Mattersdorf - Mattersburg

Synagogue built in: 16th Century
Earliest record of community: 1528
Last rabbi: Israel Taussig, Samuel Ehrenfeld
Community members: 1785 : 767; 1883 : 700; 1925: 430; 1934 : 511
Summary: The Jewish community in Mattersdorf (renamed Mattersburg in 1923), a town in the Burgenland province of today’s Austria, was thought to have been founded by refugees from Odenburg or Wiener-Neustadt, who had been driven out by the constantly changing policy of the-then Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, towards his Jewish subjects.

Count Esterházy offered Mattersdorf’s Jews his protection in 1622 and granted them independent status. Thus during The Great Turkish War in the second half of the 17th century, as well as during the Kuruc rebellion at the beginning of the 18th century, Jews were able to take shelter along with most of the general population in Forchtenstein castle.

Mattersdorf’s synagogue was erected in the 16th century and rebuilt in the 19th. It housed a vast collection of valuable ritual items. Another important institution within the community was its yeshiva (school for religious studies). Every new rabbi who came to serve in Mattersdorf from the 18th century onwards ran this yeshiva as one of his main duties. The congregation sponsored a certain number of yeshiva students. Over the years the number of students benefitting from this program varied between three and 12 at any one time, depending on the community’s financial situation. The students who received sponsorship studied alongside many others, the majority of whom received financial support from their own families during their years of Talmudic studies.

Some of the earliest directors of the yeshiva were Rabbi Aryeh Leb Frankfurter and, at the end of the 18th century, Rabbi Yirmiyah Mattersdorf. One of Rabbi Mattersdorf’s pupils later became famous as the Hassidic leader Simha Bunim of Pshisha.

Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, known as the Ch’tam Sofer, served as Mattersdorf rabbi from 1798 to 1805. His presence attracted many students to Mattersdorf before he left to take up a position in Pressburg, for which he is better known.

Rabbi Schreiber was followed by Rabbi Simha Bunim Eger (brother of Rabbi Akiba Eger), then by Rabbi Meir Almas and then Rabbi Gershon Bockstadt, better known as Gershon Chajes, who later served in Nikolsburg.

The yeshiva received its greatest impetus from the leadership of Rabbi Shimon Schreiber, son of the Ch’tam Sofer. Rabbi Shimon Schreiber officiated in Mattersdorf for 15 years before becoming rabbi of Cracow.

During Rabbi Shimon Schreiber’s time, the more liberal neolog reform movement and that of the orthodox Hungarian separatists finally parted ways. Mattersdorf’s adherence to the traditional, orthodox camp was taken as a matter of course.

With the arrival of Rabbi Samuel Ehrenfeld in 1877, the yeshiva was restored to its former glory. The running of that institution remained in the hands of Rabbi Ehrenfeld’s family until 1938.  

Rabbi Max Grünwald of Vienna chronicled many of Mattersdorf’s distinctive minhagim (religious customs). For example, the daily routine of the shamas (the synagogue caretaker), after lighting the synagogue candles and preparing the building for worship, would be to obtain permission from the rabbi and the head of the community to commence his rounds. Equipped with a wooden hammer, he would walk from door to door, knocking at the congregants’ houses to remind them to attend services; he did this two times a day. He gave three knocks on each door (if he was summoning people for a funeral service he knocked twice). On the Sabbath and holy days he summoned the congregants vocally. It was also mandatory for ladies to leave the synagogue before the end of Sabbath services, so as to avoid congregating with the men folk afterwards. Women would traditionally attend services on weekdays, particularly on Mondays and Thursdays when the Torah was read.  

In 1903, the Jewish community lost its autonomous status and thereafter was subject to the same political administration as the general population of the town. A few weeks after the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany) in 1938, Mattersdorf’s Jews were driven out, mostly to Vienna, from where they tried to emigrate. The Nazis looted the synagogue’s ritual items and then blew up the building. Today, the only remnant of Mattersdorf’s once-flourishing Jewish community is its former cemetery.
Sources: Zur Geschichte der Juden im Burgenland. Österreichisches Jüdisches Museum Eisenstadt 1993

Johannes Reiss: Geschichte der Juden und jüdische Geschichte im Burgenland. in: Fritz Mayerhofer und Ferdinand Oppel: Juden in der Stadt „Erwerbsteuer-Schein für den Hausierer David Moses aus Mattersdorf“, Gerhard Milchram in David, Heft Nr. 67, Dez. 2005
Fate of the synagogue: Blown up in 1940
Located in: Burgenland