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Becoming Hungarian: Jewish Culture in Budapest, 1867-1914

  • Author(s): Viragh, Daniel
  • Advisor(s): Efron, John M.
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines the successful merging of two highly divergent and developed historical and linguistic traditions into an organic and varied cultural matrix, under the twin conditions of Empire and nationalism. Specifically, this project discusses the linguistic, cultural, communal and organizational attempts of Hungarian Jewish community leaders to synthesize the Hungarian nationalist narrative, and Jewish religious and cultural traditions, into a meaningful whole, at a time when the Kingdom of Hungary, as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, experienced rapid industrial development, urbanization and population growth. It is in the Dualist Period (1867-1914) that the literary output and the community-building efforts of Jews living in Hungary reached the highly organized stage of development which warrant us ascribing to them a national signifier, distinguishing them from Jews living in other linguistic spheres. Thus it is in this period that we can begin to speak of "Hungarian Jews," who came to identify nationally, culturally and linguistically with the Hungarian people and their language.

I use archival and print sources to argue that Jews in Hungary became Hungarian out of political necessity and in order to secure their economic well-being within the Kingdom of Hungary. As a result of this choice Jews participated greatly in the economic development and modernizing of the Kingdom during Dualism as financiers, bankers, investors, and the founders of factories. I treat the development of Hungarian-Jewish ideology in the first two chapters of my work, by examining the personal papers of Budapest Chief Rabbi Samuel Kohn, and by analyzing the prime Hungarian-language communal newspaper of the era, the Egyenlőség (lit. "Equality"). In chapters three and four, I focus on communal efforts to promulgate this ideology through textbooks for Jewish children, which `packaged' the new ideology in terms easily remembered, and through scholarly publications, which sought to create a Wissenschaft des Judentums in the national language, in order to raise communal self-esteem. The first chapter relies heavily on archival sources, gleaned from the Hungarian Jewish Archives in Budapest. The second, third and fourth chapters rely on print primary sources obtained at the library of the Hungarian Rabbinical Seminary, the YIVO archives in New York, and at the Hungarian Jewish Archives.

By its subject matter, this dissertation is most closely related to those recent studies of modern Jewish societies which seek to account for how certain Jewish communities adapted their use of language and culture to both conform to the norms of the majority, while also retaining a sense of distinctiveness. Thus, Hillel Kieval's work on national conflict and Jewish society in Bohemia is a useful comparative starting point, as is Marsha Rozenblit's treatment of the Jews of Vienna in the Dualist period, and David Sorkin's study of German-Jewish subculture between 1780 and 1840. This study argues that similar processes as those described by Kieval, Rozenblit, and Sorkin were at work in Budapest. But the process there was conditioned by the unusual nature of language politics. Under conditions of Hungarian nationalism, the group tried its best to conform to ruling cultural norms, while preserving, modifying, and accommodating the various aspects of its Jewish cultural heritage to suit the needs of the time.

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