Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis

SynagogueMádTokaj and Nyíregyháza

The Footsteps of the Wonder Rabbis is Hungary’s longest pilgrimage route. The 150 kilometre route passes through 10 towns, exploring the Jewish monuments and built heritage of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region.

 The pilgrimage route connects the graves of the former wonder rabbis, and pilgrims can learn about their lives, the legends associated with them, the history and traditions of the Jewry of the towns on the route, their role in the region as well as the breathtaking landscape of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. The pilgrimage starts and finishes at the Jewish Cultural and Information Centre (the former rabbi school) in Mád. All of this makes Mád the emblematic Jewish cultural memorial centre of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region. In Mád, you can see a synagogue built in the ‘zopf’ style at the end of the 18th century. The Mád synagogue is one of the most beautiful in the world and is rightfully featured in the American album “The 100 Most Beautiful Synagogues In The World”. The largest Jewish cemetery in Tokaj-Hegyalja can also be found here, and houses the graves of Abraham Schwartz and Mordecai Winkler, two renowned rabbis. Jewish families arriving from Poland started settling in Tarcal from the mid-1700's. 

Their synagogue in the Baroque ‘zopf’ style was likely built between 1790 and 1810. The grave of Jakab Spira, the renowned rabbi of the community, can be found in the Jewish cemetery of Tarcal. Our next stop is Tokaj where, after a full-scale renovation and refurbishment, the former synagogue has been transformed into a cultural and conference centre. The only functioning house of prayer in the region is located nearby. Interestingly, the old cemetery is located by the walls of the Tokaj Castle ruins, on the floodplain of the Bodrog, and therefore can only be reached by ferry. Bodrogkeresztúr is one of the highlights of the route, as Reb Saje Steiner, the famous wonder rabbi of the Jewish community, lived here. The memorial house created in the former residence of the rabbi is a popular pilgrimage destination, as is his grave in the Jewish cemetery located on the Dereszla hillside. Another significant stop on the route is Olaszliszka, whose wonder rabbi, Tsvi Herschele, grew up in Sátoraljaújhely, in the house of equally renowned Moses Teitelbaum. After Herschele’s death Olaszliszka became the centre of Hasidism in Hungary. Nor is Sátoraljaújhely to be missed, as the grave of the founder of Hungarian Hasidism, Rabbi Teitelbaum, in a modern architectural style, is located here. Due to his charismatic personality, he was revered as a tsaddik – a wonder rabbi – and his advice was sought in all walks of life. He was also visited by many people for his talismans of healing and protective power.

Today, only two Jewish cemeteries and a small, ruined house of worship remain. Opposite the railway station, if you climb a few steps from the foyer of the 100-year-old cemetery on the hillside, you reach the grave of Moses Teitelbaum. The former synagogue of Erdőbénye is today dilapidated, and only the Jewish cemetery fenced off on the outskirts of the village reminds us of the former Jewish population. The only Jewish spa in the area is also located here, with a ruined building in dire need of renovation. Three kilometres from Erdőbénye lies the town of Tolcsva, the birthplace of William Fox, the founder of the American Fox film studio. Two key players of the American movie industry are Adolph Zukor (born Adolf Zucker), born in Ricse, and Vilmos Fuchs from Tolcsva, now known as William Fox. Jewish settlers arrived in Abaújszántó from Austria, Czechia and Moravia in 1765, and were placed under the protection of Prince Karl Bretzenheim.

 

The settlement was, at one time, an important commercial and market centre. Its large synagogue, now used as a warehouse, was built in 1896. It’s worth visiting the graves of two famous rabbis, Eleazar Lowe and Arye Lőb Lipschütz, in the town’s well-kept cemetery. The first Jewish wine merchants settled in Tállya, the last stop of the tour, in the 17th century. From this time, the Jewish population grew steadily; in fact, there were times when as many as three synagogues were operating in the city. These were remodelled or demolished after the Holocaust. Gerson Rosenbaum and his son Leib Arye, the famous rabbis of Tállya, were laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery still standing today on the outskirts of the town. 

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