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Global Politics and the Shaping of Jewish Religious Identity: The Case of Hungary and Galicia

Filed under: World Jewry
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review
Volume 30, Numbers 3–4

When scholars discuss major turning points and novel worldviews in the Jewish religion, they generally address ideological changes and social trends that took place either within the Jewish realm or in its adjacent non-Jewish environment. In this article, however, I demonstrate how Jewish society in general, and its religious concepts in particular, were also influenced by political decisions taken by the leaders of the countries in which they lived.

To this end the article examines two of the most religiously diverse Jewish societies, that of Galicia and that of Hungary. In referring to these two locations, this article does not relate to territories contained within recognized political borders but rather to the Jews who lived in two distinct, yet adjacent, geographic regions. The one, located north of the Carpathian Mountains and known as Halych or Galicia since the 12th century, was recognized as a semi-independent region after its annexation to the Habsburg Empire in 1772. The second is the vast area surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains to the east and the Pannonian Basin to the west known as Hungary since the 10th century, nowadays referred to as “Greater Hungary.”1 From a Jewish perspective, Galician and Hungarian Jews were always considered to be two distinct types, regardless of their formal nationality, be it Polish or Austrian in the case of Galicia, or Romanian or Czechoslovakian in the case of Hungary.

Compared to the groupings of Jews in the regions that surrounded these two territories, be these the German-speaking territories in the west, Poland to the north, the Russian Empire to the east, or Romania and the Ottoman Empire to the south, the Jewish populations of both Galicia and Hungary displayed a wider assortment of religious orientations. Both contained a large number of Hasidic communities – the most conservative and traditional of Jewish groupings – which offered the strongest opposition to modernity and to other international social trends. Next came the non-Hasidic mainstream Orthodox Jews, who were more receptive to external influences such as general education, proficiency in the local languages, openness to European culture, and the partial adoption of the prevailing dress code and appearance. Then there were the nonobservant yet traditional Jews, who adhered to some of the customs and public rituals as well as to their Jewish identity. Many of them moved freely between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds, while some exchanged their observance of religious lifestyle for Jewish nationalism and became active, yet predominantly secular, Zionists. At the furthermost end of the spectrum were those who were born and raised as Jews but who chose to sever all connections to their forefathers’ spiritual heritage.

This, of course, is only a partial list of the Jewish subcultures that existed in these two lands. On closer inspection, one may differentiate, for example, between mainstream non-Hasidic Jews who believed that acquiring general knowledge and even an academic education was permitted by Jewish law, and the neo-Orthodox, who regarded such an education as an integral and obligatory part of Jewish education, in a manner they titled “Torah and science.”2 One may also distinguish between one sector of more radical and zealous Hasidic courts and a second grouping of courts, which were more tolerant toward other Jewish concepts and lifestyles. Among the nonobservant, there were those who maintained a somewhat nostalgic attachment to the traditional, namely Orthodox institutions and customs. Others, on the other hand, were more inclined toward the Reform movement, which defiantly abandoned the “old” Judaism while extravagantly conducting “novel” public rituals in its newly fashioned institutions. When it came to the secular Jews, some eagerly adopted every new European cultural and social trend and eschewed any connection to Jewish tradition, while others, seeking to put their Jewish past firmly behind them, simply converted to Christianity.

In the following sections, the article reviews the differences between the ways in which these various Jewish identities were manifested in the two respective territories: Galicia and Hungary. It demonstrates that in Galicia, the various groups not only coexisted within the same communities, but that such multifaceted and heterogeneous communities were evenly spread across the entire country. This, in retrospect, might explain the “Galician Jew” stereotype. Be he a Hasid or a maskil, observant or secular, Zionist or anti-Zionist, the “Galicianer” was considered a shrewd, no-nonsense, resourceful man-of-the-world, as proficient in “Jewish issues” as he was in “worldly matters.”

From a Jewish perspective, Hungary, on the other hand, was divided into several distinct “Jewish regions.” The non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews predominated in the northwest of the country. They were comparatively prosperous, well educated, and receptive to modernity, while at the same time strictly observing the Jewish laws – the halakhah. The vast southwestern territory, and especially Budapest – Hungary’s capital – was where most of the Reform and acculturated Jews concentrated, and where the Orthodox constituted only a small minority. The east, also known as Transylvania, was home to the more zealous Orthodox Jews, many of whom adopted Hasidism, and, for lack of proper education, this was also the poorest region. In contrast to the rest of the country where Zionism was hardly felt, Transylvania was home to many Zionist movements, the strongest of which was the Mizrachi religious-Zionist movement.

