Throughout Jewish history, there have been many occasions when Jews have been expelled en masse from a country. The very first mass expulsion of Jews on record was from England in the 13th Century, but many more have happened since. One factor unites them all: the Jews always seek to gain re-entry. Bizarrely, even though it is totally apparent that they are not wanted, they always try to get back. The same is true of the Jewish story in Hungary.

After the expulsion of 1686, a decree was passed saying that Jews may not live in the Royal lands of Buda or Pest. This remained law for the next 150 years. However, the decree specified only the lands owned by the crown. Not all of the Hunggarian lands were owned directly by the crown, in particular Obuda, which was owned by the nobles. The nobles could see advantages in Jews being present due to their wide array of financial services, so in 1726, Count Zichy invited Jews from Bohemia and Moravia to come and settle on his lands in Obuda.

Interestingly, Zichy allowed Jews an unprecedented level of emancipation, allowing them equality with Christians and allowing them to build and appoint several Jewish communal facilities including a Shabbat Eruv (which is a sanctuary within which certain things which would not normally be allowed on the Sabbath are allowed), public officials, a Bet Din (A Jewish Court), Synagogues and shochtim(kosher butchers). There was, however, a catch, which came in a number of forms, including very high taxes, forming a local fire brigade and closing their shops on Sundays and Christian holidays to comply with Christian law.

The first Jew who came back was Jacob Fleisch, who was a trader in oil, sugar, almonds, lemons and hair powder, and he came to Obuda 40 years after the previous expulsion, in 1726. By 1746, there was a vibrant community, and by the end of the century there were 2,000 Jews in Obuda. In 1783, the Austrian government issued an Edict of Tolerance, which was a semi act of emancipation, and allowed Jews to live amongst non-Jews.

In 1822 they built a large Synagogue in Obuda. This contrasted with the Altneu Synagogue in Prague, because where as the Altneu was not supposed to be a permanent building, this was loud, proud and grandiose in the extreme, holding up to 3,200 worshippers. The building is still there today, although Jews no longer live in that area. The building is so big that the interior is now used as a film set! This typifies the growing Patriotic sentiment of the time, of Jews seeing themselves as Hungarians first and foremost, who also happened to be Jewish.

Between the 1830’s and the 1850’s, the industrial revolution began to take place in Pest. For the Jews therefore, this was the place to be, as any industrial venture would almost always require capital loans. However, the Pest authorities refused to observe the 1783 Edict of Tolerance, and refused to allow Jews to own land there. The Jewish settlements in Pest would take further time, and require much ingenuity.

By 1848, The Austrian-Habsburg Empire was beginning to crumble. In Bohemia and Moravia, Czech National spirit was on the rise with the building of the Rudolphinium and the growing hero-worship of Jan Huss, and all over the Empire, revolutionary tensions were simmering. This was the year chosen by the Hungarian Maygars to begin their revolt against the Habsburgs. Whereas we would normally expect the Jews to fight for the Habsburgs, because they were the established rulers who saved the Jews from attack, the Jews in fact took up arms against the Habsburgs, on the side of the Magyars without question. In fact, the level of support was so great that the Obuda Synagogue was stripped of every piece of metal, including the breast plates of Torah Scrolls, all of which was donated to the war effort.

In response to this, the two major leaders of the rebellion, Lajos Kossuth and Count Istvan Széchenyi began discussing the idea of Jewish emancipation. Széchenyi felt that the Jews should be given full citizenship as a reward, but that they weren’t entirely trustworthy. He felt that they were only claiming to be Hungarian, but were in fact ALMOST a separate nation.

Kossuth disagreed. He felt that the Magyars were not ready for Jewish emancipation, and that they should instead give Jews greater public rights rather than full emancipation.

Whatever the ethical decision, the truth was that Jews were taking up arms for the Hungarians on a wide scale. Eventually the rebels recognised this, and in July 1849, they passed the Act of Emancipation for the Jews. Unfortunately, this was the last Act the independent Hungarian Parliament passed.

Eventually, the rebellion was crushed by the Austrians and Kossuth went into exile, never to return. The Jews were fined 2,300,000 guilders by the Austrians for their part in the revolt, and their emancipation was forgotten, a thing of the past.

Eventually, in 1867, the Austrians, seeing that they would never be able to put down Hungarian nationalism, changed their Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This meant that the Hungarians still had no independent Hungary, but had more influence. In turn, this meant better conditions, but still no emancipation for the Jews.

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