The fascinating story of the Buried Synagogue begins during the 13th century B.C.E. During the years 1250-1360 there was a medieval jewish community in the Buda hills. They were very prosperous
and lived in the shadow of the Buda castle (which still stands). In 1360, the king expelled the jews and gave away their homes.
In 1364, realizing how much he relied on their taxes, the king decided to let the jews return. Since their homes were given away, the jews settled in the eastern part of the Buda hills near the Vienna Gate.
The main jewish street in the town, still stands today and is now called Tancsics Mihaly street. There was a wealthy buisnessman named Yaacov Mendel who owned buildings on both sides of the
street. He built a small synagogue on the northern side of the street, and later gave that away to the Sephardic jews, when he built a larger synagogue behind his house on the southern side of
the street. This synagogue was magnificent! It was over 200sqm with gothic pillars over 9m high. It then had a roof extending another 5-6m high. It was more than twice the size of the Altnoy
synagogue in Prague!
In the 1500’s the Turkish empire invaded the town and took control of the synagogue. Later, the Christians invaded and took control of the synagogue for another 20 years, before the Turks regained control, and kept control for next 150 years. During these invasions the roof of the synagogue was destroyed.
During the 1600’s the jews returned, and repaired the roof to be a flat ceiling rather than tall curved columns. The community invited Rabbi Ephraim Ben Yaacov from Prague, also known as
the Sha’ar Ephraim, to be the Rabbi of the synagogue. He brought along his son-in law Rabbi Isaac Schulhof from Prague. In the 1670’s Rabbi Ephraim passed away and Rabbi Isaac Schulhof took
In his book, Megilas Oven (Chronicles of Buda), Rabbi Isaac describes life in the town over the next couple of years. He portrays how wonderful it was to live in the town. In 1686, the Christians were trying to conquer the area. For 6 months they fought their way westward.
On Sept. 2nd 1686, the 13th of Elul, Rabbi Isaac describes how, unbeknownst to him (because he was learning in the synagogue), the Christians broke through the Vienna Gate and started
slaughtering everyone they encountered, Turks and Jews alike. The people of the town ran into the synagogue and tried to barricade themselves inside. He describes, in detail, how the Christians
stormed the synagogue, slaughtered everyone and miraculously spared his life and took him prisoner. He later tells of seeing his wife’s body lying in the street. (His 8 year old son
was taken to the city and later killed too).
The Megila continues with the fascinating story of miracle after miracle of how Rabbi Isaac was eventually saved. He later moved back to Prague, remarried, had children and died in 1733.
After the slaughter, the Christians filled the synagogue in with dirt, and so it remained for 350 years…….
In 1964, the municipality was working on the water lines underground, when a beautiful gothic pillar was discovered. Thinking it was another medieval castle, they halted work and brought in
Archeologists. 72 corpses were eventually discovered one still with his tefillin (philacterates) on! After further excavation of the various pillars, Hebrew letters were found the base of one of
the pillars. They called in Professor Schrieber from the local jewish school, who explained that they were the letters “Shin aleph” representing the year 1541. Another pillar had “Bas peh”, which
probably represented an extension that was completed 80 years later (peh=80).
Realizing that this was a synagogue, the communist government at that time, decided to halt excavation. They protected the area and refilled it with dirt. They took 3 of the pillars, as well as one of the medallions from the ceiling and moved it to the museum in the small synagogue across the street (which was also discovered during some construction inside an apartment).
Over the last 46 years Ariel Budai, an architect present at the excavation, as well as some of the other archeologists, have been tirelessly working to keep the dream of excavation alive. They have published a book on the subject, and Ariel has come up with 5 different architectural plans on how to excavate and reconstruct the synagogue.
Yossi ben-Nun, an Israeli researcher has joined the cause around 6 years ago, and has been at the forefront in the fight to excavate this monumental synagogue.
During a trip to Israel in 2009, members of the Schulhof family met Ofra Friedland, a world renowned Israeli artist. When Ofra heard the last name Schulhof, she couldn’t believe it. Her father was Yossi ben-Nun!! A quick introduction to her father soon ensued and Yossi brought the Schulhof family to Budapest to witness this important piece of history firsthand.
Needing both publicity and financial assistance, the Schulhof Foundation was created to help restore this critical piece of history.