By virtue of their financial and cultural resources, as well as their political influence, many of the modernized non-Orthodox Jews who lived in Budapest or in Hungary’s southern regions survived the Holocaust. Nevertheless, when people nowadays speak of “Hungarian rabbis,” “Hungarian Hasidism,” or “Hungarian zealotry,” they usually refer to the mode of Jewish life that existed in the northeastern sections of Hungary, which, prior to World War I, did not in fact even belong to Hungary. The other two “Jewish types,” namely the more modern yet observant Orthodox Jews on the one hand, and the acculturated-Reformed Jews, who constituted the majority of Hungarian Jews, on the other, were almost entirely absorbed into other cultures and were erased from collective Jewish memory.3

Galician Jewry and the Emergence of the “Galicianer” Stereotype

Until its annexation to the Habsburg Empire in 1772, the territory we now call Galicia was part of the Kingdom of Poland, which, for the previous 200 years, from 1569 to 1772, shared its power and influence with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jews began to settle in Poland early in the second millennium and resided in Galicia’s major towns since the eleventh century.4 As a rule, the Polish monarchs encouraged the settlement of Jews by allowing them better conditions and economic opportunities than in any of the other European countries.5 The expulsion of Jews from England and France in the 13th and 14th centuries and their expulsion from Spain at the end of the 15th century led to their exodus eastward, and the number of the Polish Jews thus steadily swelled.6 By the mid-18th century, the region that would later be known as Eastern Galicia already contained one of the highest concentrations of Jews in the entire kingdom7 (see map 1).8

Number of Jews in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by voivodeship in 1764
Map 1. Number of Jews in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by voivodeship in 1764

Although the main migration route of Jews took them in an eastbound direction, some Jews migrated in other directions as well. Following several waves of persecution during the 14th to 16th centuries, and later during the 17th and 18th centuries, Hungarian Jews crossed the border to Galicia, marking a northbound migration pattern. In the mid-17th century, as a result of the Chmielnicki Uprising in the southeastern regions of Poland during which tens of thousands of Jews were killed, the Jews were forced to flee westward to safer regions of the country.9 At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, as the southern parts of Poland were annexed to the Habsburg, and subsequently to the Austrian Empire, Jews from mid-Poland, many of them Hasidim, migrated southward into the newly established territory of Galicia. The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries witnessed a massive wave of westbound migration, which made its way first to the big cities of Central and Western Europe and later to America.10

To conclude, Jews lived in Galicia for hundreds of years in relative safety. Their numbers grew almost constantly, either due to natural growth or to migration. The various groups of immigrations, which arrived from all directions, brought with them different sorts of Jewish lifestyle that merged with the established one to create a more or less homogeneous community evenly distributed across the country. This is well demonstrated in maps 2a-2c. Based on comprehensive and reliable sources, they portray the geographic distribution of three distinct Jewish lifestyles: (a) that of the Hasidism; (b) that of the non-Hasidic and more open-minded Orthodox; and (c) that of the modernly inclined maskilim and Zionists.

Map 2a indicates the locations of known Hasidic rabbis. Some led their own Hasidic courts. Others, usually family members or students of important Hasidic leaders, settled in more remote towns or villages where they claimed to “represent” the main Hasidic centers. Map 2b indicates the communities that belonged to the Orthodox Mahzikei Ha-Dat organization. This body was established in the late 19th century with the intention of creating a Galician Orthodox movement similar to that which existed in Hungary. Although Mahzikei Ha-Dat was endorsed by several prominent Hasidic rabbis, most of the predominantly Hasidic communities did not join it, either because they considered it too modern or because of internal Hasidic disputes. Map 2c represents the distribution of “modern” Jews. It includes places known for their maskilic activity, communities that issued their own nonreligious newspapers and cultural journals, and the location of the early Zionist movement’s branches.

Jewish groups in Galicia, 18th-20th centuries.
Map 2a. Jewish groups in Galicia, 18th-20th centuries.
Jewish groups in Galicia, 18th-20th centuries.
Map 2b. Jewish groups in Galicia, 18th-20th centuries.
Jewish groups in Galicia, 18th-20th centuries.
Map 2c. Jewish groups in Galicia, 18th-20th centuries.

Upon inspecting these three maps, we find not only that the three major Jewish lifestyles were evenly spread across the country but also that they overlapped one another. This indicates that, although Galician Jews adhered to various lifestyles, they had learned to coexist alongside one another and even to operate under the same political leadership. This fostered a sense of mutual recognition as members of each of the various Jewish groups were aware of, had daily encounters with, or in many cases even belonged to the same family as people who were part of other ideological and social groups. This gave Galicia’s Jewry its unique multifaceted character, or as David Horowitz put it in his memoirs:

Hasidism and haskala, like fresh water springs, nourished the spiritual evolvement of both the most basic religious experience and of rationalistic thought. The intelligentsia, whose foundations were well rooted in the soil of Jewish tradition, progressed in various and unprecedented directions. Some made their way toward acculturation while others turned to Jewish nationalism in hope of Jewish revival… It is almost impossible to find another territory in which so many diverse layers of thought and culture have been accumulated, one on top of the other, upon the original spiritual and behavioral foundation which itself was influenced by a combination of ancient civilizations from both the East and the West.11

