Abraham geiger kolleg turns 20

Abraham geiger kolleg turns 20

Anita kantor holds a thora role in her hands and dreams. Hungarian to be ordained as a rabbi in the next few months.

Then she wants to return to budapest and found a teaching house for jewish knowledge and religion, a "beth midrash," as such an educational institution is called in hebrew. "This is more than a dream," says cantor. The abraham geiger kolleg (AGK) in potsdam, where kantor has been studying since 2014, has promised support.

The AGK has been training rabbis for 20 years. He can hardly believe that the idea of founding a training center for liberal clergy in germany for the first time has now become a center of european judaism. This is what the founder and director walter homolka says. The college is part of the renaissance of judaism in central europe – despite increasing hostility toward israel and anti-semitism.

The AGK will then have to relocate. A training center for jewish theology at the university of potsdam is being built in the listed buildings at the new palais in potsdam. From this winter semester on, the abraham geiger kolleg and the conservative zacharias frankel college will have new rooms. The institute of jewish theology will also be housed there.

Until the foundation of the AGK, rabbis were trained mainly in the USA or great britain. And then stayed there. "Those who get to know jewish life in new york don’t necessarily want to go back to germany," says homolka. Like anita kantor, who started out as a religion teacher in her native hungary, the institute, which is based in potsdam, now attracts applicants from all over the world. They come from russia, israel, brazil, or the u.S. The college also cooperates with teaching institutions in budapest and moscow.

In the meantime, 35 graduates – 8 women and 27 men – have completed their training at the college and are active in south africa, great britain and israel, among other places, as well as in jewish communities in germany. Cantors are also trained here. Alina traiger was the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in germany in 2010 after more than 75 years.

The kolleg owes its existence in part to the immigration of tens of thousands of jews from the former soviet union in the 1990s. Around 25.000 jews lived in germany until 1989. With the influx, the need for specialists in congregations and synagogues increased. Since then, chaplains in particular have been in demand. In the meantime, more than 100.000 jews live in germany again.

"Our success stories are our graduates," says homolka. The college is in close contact with the congregations, which can get to know future rabbis as interns before committing to them.

But with the college, a historical gap has also been closed. The AGK, which is now part of the university of potsdam, follows in the tradition of the university for the science of judaism in berlin, founded in 1872 by the theologian and rabbi abraham geiger (1810-1874), where, among others, leo baeck, the most important representative of liberal judaism, taught. In 1942 the institute was closed by the nazis. It wasn’t until 1979 that the heidelberg university of judaic studies was founded, with the central council of jews as its sponsor.

As early as 1836, geiger, the founder of reform judaism, formulated that the emancipation of the jews would be complete when the clergy of judaism were educated in the same way as the christian clergy, says homolka.

In 2012, the german council of science and humanities recommended that jewish theology be established as a university subject. More than ten years after its founding, the abraham geiger kolleg received its academic consecration. "This did not trigger enthusiasm everywhere," says homolka. "But if you introduce muslim theology to the university, you can’t get past judaic theology."

Liberal judaism is rooted in the combination of judaic traditions with modern scientific questions. A key question is whether traditions can be questioned. Yes, say the liberals, but the orthodox are more skeptical. "For an orthodox rabbi, it is a sunde that man wants to assess the value of tradition himself," says homolka. Liberal judaism, on the other hand, tries to reconcile tradition and modernity.

The orthodox initially viewed the AGK with skepticism. But in the meantime, says homolka, we have come closer to reconstructing. There are differences, for example, in the training of women as rabbis. "But something is also changing there."The first female rabbi, regina jonas from berlin, was ordained in 1935. Today there are about a thousand women in the rabbinate worldwide.

So anita kantor is also in a historical lineage. "I am trying to find my place in this tradition, which is still dominated by men," she says. The classical image of the rabbi must be rethought. "There’s also a place for women rabbis," says kantor.

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