ORADEA (formerly Oradea Mare; Hung. Nagyvárad, also Várad; Ger. Grosswardein; in Hebrew and Yiddish texts the German name was used), city in Transylvania, W. Romania; until 1918 and between 1940 and 1944 in Hungary. Although documents dating from 1407 and 1489 mention several Jews in connection with the city, the only reliable evidence of Jews residing there dates from the early 18th century, but there are several popular legends that speak about a Jewish presence starting with the 10th century. Officials in the four different constituent parts of the city had different policies concerning the settlement of Jews. In 1722 four Jews are listed as residents. A ḥevra kaddisha was formed in 1731. Ten Jewish families were registered in 1736, including one ḥazzan. The Jewish residents in Oradea were immigrants from Moravia, Bohemia, and Poland. As the fort of Oradea lost its strategic importance after the end of the Turkish wars (1692), the Jews were later permitted to live in the adjacent Váralja quarter. In 1787 the Jews were permitted to build a synagogue; a second synagogue was built in 1812. The whole city, including the Jewish population, expanded rapidly from the end of the 18th century. The number of Jews increased from 104 taxpayers in 1830 to 1,600 persons in 1840; 10,115 (26.2% of the total population) in 1891; 12,294 (24%) in 1900; 15,115 (23.6%) in 1910; 20,587 (21%) in
The Jews of Oradea adopted the Hungarian language and culture earlier than any other Jewish community in Hungary. The contribution of the Oradea Jews to the development of Hungarian literature and culture, as well as Hungarian journalism, was very significant even after 1919, when the new Romanian authorities tried to make the Jews change their Hungarian allegiance. The Reform congregation, organized in 1847, was disbanded in 1848. During the Hungarian revolution in that year the Jews supported the rebels and some served in their ranks. Austrian oppression during the following decade weighed heavily on the Jews.
Conflicts between Orthodox and Reform elements within the Oradea community characterized the latter half of the 19th century. After the schism following the Hungarian Jewish Congress (see *Hungary), the Oradea community divided in 1870 into *Orthodox and *Neolog congregations, each developing separate institutions which remained active until after World War II. A Neolog temple, with an organ, was built in 1878, and an Orthodox synagogue in 1891. In both congregations well-known rabbis officiated, including the Orthodox rabbis Aaron Isaac Landsberg (1853–79), and Moses Ẓevi *Fuchs and his son Benjamin (1915–36). Rabbis of the Neolog congregation included Alexander *Kohut (1880–84), Lipót *Kecskeméti (1897–1936), the most influential, and István Vajda (1939–44), the last Neolog rabbi, who perished in *Auschwitz with the rest of his community. During World War I several ḥasidic rabbis from Bukovina and Galicia of the *Vizhnitsa and *Zhidachov dynasties found refuge in Oradea and attracted Ḥasidim from the district.
Jewish institutions in Oradea included a hospital. Jewish public schools were opened early in the 19th century. An Orthodox high school with four classes, founded in 1888, remained open until the Holocaust. A Neolog high school, founded in 1920, also continued until the Holocaust.
In the cultural and economic spheres Oradea Jewry was the most active of all the communities in Hungary or Romania. Jews were prominent in Hungarian journalism. Hebrew printing houses operated in the city. The leading Jewish newspaper was the religious Zionist weekly Népünk ("Our People"; 1929–40). Branches of the Zionist movement were active in Oradea between the world wars. The National Jewish Party had supporters in Oradea, although some Jews supported the party of the Hungarian nationalists. Jews joined the Communist Party when it was still legal and were even elected as city councilors. In 1927 several Romanian nationalist student leaders organized anti-Jewish riots in which several Jews were killed and synagogues were despoiled. Marked antisemitic manifestations made the lives of the Jews difficult both under Romanian rule (1919–40) and, after that, under the new Horthiite regime, which had its climax in their being ghettoized after the German occupation of March 1944, and subsequently deported to Auschwitz.
After the end of the war, in 1947, the Jewish population numbered 8,000, including survivors from the camps, the Hungarian labor battalions, and Jews who had arrived there from other areas. Their number decreased through emigration to Israel and other countries, falling to 2,000 in 1971. The only Jewish institutions still functioning then were the three synagogues, which held services on the Sabbath and holidays. There was a kosher restaurant in the city.
L. Lakos, A váradi zsidóság tőrténete (1912); MHJ, 3 (1937); 5 pt. 1 (1959); 7 (1960), index. S.V. Nagyvárad, Várad; P. Adorján, A halott város (1941); B. Katona, Várad a viharban (1946); S. Yitzhaki, Battei Sefer Yehudiyyim bi-Transylvanyah Bein Shetei Milḥamot Olam (1970), 102–77.
[Yehouda Marton /
Paul Schveiger (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.