Jewish Mementos in Vas Comitatus

Szombathely Part 1

After Roman time when the Jews appeared in Savaria together with the legions they only started to settle in the surroundings of the city with the 17th century. The city of Szombathely did not allow Jews, with the exception of a few privileged families, to settle there until the passing of law no. XXIX in 1840. This is why they settled in the neighboring communities, in Szent Márton and Ó-Perint which were part of the diocese and in Szőkefölde on the Batthyány territory.
The cemetery was founded in 1828 before the community was independent, it lies outside the city limits in the Szent Márton community. It was enlarged several times, the enlargement done between 1873 and 1875 doubled its area. In 1880 the orthodox community founded a Chevra Kadisha and a separate cemetery next to the old one for itself. To this day it is shielded by a wall. In 1904 the neological part had to be enlarged once again, in 1912 the neologicals built a hall for Cidduk-Chadic (liturgy and washing of the dead) and quarters for the guard of the cemetery. During the war the cemetery was damaged by the bombardment of Szombathely.

The small communities formed the branch of Rohonc, they had their provisional prayer house in Szőkefölde. In 1832 the community became independent and built a synagogue on the premises donated by their patron, duke Fülöp Batthyány, in 1836 they were able to buy it.
The first synagogue of the Szombathely Jews was the building in Thököly Street 46. According to records of the city’s assembly the Catholic church and the city had complained to the duke about this, but had not been able to prevent the building of the synagogue.
After the separation in 1871 the congressional community sold the synagogue, however, the orthodox community was able to reclaim it through a court case: until its disintegration in 1956 this building stayed the community’s synagogue with Mikwe (the ritual bath in the basement).
From 1959 up to recent history it was the seat of the painter and glazier cooperative, today it is in private hands, the street facade was altered; the hall of the synagogue was divided into two stories and the women’s gallery taken down.

The orthodox synagogue of Szombathely

(the synagogue today, back then and the interiors of the building)

Next to the synagogue a one-story apartment was built for the rabbi. Today this building still stands to the right of the entrance, but by heightening it it was transformed to an office building. Behind it was the ritual shambles where the shohet slaughtered the animals brought to him in due form. The owner had this building torn down together with the alternative prayer house in the yard during the last renovations.

When the option of moving offered itself 38 people, mainly from the closer villages and Rohonc, relocated to Szombathely between 1840 and 1848. In 1848 the there were already 300 Jews moving from the feudal property to the capital of the comitatus. Their presence triggered opposition in the city, it manifested in anti-Semitic riots which broke out on April 4, 1848 during which the synagogue the cellars and houses of the Szőkeföld Jews were attacked and raided. The city council banished the Jews from the city and surroundings. However, the ban was not implemented as József Széll and László Csányi, superintendents of the government, destroyed the order in the name of the first Hungarian government responsible. In 1838 Rohonc born Lajos Königsberger was elected rabbi. Originally he was a merchant but also had studied under head rabbi of the country, Nikolsburg and possessed rabbi qualification which was affirmed by Chatam Sofer from Pressburg. The learned and pious rabbi led the community until his death on December 14, 1861.

Already in 1846 the Jewish community founded a school. The Jews of Szombathely dealt with the great questions of contemporary Jewish religiousness, they allowed certain reforms which led to disputes with the conservatives. The differences grew more severe over matters of the ritual bath (the use of the pump), the placement of the Bima, shifting weddings to the yard of the synagogue and other liturgical questions. Since 1840 a pump had been used to fill the Mikwe, the pool therefore was put on the same level as the ground. In 1850 those members that strictly insisted on heeding the traditions started questioning the ritual of the bath. The reformers started to sell the rights to the Alija (reading of the Torah) rather than calling upon members of the community to perform the honorable reading. The weddings were relocated to the yard. In 1851 the Bima was taken from the middle of the room and placed in front of the ark of the covenant, also, the organizing of the choir began.

Head of the conservatives were the Stadler brothers (Károly and Salamon Stadler), they employed an own ritual shohet because they were not satisfied with the community’s shohet. After the death of rabbi Königsberger in 1861 the followers of the two directions could not agree on a new rabbi, therefore, the position was only filled in 1865 with Lipót Rokkonstein who came to Szombathely from Bácstopolya and Zagreb.
The disputes peaked during the selection of delegates before the comitatus convention. The reelection of functionaries of December 1868 put almost only reformers in the public corporations of the Jewish community. The separation was completed in 1871 when the orthodox, founded an independent Jewish community of 54 tax paying members, 124 persons in total, and appointed Márkusz Kornfein as vice rabbi. It was granted civil rights in 1880.

(to Jewish Szombathely Part 2)

by Johannes Scholem Graf & Alexandra Vogt

2012.07.06