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Bettelheim, Sámuel

(1872–1942), Orthodox journalist; Zionist; and Agudas Yisroel politician. Born in Pressburg (Hun., Pozsony; mod. Bratislava), Sámuel (Samu) Bettelheim studied at the renowned yeshiva in his city. In 1897, he was among the founders and the president of the first legally recognized Zionist society in Hungary, the Yagdil Torah Society, renamed Ahavat Tsiyon in 1899. Although its members were hesitant to call themselves Zionists, Rabbi Simḥah Bunem Sofer permitted students from the yeshiva to join and thus eased their way.

Bettelheim was the official representative of Hungarian Jewry at the third Zionist Congress in 1899. Subsequently he assembled the first temporary Hungarian Zionist Committee (with Theodor Herzl as president), which worked until 1904, and later the first Hungarian Zionist Congress, held in Pozsony in 1902. Various resolutions were passed to support the creation of a national homeland for Jews who did not have one (this was consistent with the program accepted in Basel), or who did not wish to become part of Hungarian national politics or be accepted as a national minority in Hungary. Other members of the temporary Hungarian Zionist Committee were János Rónai and Béla Oesterreicher.

Bettelheim actively participated in the Hungarian Zionist Society of Budapest in 1902–1903 and the First Hungarian Zionist Congress in 1903 in Pozsony. In 1904, Rabbi Yitsḥak Ya‘akov Reines commissioned him to be one of the organizers of the First World Congress of the Mizraḥi movement. The Orthodox world responded with more than 120 bans against Mizraḥi and Zionism in 1904; the deeply traditionalist Bettelheim was affected emotionally, but did not give up his Zionist convictions. He also was the Hungarian representative of the Zionist International Committee for seven years, and played a critical role in organizing the Zionist movement in the Slovak regions of Hungary in cities such as Galánta, Nyitra, Galgóc, Tapolcsány, Nagyszombat, and Alsókubin.

Between 1904 and 1907, Bettelheim led the Association of Hungarian Zionists (known as the Hungarian Zionist Organization after 1906). In 1908, he founded the Pressburger jüdische Zeitung and later the weekly Ungarländische jüdische Zeitung, published in Budapest, which he also edited until 1915; these periodicals advocated Jewish nationalism.

In 1915, the government commissioned Bettelheim to lecture in America about the federal system of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, in support of the Central Powers. He returned to Hungary in 1917 and enlisted in the army; later, he worked in the government’s press office. By that time Bettelheim had distanced himself from Zionism and had come close to the viewpoint of Agudas Yisroel. In 1920, he founded Aguda’s central periodical Die jüdische Presse in Pozsony and served as its editor. Later he returned to the United States and published the Jewish Weekly Bulletin. Between 1934 and 1937 Bettelheim published the literary and scholarly periodical Judaica in Bratislava. He died in Budapest of natural causes.

Suggested Reading

Livia Bitton, “A Decade of Zionism in Hungary: The Formative Years; The Post-World War I Period, 1918–1928” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1968); Peter Haber, Die Anfänge des Zionismus in Ungarn, 1897–1904 (Cologne, 2001); Yekuti’el Tsevi Zehavy, Me-Hitbolelut le-tsiyonut (Jerusalem, 1972).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó