Friday, September 19, 2008

New Book by Rudolf Klein on Dohany Synagogue in Budapest

New Book by Rudolf Klein on Dohany Synagogue in Budapest
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) I have received a copy of recently published The Great Synagogue of Budapest by architectural historian Rudolf Klein (Budapest: TERC, ISBN 978 963 9535 82 4). To my knowledge, this is the first monograph about the Dohany Street Synagogue, Europe's largest active synagogue building. Klein presents the Dohany, designed by Ludwig von Forster, as an exciting building in its style and technology, not just as an architectural dinosaur famous for its size and nothing else. His excellent photos support his claims.

Much of the book is a social or cultural history of the sophisticated but competitive Jewish world of 19th century Austria-Hungary. The commissioning, planning and presenting of the Dohany Street Synagogue was a grand cultural gesture (much more than a religious one) by Budapest's Jews in their uneasy relationship with Vienna. In this climate, and in the 19th-century world of arhcitecture andd the decorative arts, Klein explores the role and meaning of the Dohany's applied decoration of exotic orientalism. He sees the Dohany as the forerunner to the innovative and offbeat Hungarian architecture of the earler 20th century practitioners of Sezession and Jugundstil design, culminating in the work of Bela Lajta. Anyone interested in 19th century and Hungarian synagogues will want to read this book.

Knowing Rudi Klein, and having enjoyed lively discussions with him about the restoration of historic synagogues, I wish he had also included a final chapter or two on the meaning of the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest today for Jews - and non-Jews - and also something about the process - political, economic, practical and aesthetic about the restoration of the great building. The Dohany today is one of Europe's "flagship" synagogues because of it size, elegance, continued use, and because of the attention lavished on its refurbishment. That is a story the remains to be told.


anon said...

Is the bookavailable for purchase in the U.S.? Is it in English? Hungarian?

Samuel Gruber said...

The book is in English, There is also a Hungarian language version. At present there is no USA distributor for the book. I will post news when I receive it. On behalf of ISJm I am inquiring if we can obtain a limited amount of copies to distribute to members.