windows of the synagogue, depicting the festive cycles of the Jewish year. Apart from being used for decorative purposes, the Hebrew and Hungarian inscriptions on the walls, the rich floral ornaments and the magnificent stained glass windows of the Szeged Synagogue, also serve the purpose of functioning as elements of the iconographic programme of religious teachings. Besides the walls, the triumphal arch of the building also features the biblical commandments in Hebrew and Hungarian inscriptions.

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The use of the Hungarian language is mainly attributed to the influence of Chief Rabbi Immánuel Löw, who served the synagogue from the 1880s until 1944 and was the most outstanding representative of the Hungarian reform movement.

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The interior of the Szeged Synagogue is dominated by the entrancing harmony of the ornaments in ivory, golden and blue. While the door of the Ark is made of acacia from the Nile region, the menorahs are decorated with precious stones. The design of the Torah Ark, the ornamental chamber that houses the Torah scrolls, alludes to the description of the Holy of Holies, located at the west end of the ancient Temple of Solomon, destroyed in 587/586 BC. Renowned for its excellent acoustics, the Szeged synagogue features an impressive organ, built by Lipót Wegenstein and Sons Organ Factory, equipped with 2,317 pipes, 42 registers and 2 keyboards. With its excellent acoustics, it is a special venue for popular musical concerts.

szeged synagogue szeged

The Jewish population in Szeged dwindled sharply by the 1920s, as inspired by Zionism, numerous Jewish families moved en mass to Palestine. Even then, there was a sizable number of Jews in the city during the outbreak of World War II. However, in 1944, the Germans in occupied Hungary forced the Jews in Szeged to the ghetto, before deporting them to death camps. Even, the longtime leader of the synagogue, the 90-year-old Rabbi Immánuel Löw, was also put on a train to Auschwitz, but was smuggled off in Budapest. But later, he had to die in the Budapest Jewish ghetto. Miraculously, the Szeged Synagogue survived the Great War, although it was a part of the ghetto during the Shoah, which stands for calamity in Hebrew and eventually became the standard Hebrew term for the Holocaust. After the war, a few hundred Jews returned to Szeged, when the synagogue was also reclaimed from its wartime use as a storage facility. A massive renovation project was also undertaken, when the damaged roof was repaired, the cupola, the towers and the façade were repaired and after restoring the beauty of the colourful stained glass windows, the synagogue was rededicated in 1989. With the restoration of its original grandeur, the Szeged Synagogue is still serving the Neolog section of the Hungarian Jewry, being the third synagogue of the community.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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