Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Ordination of Three Rabbis in Germany Is Seen as a Renewal of Judaism

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2006

Germany, on September 14, ordained its first rabbis since World War II in an event hailed as a milestone in the rebirth of Jewish life in the country where the Holocaust began.  
The New York Times (September 15, 2006) reported that, “Germany took a richly symbolic step in its long journey of historical reconciliation ... as three men became the first rabbis ordained in this country since the Holocaust. In a ceremony that blended bright hope for the future with a solemn homage to the past, the three — a German, a Czech, and a South African — stood before a senior rabbi in Dresden’s modern synagogue, as he told them they had been singled out, just as Moses had chosen Joshua, in Scripture.”  
“All of Germany celebrates with us today, and all of Europe as well,” said Rabbi Walter Jacob, the president of Abraham Geiger College, which is named after the 19th century German Jewish theologian who founded the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin, which was closed by the Nazis. He is one of the founders of Reform Judaism.  
“Today, we have made a new beginning,” Rabbi Jacob said to the 250 in the congregation, many of them from the U.S. and Israel. The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayyub Axel Kohler, was also present.  
German television broadcast the hourlong ceremony live from Dresden’s new synagogue, a modern structure built in 2001. It is near the site of the Semper Synagogue, which the Nazis burned down in November, 1938 during the Kristallnacht assault.  
Germany’s Jewish population, which stood at 500,000 before the war, is growing as a result of an influx of Russian Jews since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. More than 100,000 Jews live in Germany today, compared to 30,000 at the time of German reunification.  
After the ceremony, Rabbi Uri Regev, the president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, said: “You could feel the winds of history hovering over your head. For the first time since the horrific events that destroyed the Jewish community, you could see a renewal of that community.”  
German leaders hailed the ordinations as a milestone in the rebirth of Jewish life — a day of “recognition and joy,” in the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel.  
After five years of studying in relative anonymity, the newly ordained German, Daniel Alter, 47, said the lavish domestic and international attention left him almost dazed. “I woke up to the fact that I was in a storm,” he said.  
Rabbi Alter will serve a population in the northern German city of Oldenburg, which is heavily Russian. The newly ordained Czech rabbi, Tomas Kucera, 35, also plans to stay in Germany, serving Munich. The third rabbi — Malcom Maritiani — will return home to South Africa.  
All three are Progressive Jews, members of the equivalent of the Reform movement in the U.S. The Orthodox Jewish movement, which claims a larger following in Germany than the Progressive movement, is also training rabbis in Berlin. It plans to ordain four rabbis there in six months.  
According to The New York Times, “During the ceremony, Rabbi Jacob recalled that when his family fled the Nazis in 1939 — he was 9 then — it broke a family tradition of rabbis in Germany that stretched back 15 generations. ‘I thought I would be the 16th,’ he said. Instead, he made his home in Pittsburgh. Rabbi Jacob maintained his ties to Germany, however, and six years ago, he and a friend, Rabbi Walter Homolka of Germany, helped establish a liberal rabbinical seminary as an Institute of the University of Potsdam.”  
Even those rabbis who do not stay in Germany, like Rabbi Matitiani, play a role in reconciliation, according to Rabbi Regev. “Germany sees it as an opportunity to send people out into the world with a message that this is a new Germany,” he said.  
German President Horst Koehler declared: “After the Holocaust, many people could never have imagined that Jewish life in Germany could blossom again. That is why the first ordination of rabbis in Germany is a very special event indeed.”

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.