Posts Tagged ‘religion’


200 years ago, Samson Raphael Hirsch was born

June 20, 2008

He was and will forever remain the figurehead of Orthodox German Jewry: on June 20, 1808, Rabbi Samson (ben) Raphael Hirsch was born. He was an important scholar and community leader and is often credited with the creation of Modern Orthodoxy. (Read more about his life and achievements here.)

A few years ago, the blog Hirhurim quoted a brief passage from Rabbi Hirsch’s Collected Writings that demonstrates how his thought, albeit “Orthodox” in its core, never shied away from modern ideas.

Judaism is not frightened even by the hundreds of thousands and millions of years which the geological theory of the earth’s development bandies about so freely. Judaism would have nothing to fear from that theory even if it were based on something more than mere hypothesis, on the still unproven presumption that the forces we see at work in our world today are the same as those that were in existence, with the same degree of potency, when the world was first created. Our Rabbis, the Sages of Judaism, discuss (Midrash Rabbah 9; Tractate Hagigah 16a) the possibility that earlier worlds were brought into existence and subsequently destroyed by the Creator before He made our own earth in its present form and order. However, the Rabbis have never made the acceptance or rejection of this and similar possibilites an article of faith binding on all Jews. They were willing to live with any theory that did not reject the basic truth that “every beginning is from God.”

As befits a great leader, a flood of homages should be expected for the next few days. Already in is this interesting look at Rabbi Hirsch’s bid to become Britain’s chief rabbi. [German readers also shouldn’t miss this brilliant article in Die Zeit written by Rabbi Dr. Leo Trepp, who received rabbinic ordination from the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary in 1936.] 

Incidentally, this year marks not only Rabbi Hirsch’s 200th birthday, but, on December 31, also the 120th anniversary of his death. A full lifetime after the passing of one of German Jewry’s greatest leaders – who knew when to build bridges and when to tear them down – let’s hope that among today’s German Jews there will arise a leader appropriate for our time. Much like in the nineteenth century, traditional Jewry is in grave danger in Germany. A new Samson Raphael Hirsch is needed, someone who can combine tradition and modernity and revive the true spirit of Judaism once again.


Chutzpah 2.0: Catholic-turned-rabbi speaks out about Jewish-Christians relations

April 3, 2008

There has been, once again, some brouhaha about the pope changing some words in a prayer concerning the conversion of Jews to Christianity. A prominent German “rabbi,” Dr. Walter Homolka, took this opportunity to give a fiery interview to SPIEGEL ONLINE, in which he sharply criticizes the church. Some excerpts:

It is insulting to Jews that the Catholic Church, in the context of Good Friday of all things, is once again praying for the illumination of the Jews, so that we can acknowledge Jesus as the savior. Such statements are made in a historical context which is closely connected with discrimination, persecution and death. Given the weight of responsibility that the Catholic Church has acquired in its history with Judaism, most recently during the Third Reich, this is completely inappropriate and must be rejected to the utmost degree

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Christianity is a missionary religion. Isn’t it logical that it would also seek to convert Jews?

Homolka: No, because the controversial Good Friday Prayer completely ignores the unique status of the Jews as God’s chosen people. God called us Jews to be a “light for the nations,” so we certainly do not require illumination by the Catholic Church. The younger sister has clearly struck the wrong chord here.

So far, so radical. I, for my part, happen to belong to those people who think Jews shouldn’t tell others what to believe. I agree with Dr. David Berger, who also wrote about this issue. Here are the words of a smart man:

… I do not find fault with Catholics who believe that Jews will recognize the truth of Christianity at the end of days. I have argued on a number of occasions that there is nothing unethical about such a position, any more than it is unethical for Jews to recite the High Holiday prayers for the universal recognition of the God of Israel by nations who will forsake their current beliefs… In the final analysis, Jewish objections should be carefully formulated and should not indicate that the Christian belief that Jews will convert at the end of days is itself objectionable or tinged with anti-Semitism.

Anyway, let’s get back to “Rabbi” Homolka, who allows himself to speak in the name of all German Jews. To be sure, Homolka is quite a prominent man: he is a member of the exectutive board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the executive director and co-founder of the Abraham Geiger Kolleg in Potsdam, Germany’s only rabbinical seminary. The Reform Kolleg made headlines in September 2004 when, for the first time since 1942, three rabbis were ordained in Germany.

homolka.jpgHowever, neither his entry on Wikipedia nor his own Web site dwell to much upon the fact that Homolka has quite a bit of history. In fact, it isn’t even mentioned that Homolka wasn’t Jewish before he became Germany’s Next Top Rabbi. But the people talk. And they say that his planned career as a priest was destroyed when the church threw him out because of his homosexuality. So instead, he decided to become a Jew, then a rabbi, then a rabbi who ordains other rabbis, and finally the voice of German Jewry when it comes to Jewish-Christian relations. Oh boy.

