Seminary Closed by Nazis Graduates Rabbis Once Again

In ceremony broadcast live on German TV, two men graduated from the seminary, considered the cradle of Modern Orthodoxy.

Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren

Two Orthodox rabbis were ordained by the reestablished Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin this week, for the first time since the seminary was closed by the Nazis in 1938.

At a ceremony broadcast live on German television, Zsolt Balla and Avraham Radbil became the first rabbis to graduate from the seminary, which historians consider the cradle of Modern Orthodoxy.

"Sixty years ago, who would have thought that we'd be standing here today?" said Charlotte Knobloch, chairwoman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, at Tuesday's ordination ceremony, which took place in Munich's Ohel Jacob synagogue. "I myself wouldn't have thought it would be possible ... It's a small miracle."

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said it was a "moving" and "magical" event. "In the very city where the Nazis' reign of terror started, we are able to celebrate that Jewish life thrives again in Germany," he said in his speech, which also surveyed the history of the legendary seminary.

Rabbi Azaria Hildesheimer, whose great-grandfather founded the original seminary in 1869, also addressed the new rabbis.

Balla, 28, was born in Budapest and came to the German capital in 2003 to study at Yeshivas Beis Zion, which is sponsored by the Ronald Lauder Foundation and a part of the new seminary. He will lead outreach programs for the yeshiva in Berlin and serve as a "weekend rabbi" in Leipzig, Germany, the same city where his fellow graduate lived after emigrating from his native Ukraine at the age of 12. Radbil, 25, who later this year will also conclude his psychology studies, will become Rabbi Yaron Engelmayer's assistant in Cologne.

The new Hildesheimer seminary, founded in 2005 and supervised by Dean Rabbi Chanoch Ehrentreu, the former head of London's Orthodox rabbinical court, comprises three years of full-time study focusing on Talmud and religious law. The seven students currently enrolled there are also tasked with preparing Shabbat programming for small Jewish communities, writing articles for Jewish newspapers and giving lectures.

While the seminary's ordination is recognized by the Conference of European Rabbis and the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, critics said it is absurd for the new program to compare itself with the original, which was known for producing influential and erudite scholars.

Radbil and Balla are not the first rabbis to be ordained in post-Holocaust Germany, however. The Abraham Geiger College, a Potsdam-based Reform seminary, ordained three rabbis in 2006, and Chabad-Lubavitch says its Yeshiva Gedola Berlin has ordained 16 students. Unlike Hildesheimer's graduates, however, Chabad graduates are not specifically trained to serve the German community.

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