New Berlin program sets historic ordination


BERLIN (JTA) — Two graduates of a new Berlin rabbinical program will be ordained in the first ordination of homegrown Orthodox rabbis in postwar Germany.

The ceremony for the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin will be held June 2 at the new Ohel Jacob Synagogue in Munich by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which together founded the institute.

Reflecting the changing Jewish demographics in post-unification Germany, both graduates were born behind the former Iron Curtain and immigrated to Germany. They found Jewish studies through Lauder Foundation programs.

Zsolt Balla, 30, originally from Budapest, Hungary, will lead outreach programs for the Lauder Yeshurun in Berlin and work as a "weekend rabbi" in Leipzig. Balla was not aware that he was Jewish until he was 9 years old.

Avraham Radbill, 25, born in Mogilev-Podolsk, Ukraine, will begin working in August as an assistant rabbi to Yaron Engelmayer in Cologne. Radbill moved to Leipzig with his family when he was 12 and pursued his rabbinic education while studying at Berlin’s Jewish high school. He now is studying psychology and education.

Fifty pulpit rabbis at most are now serving about 100 Jewish communities in Germany. Most Orthodox rabbis are Israeli-born and educated, noted Rabbi Joshua Spinner, vice president of the Lauder Foundation and founder of the Rabbinerseminar.

The seminary’s ordination is recognized by the Conference of European Rabbis and the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany.

Other groups ordaining rabbis in recent years in Germany include the Abraham Geiger College, a Reform seminary in Potsdam that is about to hold its second ordination since 2005, and Chabad-Lubavitch, whose new Yeshiva Gedola Berlin has ordained 16 students. Some of the Lubavitch students have settled in German-speaking countries, said Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, director of the Chabad-Lubavich Berlin Jewish Education and Family Center.

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