Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Rónai, János

(1849–1919), lawyer and Zionist leader. Born in the Hungarian city of Gyulafehérvár (Rom., Alba Iulia), János Rónai completed his legal studies at the University of Budapest. Working first as a vice notary public in Győr, he then started his own legal practices in Fogaras (Rom., Făgăraş) and in Balázsfalva; he also organized branches of the Independence Party of 1848 in several towns in Transylvania. Rónai’s writings include his 1875 doctoral dissertation, “Nacionalizmus és kozmopolitizmus különös tekintettel a zsidóság mai helyzetére” (Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism with special consideration of the Jewish Situation in Our Time).

After the publication of Der Judenstaat in 1896, Rónai began to correspond with Theodor Herzl and in 1897 participated in the first Zionist Congress. In his presentation there, Rónai analyzed the state of affairs in Hungary, claiming that despite the government’s good will, the situation for Jews in Hungary was not stable. Because Magyars constituted less than half of the total population, they needed Jews to help them attain a majority, but by identifying with Magyars, Jews were resented by Hungary’s many other nationalities. Clericalism, too, was on the rise, even among the Magyars. Zionism, however, did not run counter to Hungarian patriotism, in Rónai’s view. Since Jews and Christians in Hungary were equally afraid of the mass immigration of East European Jews, there was support for Zionism.

When he returned from Basel, Rónai and his colleagues laid the foundations for Zionism in Hungary. In Nagyszeben in the fall of 1897, he founded the Zion Society, the first organization of its type in the Hungarian-speaking territories. He frequently corresponded with Herzl and in 1897 published Zion und Ungarn, the first mass-produced modern Zionist pamphlet in Hungary.

Rónai was often attacked for his Zionist beliefs, and he would respond in the Budapesti Hírlap (Budapest News), saying in effect, “If the English, French and German can be good citizens of Hungary why cannot the Jew be an equally good citizen even after the establishment of the Jewish state?” Financial difficulties, and the fact that the Zionist organization was not granted a state permit, prevented him from attending the Second Zionist Congress.

Suggested Reading

Peter Haber, Die Anfänge des Zionismus in Ungarn, 1897–1904 (Cologne, 2001); Livia Bitton Jackson, “Zionism in Hungary: The First 25 Years,” Herzl Yearbook 7 (1970): 285–320; Yekuti’el Tsevi Zehavy, Me-Hitbolelut le-tsiyonut (Jerusalem, 1972).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó