02 Mar Status Quo Ante & The Rumbach Street Synagogue
Status Quo Ante & The Rumbach Street Synagogue
Soon after Hungary was granted independence in 1867 and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was formed, the equality of Jewish citizens in their political rights was finally declared and together with the rapid growth of the city and the economic boom, more and more Jews from the Monarchy and the neighbouring countries wished to settle down. A massive assimilation process was supported by wealth and nationalism bringing reform ideas in Jewish religious thinking as well. The process resulted in the division of the the Pest Jewry in 1868: a new branch of Judaism, the mild reform Neolog movement was formed, the Status Quo Ante (a kind of combination of the old and the new) was born and of course there were the opponents of the reform ideas, the representatives of the Orthodox Jewish religion.
What we call today the synagogue triangle of the Budapest Jewish Quarter is actually the beautiful collection of the temples built by the three religious branches within the Jewish congregation of the era. The Neologs built the Dohány Street Synagogue first in 1859, then the Rumbach became the main synagogue of the Status Quo Ante community in 1872 and finally the Orthodox had their own temple in Kazinczy Street in 1913.
The Rumbach Street Synagogue was designed by the Viennese architect Otto Wagner in Eastern-like, Romantic-Moorish style. Wagner came up with a modern, light iron structure with the plan of a traditional synagogue. The bema, the torah reading pulpit was central on the octagonal ground plan between the benches, while the ark was placed on the eastern wall. According to the religious regulations, the seating for women was separated on the gallery, which could be accessed through a special staircase. The amazingly colourful painted plaster decoration throughout the walls and the huge cupola can still be seen today, the beautiful, delicate ironwork, representing contemporary technical innovations is also intact. The beauty of the huge, colored leaded windows is also worth mentioning.
However, after the damages of WW II, the building was empty for more than a decade, then sold. Fortunately, the company which had the chance to renovate it during the communist era, did a surprisingly nice preserving job: they wanted to keep the main hall of the synagogue and use it as a concert or exhibition hall, whereas offices would have been opened in the rooms facing Rumbach street on the first and second level. They even built in the attic, to have more space. They were almost ready when the change of the regime in 1989 put an end to their story. Although the building was returned to the Jewish community in 2005, not much has changed ever since.
The architect, Tamás Kőnig has been working on the restoration plan for a decade now, renewing it from time to time when it expires, waiting for the day, when the much needed sums of the investors and the beginning of the restoration can finally meet. Hopefully soon… The plan is to keep Otto Wagner’s design as much as possible while turning the building into an active synagogue again and at the same time creating a top modern concert hall and exhibition area with the latest technical facilities. After a 2016 February visit in the building (revealing future plans about it) let me share a little detail the architect explained: the central bema will be standing on a machinery, built into the ground of the synagogue. Before you organise a concert and want to reach perfect acoustics, you will only have to push a button and the door on the ground mosaic will open up and the torah reading pulpit will disappear for a while. Just like in a theatre. What do you think?