First government-backed Jewish Theology school in Germany hailed as 'historical milestone'

The opening of the first government-backedSchool of Jewish Theology in Germany has been hailed by the school's president as "a historical milestone."

The new school at the University of Potsdam marks the first time Jewish theology has been taught at a public university in Europe, and the first time Germany has funded the training of Jewish rabbis and cantors.

The school is "a historical milestone in the training of liberal and conservative rabbis," university president Oliver Günther said in a statement when the school opened in November.

German government support of the school is a significant step in a post-Holocaust Jewish revival. But school founders hope its lessons will reach far beyond Judaism to tolerance for all religions.

School director Admiel Kosman is an Israeli of Iraqi and German-Jewish origins who describes himself as a "very religious" Jew, heavily influenced by other faiths, including Buddhism and Hinduism. He said he intends to encourage interfaith dialogue, and train rabbis to serve more than Jews.

"We are training rabbis for the whole of society, not just for the Jewish community. Jews have much to learn from other faiths, and Germany has much to learn from Judaism,” Kosman told German newspaper Der Spiegel.

The school-- which will launch six new professorships—also has enrolled 49 students from Germany, Israel, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. Students will choose from subjects including liturgy, Jewish music history, and English, and can work towards Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees. There are also plans for doctoral studies down the road.

The school will provide training for rabbis and cantors, offering courses in literature and philosophy, options not generally found in traditional seminaries. "I am talking about openness on a lot of levels. We teach our rabbis to know the Koran and the New Testament," Kosman said.

Placing Judaism on an equal footing with Christianity and Islam may give Germany's estimated 119,000 Jews more self-confidence, says Harmut Bomhoff, one of the school’s public relations managers. A European Union poll published in November suggests that some two-thirds of European Jews see anti-Semitism as a problem.

German President Joachim Gauck noted the importance of the school in the country’s history at the institution’s launch. "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," Gauck said.

Click for more from Der Spiegel.