By the way, rumor has it his conversion to Judaism is questionable, as is his rabbinic ordination. I usually don’t spread rumors, but his inflammatory interview with Germany’s most read news site was just too much. I have nothing against Christians, I have nothing against homosexuals and I have nothing against converts to Judaism. But I think it is a shame for German Jewry when a man like Walter Homolka speaks in its name. Have some decency, man, and shut up.


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.


German Rabbi: Better be a Jew in Germany than in France

February 22, 2008

This is a pretty standard report on the Jewish community in Germany by RussiaToday, an “English-language news channel to present the Russian point of view on events happening in Russia and around the globe.” The interesting part is toward the end, where Rabbi Yitzchak Ehrenberg speaks. He is the chief rabbi of the Orthodox community in Berlin and also the head of the O.R.D., the conference of Orthodox rabbis in Germany.

Rabbi Ehrenberg said that he feels safe walking the streets in Germany, and, however “perverted” that may be, it is better to be a Jew in Germany than in Belgium or in France. Yet, he “can’t say that the Germans hate us less than the French… Yes, the hate is there, but it’s hidden.”

If the Germans really hate the Jews just as much as the French, then why is it better to live in Germany? Because the hate is hidden? Well, thank you very much. From a rabbi I would have expected he’d rather live in a place where there are Jewish schools, synagogues, kosher shops and restaurants, etc. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that French synagogues don’t pay their rabbis as well as German synagogues…


Germany’s Jewish community is growing fast – without me

February 12, 2008

Tonight, Rabbi Josh Spinner gave a lecture at Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus. Rabbi Spinner is the vice presidenRabbi Spinnert of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, a well-intended organization that aims at rebuilding and strengthening Jewish life where the Holocaust has left few traces of it. The topic of Rabbi Spinner’s presentation: Why does Germany have the fastest growing Jewish community in the world today?

I don’t know Rabbi Spinner personally, but I know his yeshiva in Berlin and I guess the answer to his question involves the tens of thousand East European Jews who came to Germany after the collapse of Communism, some of which have children studying at the yeshiva…

In any event, I was wondering if Rabbi Spinner had read the brilliant article, which recently appeared in The Economist. The article basically said it all:

By the time the Berlin Wall fell, Germany’s Jewish community had only 30,000 ageing members and was dwindling rapidly. Today it is the third-largest, and the fastest-growing, Jewish population in western Europe, after France and Britain. Between 1991, when the country was unified and immigration rules relaxed, and 2005, more than 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Germany… In some parts of Germany, immigrants—usually referred to as “the Russians”—make up 90% of the local Jewish population.

Besides statistics, the article also pointed out, unfortunately quite correctly, how dissatisfied many German Jews are with this wave of immigration:

Established Jews find the newcomers anders (different from us), suspect that they are not “real” Jews and think they are mainly coming in search of prosperity and material help from the state and the community. “They take whatever they can get,” sniffs one.

It is toward the end of the article, however, that the authors brings the point home:

Germans will have to adapt to having a big, largely secular Jewish community. Established Jews will have to accept that the glory days of sophisticated German Jewry—from Albert Einstein to Kurt Weill—are gone forever.

At first, I was tempted to attend Rabbi Spinner’s lecture, not only because I grew up in Germany and thus witnessed the often-quoted “growth” first hand. But then I decided to spend my time on something else: filling out some paperwork for my upcoming aliyah… Good luck with your growth, Jewish Germany, you need it!


“No future for me:” Why young Germans in New York don’t want to go back

February 7, 2008

As the spring semester unfolds, hundreds of Jewish foreign student in their last semester on American campuses start worrying about their future in this country. Visa restrictions make it increasingly harder for non-Americans to stay in the U.S. after graduation. The interesting question is, however: Why do so many young Jews leave their home countries to come here? Most Jewish students from Europe and Latin America come from wealthy or at least comfortable backgrounds. Also, many of them grew up in thriving Jewish communities. Or did they? An article that appeared a while ago in the Jerusalem Post tells the story of three German and two French Jews who came to New York to study and decided to stay. While some had no problems getting the required papers, for others it was – and still is – very difficult. But apparently the hardships are worth it, because nobody wants to go back.

One thing was always clear to Nowbakht: He would not stay in Germany, although he said he enjoyed his childhood there. “It’s tough to live in Germany as an Orthodox Jew. There’s no future for me there.”

Luckily, he had no serious problems obtaining a work visa. One of his friends, also from Germany, did not fare as well:

The 25-year-old, who withheld his name because he is currently “unlawfully present” in America, spent about $17,000 on legal fees, appealing and reapplying, but to no avail.

Read the entire article here.