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At Last, State-of-the-Art Rabbis Made in Germany

An ordination service at a Berlin synagogue. Coming just after the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the school is a significant step in post-Holocaust Jewish revival, Spiegel points out. At last, they're paying the glass bill.

An ordination service at a Berlin synagogue. Coming just after the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the school is a significant step in post-Holocaust Jewish revival, Spiegel points out. At last, they're paying the glass bill.
Photo Credit: Der Spiegel

The new first government-backed School of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam, which opened in November, marks the first time Germany has funded the training of Jewish rabbis and cantors, Der Spiegel announced with unhidden delight a week ago.

In the past Germany did train many rabbis and cantors, among other Jews, but that’s only if you use the word “train” as a verb.

It is also the first time Jewish theology has been taught as an academic subject at a public university in Europe, claims Spiegel, but I have no idea where they got that one, because I know personally several professors of Jewish Studies in London –maybe they don’t consider London part of Europe.

The school is “a historical milestone in the training of liberal and conservative rabbis” and “unique both in Germany and Europe,” Potsdam University President Oliver Günther said at the time of the launch.

Coming just after the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the school is a significant step in post-Holocaust Jewish revival, Spiegel points out.

At last, they’re paying the glass bill.

“In Germany, of all places, where the Jewish intelligentsia – which had such a large and irreplaceable share in the intellectual prestige of German academia – was expelled and murdered, Jewish theology is finally being given its proper role,” German President Joachim Gauck said at the launch.

I can’t say a bad word about President Gauck, who’s one of the few remaining friends of Israel. When he was here on a visit in 2012, he said: “Germany should be the very last country to turn away from friendship and solidarity with Israel.”

I just don’t like the idea of Jews flocking back to the death place. Call me a hopeless sentimental.

The school, which will also launch six new professorships, is part of the university’s Faculty of Arts. Its 49 newly enrolled students from Germany, Israel, the United States and Eastern Europe will choose from subjects including liturgy and Jewish music history. Students can undertake bachelor of arts and master of arts studies, and the school plans to offer doctoral studies in the future.

Those who wish to train as rabbis or cantors can opt either for Abraham Geiger College, or for Zacharias Frankel College, which opened two days before the official launch of the school last month, for the conservative stream of Judaism. The school will offer more courses of study in English, too.

Admiel Kosman

Admiel Kosman

Admiel Kosman, the director of Europe’s first state-funded School of Jewish Theology is “heavily influenced by other faiths, including Buddhism and Hinduism. It might come as no surprise, then, that Admiel Kosman’s vision is to encourage interfaith dialogue, and to train rabbis for everyone,” delights Der Spiegel.

Kosman was born in Haifa, Israel to an Orthodox Jewish family. He served in the IDF, studies at the Kotel Yeshiva, studied graphic art and pottery at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and did his Ph.D. in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University. And then he decided to move to Berlin.

I don’t know why Israelis have been moving to Berlin in such high numbers, but the common perception in Israel of those who do assigns them the roles of either high finance folks or various types of criminals looking to expand their business. The two, you’ll admit, are not very far apart. But, without a doubt, it’s less likely to have Ph.D.s in Talmud make the move back to the land that once ate our flesh.

Admiel Kosman is a gifted man. He writes poetry. He publishes books and articles. He wrote the following poem, which is by no means representative of his overall body of work, but as I’m searching for clues about why a gifted Talmudic scholar from Israel would settle down in Berlin, it’s something:

A Plea

Delete me please, / delete me absolutely / from da list,

no more Iz-rah-el, no more / Jewish blood, no / more history,

just no-ting, / quiet, peace,

delete me, just delete, / I beg you, please,

(from the Forward)

Kosman wants his school’s approach to influence the rabbinate in other countries – particularly his native Israel, where he sees a serious spiritual crisis among what he describes as the “broken dream” of Zionism.

Now we’re talking.

Within this broken dream thing, says Kosman, Israel is growing dangerously fundamentalist, “competing at the moment with Iran in many areas.”

Spoken like a level headed scientist, with no axes to grind whatsoever. One can imagine the gallows in the city squares in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, just like in Iran, where homosexuals and other enemies of the religion are hanged every week. It’s obvious, isn’t it – Israel is almost like Iran.

“Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel can be closed off and arrogant,” he says. And to show what he means by closed off and arrogant, he gives an example of what it is to be condescending, Berlin-style:

“Imagine if Israeli rabbis were aware of Kant and of post-modern theory? It would generate a different politics, their relationship to the Arab and the secular person next to them would be different.”

Everybody got that he knows Kant? How about the post-modern thing, you dig?

I believe that even more direly needed in Kosman’s case is the unique skillset first offered by another exalted German Jew who dabbled in Kant, Herr Professor Sigmund Freud. Start at twice weekly and continue from there.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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4 Responses to “At Last, State-of-the-Art Rabbis Made in Germany”

  1. Sarah Williams says:

    Love it! Nailed the snarky arrogance of the elitist!

  2. Kosman deserves more than two snippets. Like an extensive interview.

  3. Ch Hoffman says:

    Does anyone really want a "government backed" school of Jewish theology anywhere in the world?

  4. I never understood why any Jew would settle in Europe after the Holocaust. There is something and macabre and masochistic about it. What are those people trying to prove? Where is Sigmund Freud when we need him?

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