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BAJA:

City on the Danube, in the county of Bács-Bodrog, Hungary. As early as the end of the eighteenth century, Baja, owing to its favorable location, was a bustling commercial town. The first Jewish families probably settled there toward the middle of that century and formed a small community. The great conflagration that swept over the city, May 1, 1840, destroyed the synagogue and the Jewish school, together with the communal archives, so that no reliable data remain concerning the organization of the community and the first decades of its existence. The first entries in the old "Ḥebra" book are dated March 6, 1791, the names being those of persons deceased in 1789. The beginnings of the community therefore probably do not date much earlier.

One of the earliest rabbis, and perhaps the very first, was Isaac Krieshaber (later in Paks); and he was succeeded in 1794 by Isaiah Moorberg, or, as he calls himself, Isaiah Kahane, who devoted himself to cabalistic studies, and resigned in 1805. The community then chose for its rabbi Meïr Ash (a surname abbreviated from "Eisenstadt"), distinguished for his piety, firm character, and Talmudic learning. He was an intimate friend of Götz Schwerin, a considerably older man, who had settled at Baja a few years earlier. In order to enable his friend to succeed to the rabbinate, Ash resigned his office in 1815, continuing his rabbinical activity in other circles. Under the new rabbi the community grew in numbers and reputation, becoming one of the most flourishing and important in the whole district.

In the midst of this prosperity, that boded well for the future of the community, a conflagration occurred in Baja, as stated above, which destroyed 2,000 houses, the synagogue, the communal house, the school, the hospital (that also served as a shelter for homeless strangers), and the bath-house. The whole city, in fact, was a mass of smoking ruins. All the members of the community, except three, were rendered destitute. Götz Schwerin (now an octogenarian) found refuge in a house on the outskirts of the city. He manifested an untiring activity in the relief of his flock and the rebuilding of the synagogue, appealing to communities and rabbis far and near, and to his many friends and disciples both at home and abroad. His efforts were very successful, and he received large contributions. The scattered members of the community returned, and were joined by others who were attracted by the business activity incident to the rebuilding of the city.

Within two years the new synagogue was begun. Some influential members took this occasion to press for the introduction of changes in the ritual which they had seen adopted in the progressive synagogue of Budapest. Schwerin offered little opposition; and the Orthodox interior arrangement was therefore abandoned, and a modern order of services adopted, which subsequently served as model for many other communities. The new building was dedicated Sept. 26, 1845. Jacob Steinhardt, rabbi of Arad, delivered the address in Hungarian, while Schwerin lighted the perpetual lamp and pronounced the benediction. After thirty-six years of beneficial activity, Schwerin died Jan. 15, 1852. He was succeeded by Moses Nascher, upon whose death, Feb. 13, 1878; Dr. Leopold Adler was called to the rabbinate.

With the reform of the services, reform of the system of education went hand in hand. In the thirties the congregation established an elementary school, which was reorganized in 1846 under the name of "Israelitische Deutsch-Ungarische Primär Schule." This school consisted of four classes. Employing superior teachers, it was attended even by non-Jews, and stood high with the educational authorities. In the fifth decade the community also established classes for girls. In all its intellectual endeavors it was supported by the old Talmud-Torah Society, which attended to the poor and took its share of the communal burdens. In 1901 the community supported a kindergarten, a primary school for boys and girls (four classes), and a grammarschool for boys and girls (four classes) with 12 teachers and 428 pupils. A more thorough instruction in religion is provided in the Talmud-Torah school recently erected, in which the more advanced scholars are introduced to the study of Scripture. Many who have achieved distinction in various departments of activity have received their education here.

The philanthropic institutions include a Ḥebrah Ḳaddishah, a Jewish Women's Society, and a Young Women's Society, which supports a kitchen for poor school-children.

Bibliography:
  • S. Kohn, Kohn Schwerin Götz, Élet-és Korrajz, Budapest, 1898;
  • Pollák Manó a Bajai Zsidó Hitközség Iskoláinak Törtenete, Baja, 1896.
D.E. N.
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