Thursday, April 28, 2011

Liturgy of Dohány Street Synagogue

In multinational society of  Austro-Hungarian Empire religion was still mandatory element of cultural tradition and individual identity. Nineteenth century acculturation gave Jewish in Hungary slightly better position than in other regions of central Europe. Possible the key role in this process was played by Neolog Judaism, local reformation conception trying to find the balance between Orthodox and Reformed Judaism, but more open for others and using Hungarian language in prayers and teachings. This religious reform was characteristic for Budapest and some other cities while in small towns and in the country Jewish life was still more orthodox. 
Build between 1854 and 1859, Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Eurasia and have enough place for 3 000 seats in its interior. Since its beginning this is a center of Neolog Judaism. Reformed organization of the faith was still focused on holidays observance or kashrut but some rules were avoided, for example separation of men and women in the synagogue. In its principles it was closest to Conservative Judaism in United States, but of course influences were reciprocal. It is not an accidental convergence between shape of Dohány Street Synagogue and Central Synagogue in Manhattan erected 13 years later as a copy of architecture of the temple in Budapest. Today’s Dohány Street Synagogue exterior complex encloses birthplace of Theodor Herzl who called it in his speeches Tabakgasse Synagogue (which is exact translation of Hungarian name of the synagogue – Dohány utcai Zsinagóga).

Liturgy of Dohány Street Synagogue

In 20th century building of the Synagogue was seriously damaged, first it was bombed by Hungarian nationalists in February 1939, second it suffered during war, especially in time of Siege of Budapest. After the end of the War, partly damaged building served as prayer house for much-diminished Jewish community. After the end of communistic era in 1993-1996 Dohány Street Synagogue was reconstructed thanks to the grants of private donators. Biggest support of 5 millions USD community had received from Estée Lauder who was daughter of Hungarian Jewish emigrants.
Ten years before renovation, in 1986 there was published recording of most meaningful prayers and anthems from Dohány Street Synagogue. The performers were chief cantor of the synagogue Sándor Kovács, organist Mária Lisznyai and The Chorus of Dohány Street Synagogue with chorus master Andor Somló. The program of this record contains mainly traditional tunes, some in arrangements of Gábor Lisznyai, Sándor Kovács and Mária Lisznyai. Few prayers were composed by Jakob Gottschall (V’shomru, R’tse Vim’nichosenu) and Louis Lewandowski (Ma Tayvu).
During the reconstruction in 1996 organs in the synagogue were placed by modern organ with 63 voices and 4 manuals build by Jehmlich Orgelbau Dresden GmbH. It replaced the historic 5 000 pipe instrument which was in use since 1859. Album documenting Liturgy of Dohány Street Synagogue published by Hungaroton (SLPD 18091) is probably one and only recording of old synagogue organ which were concerting Ferenc Liszt and Camille Saint-Saens. And recorded sound gives a good example of romantic trends in organ building.

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