The synagogue of the Jewish Theological
Seminary of Hungary - now University of Jewish Studies - has been a functioning synagogue
since 1877 without interruption. The main function of the synagogue is to serve as the
location of religious services. It is the House of Prayer where we hold services for
Sabbath, the High Holidays, on weekdays and Pilgrim Festivals. Our synagogue, with its
seating capability of 120 and its organ is a church of the Jewish religion, it gives its
faithful a place where they can seek the Almighty through their prayers. Our synagogue is
also the site of Bar Mitzvah ceremonies. On Sundays when the synagogue calendar makes it
possible we also hold weddings here.
This small church has another function
which is quite important from the viewpoint of our institution, in service of professional
methodological training. The synagogue of the Rabbinical Seminary, like the other
organizational units of the institution, has a role in the training specializations as a
teaching synagogue and has had this role throughout the 122 existence of the Seminary.
We involve the synagogue in our educational
technology in several ways. Our rabbi candidates hold sermons periodically in a cyclically
recurring order on Friday nights. They have given their sermons before this occasion twice
at various “forums”. From a pedagogical and rhetorical standpoint their sermon is an
“end product” that rests on theoretical and homiletical work. Our students prepare for
their sermons in homiletics, rhetoric and speech technique classes. They must submit the
sermon in a written form to the speech technique professor of the institute for approval.
He evaluates the sermons for rhetorical content while the rector of the institute
evaluates them for theological content. They both correct the texts, then the students
give the sermons on two occasions. At these occasions other professors of the institute
are present as well, evaluating the students’ performance, and only after this process
has been completed can the sermons be given before the “public” of the synagogue.
After the sermon has been given before the
congregation at the Friday night service, it is analyzed and evaluated in the following
week’s rhetoric and homiletics classes, with the participation of the professors and the
The other educational function of the
synagogue is fulfilled as students in the specializations in liturgical history and cantor
training learn the rituals and order of the services given on Friday evening, Saturday
morning, at high holidays and, last but not least, on weekdays. We first recreate for them
the atmosphere reminescent of the synagogue on weekdays outside the service. At the end of
the academic year the synagogue is the site of the liturgical concerts of the
specialization in cantor training.
We use technical equipment during our work,
that is, we make video recordings of the “practice-service”: the prayers said and the
speeches given, all details of these are then analyzed by the professors in the classes
following the “practice-service”. Our students thereby learn about their future sphere
of occupation, learning the behaviour and actions appropriate to religious services.
The third function of our synagogue is a
unique one. An organic and important part of our institution is the Goldmark Choir of the
Jewish Theological Seminary - University of Jewish Studies. The choir, creating as well as
preserving tradition, performs primarily Hungarian and Eastern European Jewish melodies
but is also familiar with the music of Israel.
The first in any concert series given by
the choir is the opening night at our synagogue, given jointly with a religious service.
The small temple is transformed into a veritable concert hall on these occasions where the
rabbinical students, teacher and cantor candidates help introduce the musical works
collected and reworked for performance by the professors of our institute’s department
of liturgical history.
Significant events also take place in our
institute’s assembly hall, located directly above the synagogue, on the second flour of
our building. The hall has enjoyed large popularity even in the past and now, as the the
Seminary’s Sándor Scheiber Auditorium it serves as the site of the kiddushes following
Friday evening’s and Saturday morning’s religious services in welcome of the holiday.
At these events primarily students in the specialization in Judaism and not rabbinical
students give modern Scripture interpretations, displaying their expertise in reading the
Holy Scriptures. These are excellent occasions for both students and other participants to
become familiar with certain musical elements which, though not a part of religious
services or home rituals are nevertheless important in Jewish communal life.
The prayer books used at religious services
also represent a part of our institution’s work profile insofar as they have been
translated by our professors and upper-class students. As Jewish prayer books have only in
the rarest of cases been published after the second world war, we have been the sole the
publishers of prayer books representing the liturgy of the Hungarian neologian community.
This publishing activity was begun only a few years ago. We have therewith not only
satisfied the demands of our congregation but have also provided our students with the
necessary auxiliary material.
The synagogue of the University as a
location where religious services are held is important also as a center of protocol
because highly qualified religious and secular persons – Jewish or the representatives
of other denominations – coming to Hungary from Israel, the United States or elsewhere
visit first and foremost two sites as an integral part of the program introducing them to
the life of the Hungarian Jewish community: first, the synagogue of the Jewish Theological
Seminary - University of Jewish Studies for the Friday night service, then Budapest’s
central synagogue in Dohány utca for the Saturday morning service.