The Jews of Hungary

Hungary and Galicia shared a border that was more than 500 kilometers long, and since 1772 both countries belonged to the same empire. For several centuries Jews had migrated almost freely between the two countries, exchanging traditions and lifestyles. Yet during the 18th and 19thcenturies, Hungarian Jewry developed a very different character from that of Galicia’s Jews. In a study published in 1918 titled “The Jewish Racial Character,” scholar Sándor Kis claimed that Jews were generally perceived as primitive, uneducated, dirty, withdrawn, and unsociable. Yet, he claimed, Jews were also regarded as the most intelligent among all the races that inhabited Hungary, and as being the best educated and most cultured. They were also seen as tractable, flexible, and receptive to innovation.12 Acclaimed Jewish Hungarian scholar Raphael Patai explained:

There was, of course, a basis in reality for these variations in the perception of Jews in Hungarian eyes. As late as the interwar years, Hungarian Jewry actually comprised a great variety of “types,” ranging from the most Orthodox Yiddish-speaking Hassidim, who lived a totally and exclusively Jewish life, to the wholly irreligious “un-Jewish” assimilants, who did everything to hide their Jewish origins and appear as true Magyars.13

Indeed, both Hungary and Galicia contained a rich diversity of Jewish groups and lifestyles. However, while in Galicia these various groups lived side by side in the same communities, which were evenly spread across the country, in Hungary the different types of Jews tended to settle in different parts of the country. This, as we shall see, had an enormous impact on the development of Hungarian Jews’ religious lifestyles.14

As in Galicia, Jews began settling in the Kingdom of Hungary since its establishment in the 11th century, and their number grew slowly in the following centuries. Owing to the several waves of persecution and expulsion that took place in the 14th to 16th centuries, their numbers, compared to Poland or to the other Central and northeastern European countries, remained low. Hungary’s conquest by the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 16th century set in motion three different trends. The Ashkenazi Jews of the northwestern Hungarian counties, which remained under the rule of the Habsburg monarchs, were accused of collaboration with the invader and consequently underwent a period of persecution. Many of them were eventually forced to emigrate to the nearby countries, especially Poland. The small community of Jews in Transylvania, which enjoyed a measure of autonomy, continued to live in relative peace and became the most dominant group among the Hungarian-speaking Jews. And many Oriental (Sephardi) Jews, who followed in the footsteps of the Ottoman expansion, settled in the occupied Hungarian territories.

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 17th century and the restoration of Hungary as an independent state, most of the Sephardic Jews left. The remaining Jews, especially those in Transylvania, were accused of collaborating with the Ottoman enemy and were persecuted and expelled. This left Hungary with only a minute Jewish population, and the first, albeit partial, census of Jews taken in 1725 indicated that less than 10,000 Jews lived in one of Europe’s largest countries.15 This state of affairs changed dramatically during the ensuing decades following political decisions taken by the Habsburg Empire leaders to allow and even encourage the return of the Jews. Consequently, by the end of the 18th century the number of Jews had grown tenfold and passed the 100,000 mark. This increase resulted initially from immigration from the German-speaking countries on Hungary’s northwestern borders to a territory the Jews subsequently named “Oberland.”16

This rapid increase in the number of Jews continued throughout the 19th century, particularly after new laws passed around 1840 permitted Jews to settle in most Hungarian towns and made it easier for them to open their own businesses.17 These favorable conditions for Jews remained in place throughout the century. During the 19th century, most of the immigrants hailed from Galicia and many settled in Hungary’s northeastern counties, later known as “Unterland.” Meanwhile, German-speaking Jews, who had at first preferred to settle in territories close to their land of origin, continued their migration toward Budapest and further to the south. From the beginning of the 19th century, the number of Hungarian Jews grew almost ninefold to pass 900,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.18

Besides their different countries of origin, the emergence of the three separate Jewish settlement blocs was influenced by two other factors. The first was the nature of the local population. Hungary’s northwestern regions were inhabited mainly by Germans and Slovaks, and this facilitated the integration of Jews from German-speaking countries. The eastern counties, namely Transylvania, were sparsely populated and were not dominated by any one nationality, which facilitated the absorption of the poorly educated Yiddish-speaking Jews of Galicia. The center and southwest were predominantly Hungarian (map 3). This meant that the German-speaking Jews who wished to settle there had already spent sufficient time in the country to acquire its native language. They were willing to leave their German comfort zone, to integrate with Hungarian society and adopt its culture, which had hitherto been unfamiliar to them. To this end, many of them believed, they had to shed their religious customs and traditions and to adopt new, namely reformed, ones.19

The second factor was a fairly sizable territory in mid-Hungary, to the east and northeast of Budapest, in which Jews were either not encouraged or not permitted to settle. This created a geographic barrier between the Jews who came from the east and those who migrated from the west (map 4).

Distribution of nationalities in Hungary
Map 3. Distribution of nationalities in Hungary

These ongoing processes not only turned Hungary into the third largest Jewish community in Europe, and the fourth worldwide (America included), but also into a country in which Jews enjoyed equal rights and economic prosperity. This meteoric rise in the number of Jews, their immigration and settlement patterns, and the local government’s attitude toward the Jews had a profound impact on the nature of Jewish life that developed in Hungary. Above all, it affected the development of Hungary’s special mix of religious lifestyles.

Growing from 10,000 to 900,000 in Two Centuries and Its Consequences

By the eve of World War I, the Jewish populations of Hungary and Galicia were roughly equal in size. Both displayed a wide spectrum of Jewish lifestyles, though in both of them Orthodox Judaism was still predominant. Despite these similarities, as a collective, Hungarian Jewry had little in common with Galician Jewry. These differences still reverberate today in Jewish collective memory, which depicts the “Galicianer” as a completely different type from the Hungarian Jew.

Upon comparing the way that Jewish settlement developed in Galicia and in Hungary, both geographically and demographically, one discovers several major differences:

  • While Jews had lived in Galicia for many centuries, Hungary’s modern Jewry developed rapidly over a relatively short period of only two centuries.
  • Consequently, while most Galician Jews were natives of their land, most of Hungary’s Jews were either immigrants themselves or second- and third-generation immigrants.
  • This meant that whereas Galician Jews had developed a sense of localism, many Hungarian Jews still adhered to the traditions and lifestyle to which they were accustomed in their countries of origin.
  • While Jews migrated to Galicia from various directions, the inflow of Jews to Hungary followed two distinct paths: from the German-speaking countries to its west, and from Galicia to its northeast.
  • Galicia’s communal institutions developed gradually, with the evolution of a rather diverse, yet commonly accepted, leadership. Hungary’s communities, on the other hand, developed rapidly, and each appointed spiritual and political leaders who upheld the values of its most dominant group.

The cumulative result of these processes was that in Galicia various lifestyles coexisted in relative peace in most Jewish communities, which were evenly spread across the entire country. This, however, was not the case in Hungary, which was divided into four distinct areas. The northwest was home to most of the non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews, who were relatively wealthy, well educated, and receptive to modernity while at the same time rigorously observing the Jewish laws. This region also contained a minority of neo-Orthodox and some Reform communities, known as “Neolog.” The south, and especially Budapest, was where most of the Neolog and acculturated Jews lived, and where the Orthodox constituted only a small minority. The east, by contrast, was home to the more traditional and antimodern Orthodox Jews, many of whom adopted Hasidism. In a part of that region, in Maramaros County and its vicinity, an even more zealous society evolved. Extreme Orthodoxy shunned not only the gentile, the Reform, and the secular Jewish societies but also the relatively open-minded mainstream Orthodoxy from the west.

One notable outcome of the geographic separation between the major Jewish lifestyles and religious affiliations was the schism between the Orthodox and the Neolog movements. Since the end of the 18th century, the Habsburg Empire, and especially its Hungarian wing, went out of its way to welcome Jews, leading to a meteoric rise in their numbers. Demonstrating their gratitude, during the 1848 Spring of Nations many Jews joined the Hungarian forces that rebelled against the Austrian regime. Consequently, many Hungarian leaders promoted the idea that Jews should be granted rights equal to those of other citizens. The revolt’s failure, however, postponed the implementation of this decision until 1867, with the establishment of the dual Austro-Hungarian Empire.20

A year after the legislation of the equal-rights law, representatives of all the Jewish communities were summoned to a nationwide congress in Budapest. The congress’s mandate was twofold: first, to formulate a set of regulations by which all the Jewish communities would abide, thereby granting them some degree of autonomy; and second, to form a central organ that would serve both as the governing body of the Jewish communities and as their representative body vis-à-vis the national institutions.21

Since by then Hungary’s Jewry was already torn between several distinct lifestyles, and since geographic separation made it easier to establish their ideological borders as well, the clash between the various groups was inevitable. During the congress these gaps became unbridgeable. At first, the more tolerant Orthodox Jews of the west sought to come to terms with the moderate Neologs in order to maintain Jewish unity. Their efforts, however, were thwarted by the more zealous Orthodox from the east, who declared that any compromise on fundamental principles was tantamount to heresy.

Since the Neolog faction enjoyed a majority among the delegates and had no intention of relinquishing their modern principles, the zealous Orthodox delegates walked out of the conference, followed shortly thereafter by the more tolerant Orthodox from the west. Although in principle the regulations and institutions established during the congress should have been binding on all Jews, in the early 1870s the Orthodox leaders petitioned the government to exclude them from the congress’s resolutions. Instead, they asked the government to allow the Orthodox communities to run their own communities, and to establish a separate governing body.

