The Jewish community of the second half of the 19th century
Starting with the year of the emancipation of the Jews, 1867, a change is noticeable in the mentality of those living in the Subcetate district; they are struck by this “creative fever” of the city, they start looking for new opportunities for their enterprises, they direct their investments towards other districts in the city, especially the New Town, where they open shops or build residential houses. At the end of the 19th century, most of the elegant stores were opening on the main arterial roads of the city, while the spectacular palaces were being erected in the central area.
During this time, Izidor Ullmann was the head of the Orthodox Jewish community, a personality known outside the community as well, as he was its president. He was a wealthy and influential man (often being called “the Jewish prince”). He believed that, in the given situation, the headquarters of the new Orthodox Jewish institutions had to be built in the New Town. The most appropriate place for this project was situated on the right side of Piața Mare (the Grand Square) (Piața 1 Decembrie, (December 1 Square), Nagypiactér), next to Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) Street (Zárda utca), which was the property of the family of Count Rhédey Lajos. As a result of the negotiations with Izidor Ullmann, the land was offered to the Orthodox Jewish community of Oradea free of charge.
The district of the religious institutions of the Orthodox Jewish community soon rose from this ground in a short period of time. The Great Orthodox Synagogue (1890), the building that was the administrative headquarters was built within this perimeter; the office of Chevra Kadisha (the Holy Society) was also moved here, the kosher poultry slaughterhouse was built here, along with the ritual bath (mikve), the residences of the community’s officials, the Jewish Elementary School for Boys (in 1891), and then the Jewish Elementary School for Girls (1897).
A district inhabited by Jews started forming in this area covering Mihai Viteazul Street (Zárda utca), Sucevei Street (Vámház utca), Cuza Vodă Street (Szacsvay utca), Mihail Kogălniceanu Street (Várady Zsigmond) and Cezar Bolliac Street (Moskovits utca).
The Great Orthodox Synagogue was build on Mihai Viteazul Street no. 4 in 1890. The commencement of the construction is tied to Izidor Ullmann’s name, who led the Orthodox community during 1881-1898. In this period of time, the spiritual leader of the community was Chief Rabbi Mose Hersch Fuchs, Mór Fuchs (1882-1911).
The synagogue, built in the eclectic style, fits into the typology of the synagogues that were being erected at the end of the 19th century, featuring a longitudinal perimeter with a hall-like structure, and the women’s gallery placed on three sides. The building has an east-west orientation through its main façade, while the western one faces the street.
The main façade is composed on three axes. Aside from the surfaces plated with visible bricks, it is characterized through the great diversity of architectural elements, such as the five-sided sturdy pilasters of variable height, ending above the cornice in decorative urns, and the semi-circular gaps and belts, with decorative plaster borders and flanked by the pilasters featuring stylized chapiters.
The naos contains 600 seats for men, while the 450 seats for women upstairs are masked by a wooden grate. In the center, the bima (the podium where the Torah is read) is raised by about 50 cm. The interior can be accessed through the hallway used as a prayer room.
On the other side of the main entrance, on the eastern wall, there is a tripartite composition featuring the niche which houses the Torah – decorated with columns and semi-columns, while the door of the ark is covered with a curtain made from an ample velvet embroidered with golden threads.
One of the most remarkable decorations of the interior is the decorative paintwork of the walls and arches, which feature stylized geometrical motifs, and whose blue and golden-yellow hues create an Eastern atmosphere. The stained glass windows, composed of colored geometrical shapes in matte white, blue and orange, applied in the variously shaped voids, are also of great importance in what concerns the interior decoration.
The light sources (whether they are chandeliers, wall lighting fixtures or floor lamps), along with the metal poles featuring stylized chapiters, and the decorative elements around the ark lend the interior an air of uniqueness.
On the median axis, flanked by tower-shaped pilasters, we can find the main entrance, situated between two windows that close off semi-circularly. Above the main entrance is an ample tripartite window, divided by colonettes that support horseshoe arches contained under a semi-circular arch with its surface pierced by circular voids. The secondary, more modest entrances can be found in the lateral axes of the main façade, which ensure access to the women’s gallery. Above the secondary entrances are windows that close off semi-circularly.
The tip of the pediments is decorated with various stylized ornaments (the Star of David, stylized palmettes), while the central pediment is plated with a stone bearing the first lines of the Decalogue.
A plaque with the inscription of a quote from the Torah can be seen above the main portal, while another plaque from the left of the portal commemorates the victims of the Holocaust.
The Great Orthodox Synagogue has been rehabilitated and restored. The project to restore the Orthodox Synagogue of Oradea began in 2009, and the re-inauguration festivities took place on September 4, 2018. The synagogue then re-entered the religious circuit.
In May 1944, during the Hungarian administration, the greater ghetto of Oradea was organized around the Orthodox Synagogue, stretching across 36 streets. The only entrance point into the ghetto was placed on the corner of Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) Street and Traian Moșoiu Street, next to the Great Orthodox Synagogue.
Decades later, the black marble Holocaust Monument was erected on the left side of the synagogue’s courtyard, commemorating the members of the Orthodox Jewish community who perished as victims of the Nazi concentration camps.