(JTA) — The main rabbinical seminary in Europe for Reform and Masorti Jews ordained the first ever Spain-born Progressive rabbi, the seminary’s spokesperson said.
Rabbi Haim Casas, who was born and raised in Cordoba, was ordained at a ceremony in London last week along with six other rabbis of the Leo Baeck College, the institution said in a statement on Sunday.
Casas, who was born in 1981, plans to return to Spain, where he will be serving that country’s growing Progressive communities, as well as congregations in France and Switzerland, the statement also read.
Leslie Bergman, the previous president of the European Union for Progressive Judaism, confirmed to JTA on Monday that, to his knowledge, Casas is the first Spain-born Progressive rabbi ever ordained.
His ordination was “especially poignant,”Leo Baeck College principal Rabbi Deborah Kahn-Harris said in the statement, as the “Jewish community in Spain has only re-emerged very recently” following its near-total destruction in the centuries that followed that mass expulsions and forceful conversions to Christianity that took place during the Spanish Inquisition from 1492 until its abolition in the 19th century.
Casas was ordained by Leo Baeck College dean Rabbi Charles Middleburgh in Spanish, “respecting his Sephardi heritage and the truly historical nature of the ordination itself,” the statement read.
In 2005, together with a Spanish couple who shared his passion for Sephardic Judaism, Casas started a cultural center and museum called Casa de Sefarad in the heart of the Jewish quarter of Cordoba. In 2010, he opened Casa Mazal, a cultural café devoted to Sephardic gastronomy.
In recent years, Progressive communities have seen significant growth in Spain as a result of a mix of factors, including heightened interest in Judaism, facilitated by the internet and the secularization in society in that country, which used to be a dictatorship until the 1970s.
The arrival of hundreds of Jewish families from Argentina, where Reform and Progressive Judaism is relatively popular within the Jewish community compared to many countries of Continental Europe, has also contributed to the growth of that stream of Judaism in Spain.
In addition to Casas, the ceremony at Leo Baeck College ended with the ordination also of Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen to serve at the Manchester Reform Synagogue; Rabbi Kath Vardi to North West Surrey Reform Synagogue; Rabbi Hannah Kingston to North Western Reform Synagogue; Rabbi Naomi Goldman to Kol Chai Hatch End Jewish Community and Rabbi Danny Newman to Finchley Reform Synagogue.
Rabbi Daniel Lichman will be working for Student Chaplaincy.