Two Rabbinical Programs to Serve Growing Numbers of German Jews

Nearly six decades after Germany’s last rabbinical program was shut down by the Nazis, two such programs are about to begin offering classes.

The College for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg this week announced plans to start a multidenominational rabbinical studies program in the fall.

Another previously announced rabbinical program, under the auspices of the liberal Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, is also planned for the fall.

Both come in response to the growing need for rabbis and Jewish religion teachers in Germany, where the Jewish population has more than doubled in the last 10 years due to immigration from the former Soviet Union.

There are currently about 80 Jewish communities in Germany, but only about 20 rabbis serving them. In all there are at least 90,000 Jews living in Germany.

Of the two new rabbinical programs, only Heidelberg has the support of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in part because it embraces the three major Jewish denominations. The Abraham Geiger College is exclusively liberal, which is the equivalent of the American Reform movement as well as other alternatives to Orthodoxy.

After four to five semesters in Heidelberg, students will spend the second phase of their studies abroad, in such institutions as Beth Morasha in Jerusalem; the Jewish Theological Seminary or Yeshiva University in New York; the Leo Baeck College in London; or the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

The Heidelberg program has not yet announced its chair, which is named for the late president of the Central Council, Ignatz Bubis.

Shortly before he died in August 1999, Bubis, made clear his commitment to the establishment of a religious teacher-training program at the Heidelberg school.

The Abraham Geiger College will offer courses at the Moses Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam, as well as in Israel.

Its dean is Rabbi Walter Jacob of Pittsburgh, a leader of the American Reform movement whose family fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

In addition to the rabbinical programs, the New York-based Ronald S. Lauder Foundation opened a training program for Jewish religion teachers in Berlin for men in 1999, and it is opening one for women this fall in Frankfurt.

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