The incredible rise and fall of a German rabbi

March 23, 2008

Netanel Teitelbaum served eight years as the rabbi of Cologne’s Jewish community before he stepped down last week among mysterious circumstances.

Teitelbaum, of Haifa, Israel, was almost like a superstar among Germany’s rabbis. His resume included historic visits by the pope (read Teitelbaum’s speech here), both Israeli chief rabbis and many other dignitaries from all areas of society. He was one of the higher-ups in the ORD, the German equivalent of the Orthodox Union, and even had plans to build a bigger mikveh for Cologne.

Then, all of a sudden, a few days before Purim, rumors started spreading among Cologne’s Jews that Rabbi Teitelbaum would leave the community. Some were skeptic: how can somebody leave such a dream job behind? (Rabbis make a lot of money in Germany. While there are no official numbers, it is estimated that the monthly salary is about €10,000, which is more than $15,000).

Within days, the rumors were substantiated and community officials confirmed that Rabbi Teitelbaum would leave the community for good to return to Israel.

One of reasons for this completely surprising development had to do with the rabbi’s health, the officials declared, without further explaining. Secondly, they said, the rabbi’s oldest daughter had reached high school age and therefore needs to return to Israel immediately for the lack of Jewish schools in Cologne. Of course hardly anybody believed the official version – why would a rabbi with such a stellar career throw everything away? Neither the quoted “health reasons” nor his daughter’s education seem to be plausible explanations for a successful and popular rabbi to abandon his community in the middle of the school year and days before Purim and weeks before Passover. (While usually the rabbi’s job, Megillat Esther was this year read by somebody who came especially for this task from Frankfurt.)

There are, of course, countless rumors about the real reasons for Rabbi Teitelbaum’s mysterious harum-scarum departure, ranging from the naive to the slanderous. Ashkenews will not propagate any rumors, but we are indeed wondering what really happened. One thing is certain: this past week saw the abrupt end of a promising career and proves once again that German Jewry’s often quoted renaissance needs to be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.


  1. How do you know it’s true? Routine health check in Israel, perchance?

  2. He is leaving the community for good. For a health check? Come on.

  3. Odd. There’s a Jewish Gymnasium in Düsseldorf. Alright, I mean it’s Düsseldorf, but still only half an hour’s train ride away from Cologne.

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