New rabbis to be ordained in Germany

13th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

Three new rabbis are due to be ordained in Germany this week - the first since the Nazi era. Matthias Benirschke looks at the work of the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin.

Walter Homolka (left) is the rector of Abraham Geiger College

The first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since the Nazi era are due to take their vows at a synagogue in Dresden on Thursday 14 September.

The three men involved have just completed a five-year course of study at the Abraham Geiger College, which was founded in Berlin in 1999 amid reservations from many Jews.

"We are the only university-level training institute on continental Europe," its rector, Walter Homolka, says. "There is an enormous demand for rabbis in Europe and the rest of the world."

After their ordination, the three rabbis will take up different posts. Tom Kucera will be based in Munich, Daniel Alter in Oldenburg and South African Malcolm Matitani in Cape Town. Alter is the only one of the three who was born in Germany.

Abraham Geiger, the person the college is named after, was one of the most important thinkers in liberal Judaism and was himself a rabbi in Berlin from 1870 to 1875.

Initial reservations

*quote1*Initially Jewish organizations abroad expressed reservations about rabbis being trained in Germany, according to Homolka.

"One colleague said he could not understand why we wanted to establish such an institutions on the ashes of 6 million victims of the Shoa (Holocaust)," the rector says.

To this day, six decades after the Holocaust, many Jews still cannot understand how fellow Jews can live in Germany, let alone study to be a rabbi there.

Mixed feelings

Kucera, who comes from the Czech Republic and who was originally a biochemistry student, admits that that he had mixed feelings the first time he stood in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate landmark.

"Flashes from the past shot through my mind," he says. "Of course the past has to be remembered, but today it's more about the future."

Kucera, 35, says he has experienced the growth of Jewish communities in his native country, but without the presence of rabbis.

"That was a major factor of motivation for me," he says, adding that he also enjoys imparting knowledge to people.

Staying at home

*quote2*The college, which is attached to the University of Potsdam, a 30- minute journey from the German capital, means that students no longer have to travel abroad to become a rabbi, Homolka says.

Many of those who went to London or the United States never returned.

For a person who spent 150,000 dollars on his studies, a well- paying job in a US Jewish community was the only alternative, according to Homolka.

Practical and academic

There are currently 12 students at the Berlin college, where they learn the practical work of a rabbi's duties. The academic part is conducted at Potsdam university, where there is a chair of rabbinical studies and liturgy.

Graduates can obtain a master's degree in Jewish studies - a course which takes in Jewish texts from the Bible, Talmud and Midrash, religious philosophy, religious history, sociology, liturgy, synagogue music and counselling.

There are also lessons in Hebrew, Aramaic and, on request, Yiddish.

Students spend one year of the course studying at an Israeli university and also work with Jewish communities on at least two weekends a month.

Looking after the community

Homolka says the training programme will enable the college to look after about half of the 100 Jewish communities that exist in Germany.

The rector says the college needs at least 550,000 euros (690,000 dollars) a year to survive. Most of the money comes from donations, mainly from the United States.

In future, financing will be jointly provided by the German state, the Central Council of Jews, and a Jewish foundation.

Germany today has a Jewish population of 100,000 compared to 600,000 before the start of World War II.

The last Jewish seminary in Germany was shut in 1942 and no rabbis have been ordained since.


13 September 2006

Copyright DPA with Expatica 2006

Subject: Jews in Germany, Jewish life in Germany, rabbis in Germany, Abraham Geiger College

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