What this request implied was a de facto separation of the Jewish religion into two separate “churches” – the Orthodox and the Neolog – each with its own communities, governing organs, and independent representative body. This was an unprecedented demand, never before contemplated throughout Jewish history, in which the value of Klal Israel, meaning the unity of the Jewish people, was a paramount principle. The unity of the Jewish people and of the Jewish religion was not only a common notion among Jews, but this was also how they were perceived by all their former rulers, worldwide.22 Nevertheless, the Hungarian government, for the first time in Jewish history, sanctioned the formal separation between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox camps.23

While other factors contributed to the authorities’ approval of the separation between the Orthodox and the Neolog camps, it is quite clear that the geographic separation between them played a major part in establishing them as two separate societies. Both the local and the Jewish press reported regularly on the sorry state of the Jews living in the northeastern counties, where besides a few years of study in a religious institution, the majority of the Jewish children remained uneducated. As a result, many of them failed to find gainful employment and became destitute. Since many of them belonged to Hasidic sects, they stuck to their typical “Jewish” appearance, namely long beards and sidelocks, a long black coat, and a head cover at all times.24

Most Hungarian legislators, who either lived or spent most of their time in Budapest, were familiar with the educated, intellectual, well-to-do, Hungarian-proficient, modern-looking Neolog Jews. Both the geographic and the behavioral differences between the groups eventually convinced them to accept the idea of two Jewish churches, each representing a separate Jewish society. One represented “our” Jews, who, besides their religion, were very much like all other Magyar citizens, while the “other” catered to the undereducated, indigent, and unacculturated Jews who lived among the Romanian and Ruthenian peasants in the remote rural regions.

Once the separation between the Orthodox and the Neolog communities, which in geographic terms meant separation between the Jews of the north and those of the south, became an established fact, a further schism began to emerge. This was the intra-Orthodox rift between the more tolerant Orthodoxy of the west, located primarily in Oberland, and Extreme Orthodoxy, which prevailed in the northeastern counties or Unterland. The confrontation between the two Orthodox groups was manifested both within the Orthodox organ, the Central Orthodox Bureau, and within certain Orthodox communities. Although the attempt made by several rabbis to set up a separate Extreme Orthodox Bureau, which would have institutionalized the intra-Orthodox separation failed, it demonstrated the depth of the rift between these two groups.

The outcome was the establishment of not two but four separate types of Jewish community: these were the Neolog and the Orthodox, both of which followed the leadership, regulations, and guidelines of their respective governing bodies; the status-quo communities, which did not join either of the newly formed political entities and abided by the “old” Hungarian laws; and finally, the “Sephardi” communities, which were formed in the late 19th century by Extreme Orthodox Hasidic zealots who broke away from the main Orthodox community. To do so, they exploited the precedent of the sanctioning of separate Jewish communities on the one hand, and an obscure regulation that permitted Sephardi Ottoman Jews to maintain their own separate communities on the other.25

While the abovementioned developments have previously been traced and discussed by other scholars and by me, this is the first instance in which claims pertaining to the establishment of the various Jewish camps within Hungarian Jewry are supported by concrete geographic data. Map 4, compiled on the basis of a map prepared by historian and geographer Evyatar Friesel, demonstrates the flow of Jews into Hungary between the 16th and the 19th centuries. The map illustrates the settlement of the Oriental Jews in the wake of the Ottoman conquest of Hungary and their subsequent exodus when this conquest came to an end. It likewise illustrates the migration patterns from the German-speaking countries, both to the northwest and to the south of the country, and from Galicia to the northeastern provinces.

Jewish immigration to Hungary
Map 4. Jewish immigration to Hungary

Maps 5a-5c illustrate the various Jewish lifestyles and their distribution across the regions of Hungary. Map 5a presents the spread of Neolog communities, and shows that most of the Neolog communities were located in the center and the southern part of the country. Map 5b depicts the locations of the Orthodox yeshivas, thereby indicating the positions of the principal Orthodox communities that actively sought to preserve their lifestyle. It demonstrates that such communities were concentrated in Hungary’s northern areas, both to the west, in proximity to the German-speaking countries, and to the east, neighboring on Galicia. To differentiate between mainstream Orthodoxy and the mostly Hasidic Extreme Orthodoxy, map 5c indicates the locations in which Hasidic rabbis settled and the places in which Hasidic courts operated. It demonstrates that Hasidism was prevalent only in one corner of Hungary, namely in Maramaros County and its vicinity.

Religious groups in Hungary.
Map 5a. Religious groups in Hungary.
Religious groups in Hungary.
Map 5b. Religious groups in Hungary.
Religious groups in Hungary.
Map 5c. Religious groups in Hungary.

The overall outcome of the abovementioned processes is presented in a map that shows the density of the Jewish population in 1900, on which the boundaries of the various groups are schematically marked (map 6).

Concentration of Jewish settlement in Hungary in 1900.
Map 6. Concentration of Jewish settlement in Hungary in 1900.
  1. Mostly Neolog communities.
  2. Oberland: Mostly non-Hasidic Orthodox communities.
  3. Unterland Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodox communities.
  4. Maramaros: Hasidic and non-Hasidic Extreme Orthodoxy.
  5. Sparse Jewish population.


This article addresses a generally neglected aspect of the study of the history of religious ideas in general, and the study of Judaism and its inner politics in particular. In most cases scholars, and especially scholars of religious thought, argue that new ideas and ideologies evolve from previous ideas and ideologies, and would rarely link such developments to worldly, politically induced elements such as pro- or anti-Jewish legislation, forced or voluntary migration, settlement patterns, and economic environment. For example, most scholars of Jewish Orthodoxy agree that this movement emerged as a reaction to various aspects of modernity. They claim that owing to their exposure to general education in the modern era, Jews gradually distanced themselves from their forefathers’ traditional lifestyle. Subsequently, these modernized Jews either adopted religious reforms or became less observant or altogether secularized. In other words, the conventional argument is that the abstract processes of modernization resulted in the abstract processes of Orthodoxy and religious radicalization on the one hand, and assimilation, secularization, and religious reforms on the other.26

Although this article accepts this basic analysis, it suggests that it alone cannot explain why Jewish Orthodoxy, or the Jewish Reform movement for that matter, developed differently in various territories. It claims that the basic theoretical explanation should be augmented by other analytical tools that may help explain why one finds different types of Orthodoxy in Germany, in Galicia, and in Transylvania, or why the Reform movement developed differently in Germany and in Hungary and why it never gained ground in any of the territories of the Russian Empire. The tool this article proposes may be described as “a political geography of religion.”

This methodology entails inspecting religious phenomena in a multidimensional manner by addressing the temporal (political history), the spatial (geography), and the spiritual (the study of religious thought) dimensions. Using these perspectives, this article examined two Jewish societies that had the potential to develop along similar lines yet evolved into two distinct groupings. In fact, although the two groups comprised roughly the same socio-religious building blocks, they developed into two different social structures. This outcome cannot be explained purely by theoretical means. To understand how the same basic socio-religious elements, during the same period, in two adjacent territories, resulted in two different types of Jewish society and in a different distribution of religious lifestyles, one must examine other historical, geographic, political, demographic, and cultural factors.

Such conclusions, especially when supported by concrete data such as those offered in this article, may grant some new insights into, for example, the current state and the future of Jewish society in Israel. As in Hungary, significant Jewish settlement in Palestine commenced only in the early 18th century, and in the next two centuries continuous waves of immigrants led to a hundredfold increase in the Jewish population. In many cases, immigrants and newcomers from particular countries kept to themselves, maintained their lifestyles, and established their own exclusive territories.

Upon considering current social processes in Israel, especially with respect to religious matters, one detects a movement away from what resembles the Hungarian model toward the Galician one. Many kibbutzim, which were once entirely secular, have now established their own synagogues, and many of the towns that were once considered haredi-free now have, as a result not only of demographic processes but also because of political decisions, haredi neighborhoods.27 Some social processes are also driven by repenting secular Jews (hozrim be-teshuva) who proceed in one direction, and religious Jews who abandon their former lifestyle (hozrim be-she’ela) and move in the opposite direction.28 These processes are not unidirectional, since haredi society, including its Extreme Orthodox wing, has displayed significant movement toward Israelization.29

To conclude, religion and religious thought can be studied by means of the abstract analysis of texts and ideas. It can, however, be studied also by employing historical, political, and geographic methodologies. What this article suggests is the use of a multidimensional approach. Observing religion, and especially religious society and its inner politics, through temporal, spatial, and abstract perspectives can yield insights that cannot be gained by studying just one, or even two, dimensions. This approach can be further applied both in Jewish studies, such as in the study of Hasidism, ultra-Orthodoxy, Reform, and even secular Judaism, and in the study of other religions and spiritual movements.

MENACHEM KEREN-KRATZ writes, among other subjects, about Jewish Orthodoxy in Europe, Hungarian Jewry, and haredi Judaism in Israel. He holds a DMD from the Hebrew University, a PhD in Yiddish literature from Bar-Ilan University, and a PhD in Jewish history from Tel Aviv University. His most recently published book isMaramaros-Sziget: Extreme Orthodoxy and Secular Jewish Culture at the Foothills of the Carpathian Mountains (2013, Hebrew). His next book will be a biography of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (the Satmar Rebbe).


Map 1: Jewish population in Poland in 1764

Wikipedia with author’s modifications.

Map 2a: Hasidic centers in Galicia

Yitzhak Alfasi, Ha-Hasidut (Tel Aviv: Maariv, 1977) (Hebrew). Information from this book was correlated with other sources, including online lists of Hasidic courts, encyclopedias, and maps that display the spread of Hasidism in several atlases. This resulted in a list of 60 Hasidic centers in Galicia, 56 of which were positively identified and marked. These locations were sorted into Hasidic centers, namely the locations in which the leaders of the courts resided, and the secondary communities that were affiliated with them.

Map 2b: Branches of Mahzikei Ha-Dat in Galicia

Mahzikei Ha-Dat, the biweekly publication of the movement’s newspaper, ran a special section dealing with the organization’s activities and reported on the newly established branches. This data resulted in a list of 65 places, 58 of which were identified and marked. The locations were sorted into major communities, which had many members and were more active; regular communities; and affiliated communities, which supported the movement but did not run their own branch.

Map 2c: Centers of Haskalah and Zionism in Galicia

Shimon Samet, “The Jewish Press in Eastern Galicia,” in David Flinker, Shalom Rosenfeld, and Mordechai Tsanin, eds., The Jewish Press That Was: Accounts, Evaluations and Memories of Jewish Papers in Pre-Holocaust Europe (Tel Aviv: World Federation of Jewish Journalists, ‎1973), 181-290 (Hebrew); Nathan Michael Gelber, History of the Zionist Movement in Galicia: 1875-1918 (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1958), 224-81. These sources were used to list 21 Jewish press centers and 52 Zionist centers and were correlated with other sources. Eventually, 50 locations were positively identified and marked. These were divided into major, intermediate, and small centers, depending on the size of the community and the cultural and Zionist activity it conducted.

Map 3: Distribution of nationalities in Hungary

Wikipedia, with titles added by the author.

Map 4: Jewish immigration to Hungary

Evyatar Friesel, Atlas Karta Le-Toldot Am Israel Ba-Zeman Ha-Hadash (Jerusalem: Carta, 1983), 29. Translation and other modifications by the author.

Map 5a: Neolog communities in Hungary

Theodor Lavi and Nethaniel Kazburg, eds., Pinkas Ha-Kehilot of Hungary (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1976); Theodor Lavi and Jan Ancel, eds., Pinkas Ha-Kehilot of Romania, vols. 1-2 (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1969-1980); Joshua Robert Bichler, ed., Pinkas Ha-Kehilot of Slovakia (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2003); Zvi Locker, ed., Pinkas Ha-Kehilot of Yugoslavia (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1988). These sources produced a list of 119 Neolog communities. One hundred and thirteen locations were positively identified and marked and were sorted according to the size of their Jewish population.

Map 5b: Yeshivas in Hungary

Avraham Fuchs, Yeshivot Hungaria Be-Gedulatan U-Behurbanan, vols. 1-2 (Jerusalem: Hed, 1978-1987) (Hebrew); Leopold Greenwald, Toyzent Yor Yiddish Leben In Ungaren (New York, 1945) (Yiddish); Shmuel Weingarten, Ha-Yeshivot Be-Hungaria (Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer, 1977) (Hebrew). These sources were correlated with and augmented by others, and produced a list of 173 locations in which a yeshiva operated. Some locations had more than one yeshiva while several could not be positively verified. One hundred and forty-nine locations were identified and marked and were sorted according to the number of students in each location.

Map 5c: Hasidic centers in Hungary

Yitzhak Alfasi, Ha-Hasidut (Tel Aviv: Maariv, 1977) (Hebrew); Shlomo Shpitzer, Kehilot Hungaria (Jerusalem: Mifa’al Moreshet Yahadut Hungaria, 2009) (Hebrew); Marcin Wodziński and Uriel Gellman, “Toward a New Geography of Hasidism,” Jewish History 27, 2-4 (2014): 171-99; Marcin Wodziński, “Space and Spirit: On Boundaries, Hierarchies and Leadership in Hasidism,” Journal of Historical Geography 53 (2016): 63-74. These sources produced a list of 65 Hasidic centers that were all identified and marked and that were sorted according to the nature and the size of the Hasidic community.

Map 6: Concentration of Jewish settlement in Hungary in 1900

A magyar szent korona országainak 1900. évi népszámlálása. Tizedik rész: Végeredmények összefoglalása / … szerkeszti és kiadja a Magyar Kir. Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1909), X [2], 331, p. [46] (Magyar statisztikai közlemények. Új sorozat, 27. kötet) [The National Census of the Countries of the Holy Hungarian Crown in 1900. Part 10: Summary of Results. Edited and published by the Royal Central Statistical Office of Hungary, Budapest: Athenaeum, 1909), X [2], 331, p. [46] (Hungarian Statistical Publications, new series, vol. 27)]. Maps adapted by János Bogárdi and the author.

* * *


1 Since its defeat in World War I, except for a couple of years during World War II, the area of Hungary shrank to about a third of what it had been in the previous centuries.

2 Leo Levi, “The Torah and the Sciences,” in The Living Hirschian Legacy: Essays on “Torah im Derech Eretz” and the Contemporary Hirschian Kehilla (New York:‎ Feldheim,‎ 1988), 125-71.‎

3 See, for example, William O. McCagg, Jr‎.‎, A History of Habsburg Jews, 1670-1918 (Bloomington:‎ Indiana University Press,‎ 1989). The author points to three different Jewish groupings under the Habsburg Empire: the Austrian, Hungarian, and Galician communities.

4 Bernard D. Weinryb, The Jews of Poland:‎ A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100 to 1800 (Philadelphia:‎ Jewish Publication Society of America,‎ 1972)‎; Israel Ta-Shma, “On the History of Jews in Twelfth- and Thirteen-Century Poland,” Polin 10 (1997): 287-317.

5 Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, The Jews in Poland: A Documentary History (New York: Hippocrene, 1993); Antony Polonsky, The Jews in Poland and Russia, vol. 1 (Oxford: ‎Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, ‎2010).

