The social activities of the Jews in Hungary showed a somewhat different picture from those of the eastern neighboring countries. The Jews were the dominant owners and workers in agriculture, and likewise in mining. In trade and transportation the Jews dominated the number of independent enterprises. There was hardly any Jewish working class, since the Jews belonged either to the petit-bourgeoisie or the wealthy capitalist classes.
The Jews played an important role in banking and in industry which, under the influence of existing Jewish banking institutions, in particular the Hungarian Kreditbank, was strongly promoted. In recent years, a notable reduction of Jews in various positions of economic life has occurred. Gradually, the Jewish merchants in the villages are disappearing, on account of competition from state-subsidized organizations.
As a result of the reduction in size of Hungary, Hungarian young people, who earlier had filled various office positions, now no longer have enough opportunity, and are now streaming into professions that were mainly filled by Jews. The current crisis in agriculture and conditions of general economic depression [Translator’s Note: The Great Depression of the 1930s] intensifies the problem and requires active counter-measures.
In 1923/24, 16,088 children attended Jewish schools, while 57,705 Jewish children attended regular public schools, where they consisted of 5.1% of the total enrollment. In the higher schools, the percentage of Jews is quite high, around 30.4%. Various quotas had been enacted to restrict the number of Jews in universities and high schools at 6%, but in 1928 these formal quotas were lifted. However, the working occupation of the parents of students was still a factor in being accepted by a university, which favored the sons of farmers and office workers. Nevertheless, by 1931, the Jewish fraction of university students climbed to 10.5% (as opposed to 31.7% in 1917, when no obstacles toward acceptance in higher institutions had been erected).
In religious terms the Jews of Hungary are divided. There are two leagues of community organizations which have been recognized by the state. The liberal communities are organized in “Israelite county chancelleries,” the Orthodox in “Orthodox Israelite county chancelleries.”
Since 1929, there has actually existed a third union of Jewish organizations, the so-called status-quo communities, a holdover from the way the Jewish communities were organized before 1867. In today’s Hungary there are 131 Orthodox mother-communities, 180 liberal communities, and 37 “status-quo” communities.
The latest census shows 264,488 Jews in the liberal communities, 182,899 in the Orthodox, and 15,180 in the “status-quo” communities. By official decree in 1928 Orthodox and liberal Jews maintain representation in the upper house of the Hungarian parliament. In 1929, a Hungarian-Jewish Israelite union was established in league with similar bodies in France, Germany, Austria, etc.
Chassidism found its way into Hungary quite early. Prolonged contact with Poland made the Jews of Hungary receptive to Chassidism. In 1809 Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum left Przemysl (in Poland) and settled in Ujhely, where there was already a chassidic community. The Teitelbaum family established a whole line of tzaddikim which operated in various communities. Today chassidism is a powerful religious faction.
The study of Judaism and the East is indebted to the cultural circle of Hungarian Jews. From Hungary came Ignaz Goldziher, an orientalist and religious historian, who was a founder of Islamic art, and an author of fundamental works about the relationship between Judaism and Islam; Arminius Vambery, an orientalist and traveling researcher in Central Asia; Sir Marc Aurel Stein, also an orientalist and traveling researcher as well as archeologist, whose carried out numerous excavations in Turkestan and the Gobi Desert and who works out of universities in India; Immanuel Löw, orientalist and lexicographer, and Wilhelm Bacher, religious historian and Talmudic researcher. Goldziher and Bacher taught rabbinical seminars in Budapest alongside David Kaufmann and Mose Bloch.
Since 1884 there has been a newspaper for the development of the study of Judaism in the Hungarian language written in Hebrew letters. And the literary and cultural newspaperMult es Jovo can look back on 25 years of existence.
The weekly Egyenloseg (founded in 1882) represents the Hungarian-Jewish perspective, and the Zionist organ Zsido Szemle has appeared for the past 30 years. In the latter half of the previous century, during the times of high political tension and the cultural struggle within Hungarian Jewry, there was a periodical in the Jewish-German language [I believe Wischnitzer means Yiddish].
The Jewish community of Budapest has established a mixed boys’/girls’ high school, and the Israelite Literary Society has put forth yearbooks. From that group has also come forth the first comprehensive translation of the Bible into Hungarian by Jews and the Hungarian-Jewish museum, which is one of the best of this category. It should also be mentioned that David Kaufmann’s extensive library, with many valuable illustrated manuscripts and drawings, is now a part of the Hungarian Academy of Science in Budapest.
Budapest is the birthplace Theodor Herzl, the creator of political Zionism, and of his close colleague in the struggle for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Max Nordau. For decades Hungarian Jews held themselves back from Zionism, but recently an exodus has commenced, and thoughts of Palestine are conquering more and more Jewish minds.