6 Horn, Maurycy, “Demographic Development of the Jews of Red Ruthenia (Later East Galicia) against the Background of the Urbanization Process in the 16th and the First Half of the 17th Century,” in Uziel O. Schmelz et al., eds., Papers in Jewish Demography: Proceedings of the Demographic Sessions Held at the 8th World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem, 1981), 49-58.

7 Shaul Stampfer, “The 1764 Census of Polish Jewry,” Bar-Ilan 24-25 (1989): 41-147; Israel Bartal, “The Jews of Galicia under the Habsburgs,” Polin 12 (1999): 3-24; Piotr Wróbel, “The Jews of Galicia under Austrian-Polish Rule, 1869-1918,” Austrian History Yearbook 25 (1994): 97-138.

8 For information on the maps’ sources and the data they present, see the “Sources” section at the end of the article.

9 Shaul Stampfer, “What Actually Happened to the Jews of Ukraine in 1648?” Jewish History 17, 2 (2003): 207-27.

10 Jonathan L. Dekel-Chen, “East European Jewish Migration: Inside and Outside,” East European Jewish Affairs 44, 2-3 (2014): 154-70.

11 David Horowitz, Ha-Etmol Sheli (Jerusalem, 1970), 2-13.

12 Raphael Patai‎, The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology (Detroit: ‎ Wayne State University Press,‎ 1996),‎ 494.

13 Ibid., 495.

14 Jacob Katz, “Yihudah Shel Yahadut Hungaria,” Molad 6 (1974): 193-98.

15 Anat Peri, “Hityashvut Yehudim Be-Hungaria Be-Hasut Ha-Keter Ve-Ha-Tsava Ha-Habsburgim (1686-1747),” Zion 63, 3 (1998): 319-50.

16 Philip Grunwald, “The History of Jewish Settlements in Hungary,” in Moshe E. Gonda, Yitzchak Yosef Cohen, and Yehuda Marton, eds., Yehudei Hungaria (Jerusalem: Ha-Aguda Le-Heker Toldot Yehudei Hungaria, 1980), 123-30 (Hebrew).

17 Bernard Mandel, “The Economic Activity of the Hungarian Jews in the 19th Century,” in Gonda et al., Yehudei Hungaria, 28-56 (Hebrew).

18 It should be noted that these migration patterns were not unique to Jews, and that Germans to the west and Ruthenians to the east also followed these paths.

19 Michael K. Silber, “ʽMichael Ein Matsuy Be-Kehilatenu Mi-Kama Te’amim Nekhonim’: Bein Hasidim U-Mitnagdin Be-Hungaria,” in Emanuel Etkes et al., eds., Within Hasidic Circles (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1999), 75-108; Michael K. Silber, “Hungary before 1918,” in Gershon D. Hundert, ed., The Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, vol. 1 (New Haven:‎ Yale University Press,‎ 2008), 770-82; Joseph Jacobs, “Statistics,” The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 11 (New York:‎ Funk & Wagnalls,‎ 1906),‎ 528-26.

20 Moshe E. Gonda, “The Struggle of the Hungarian Jews for Emancipation,” in Gonda et al., Yehudei Hungaria, 131-53 (Hebrew).

21 For a comprehensive review of the congress, its unfolding developments and its outcomes, see Jacob Katz, A House Divided: ‎Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenth-Century Central European Jewry (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1998).‎

22 Yosef Gorny, “Klal Yisrael: From Halakhah to History,” in Eliezer Ben-Rafael, Yosef Gorny, and Yaacov Ro’I, eds., Contemporary Jewries: Convergence and Divergence (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 11-22. ‎

23 The establishment of separate Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities was likewise permitted in several cities in Germany, but this was regarded as a local political arrangement rather than a new concept in the Jewish religion.

24 Ladislau Gyemant, “Projects for the Modernization of the Jewish Schooling System in Transylvania in Mid-19th Century,” Studia Judaica 6 (1997): 97-105.

25 All Hasidim use a prayer book (siddur) arranged in a manner known as “Sephardi,” which differs from that used by the non-Hasidim, which is known as “Ashkenazi.” This enabled the Hungarian Hasidim to claim they were affiliated with the original Sephardic Jews. ‎

26 For example: Yosef Salmon, Aviezer Ravitzky, and Adam S. Ferziger, eds., Orthodox Judaism: New Perspectives (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2006) (Hebrew); Eliezer Schweid, A History of Modern Jewish Religious Philosophy, vols. 1-2 (Boston: ‎ Brill, ‎2011-2015).

27 Lee Cahaner, “The Development of the Spatial and Hierarchic Structure of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Population in Israel” (PhD diss., Haifa University, 2009).

28 Shlomi Doron, Shuttling between Two Worlds: Coming to and Defecting from Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israeli Society (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2013) (Hebrew).

29 Kimmy Caplan, Internal Popular Discourse in Israeli Haredi Society (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 2007), 245-61 (Hebrew).