13 September 2012
Four rabbis were ordained in a ceremony in the German city of Cologne on Thursday, in the presence of World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Co-hosts of the event were the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, which is funded in part by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. Lauder called on Germany and the countries of Europe not to restrict religious freedom and Jewish practices. “Don’t tell us Jews how to be Jewish”, he urged the congregation. Lauder referred to the recent ruling by Cologne’s District Court which criminalized the religious circumcision of minors: “In Europe, people are starting to question the practice.
"Some, like the judges here, even believe that circumcision should be banned. But when prejudice restricts religious practice, we have a problem. Jews are no strangers in these parts – not here in Germany, and not elsewhere in Europe! Jews have lived here for many centuries. Jews are part of this society.”
The WJC president went on to say that “Jews in many European countries are being regarded as strangers, our customs and traditions are called into question. This is nothing new. It has been done in the past- first in the name of religion and then in the name of race. Today, it is being done in the name of rights. The hallmark of a free country is that it respects minorities and protects their rights. Therefore, I ask all the countries of Europe: choose freedom, choose tolerance, choose respect, and let us be Jews here!” Lauder declared.
On behalf of the German government, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle pledged that a law would soon be passed to ensure that religious circumcision can remain legal in the country: “Religious freedom and traditions are protected in Germany, and they will continue to be protected. Whoever bars circumcisions of boys in Germany bars Jewish life," he pointed out.
Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that Jews in Germany would “not capitulate in the face of hatred and violence” and not be going anywhere. “To all those who now question Jewish life in Germany I say this: Jewish life here is safe – and must be safeguarded!" He also welcomed Ronald Lauder's support for the renaissance of the local Jewish community and said jokingly that the WJC president had "already pre-booked his place in paradise".
The four rabbis were ordained by Dayan Ehrentreu, rector of the Rabbinerseminar. The seminary, also known as Hildesheimer's Rabbinical Seminary, was founded in 1873 by Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer. In 1938, it was forced by the Nazis to close and reopened in 2009 by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. The first two rabbis were ordained in Munich in 2009. A further two received their ordination the following year at a ceremony in Leipzig.
Speech by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder at the Cologne ordination ceremony, 13 September 2012
Dear Minister Dr. Westerwelle,
Dear Dr. Graumann,
Dear Dr. Skoblo,
For us Jews who have lived in the Diaspora for thousands of years, the community is an important place. It is here that much of our social and family life takes place.
In order to function properly, a community needs many active members. But it also needs good rabbis.
Germany was once a world center of Jewish learning. But for a long time after the Holocaust, no rabbis were trained here. The Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, supported by the Zentralrat and my Foundation, has revived this old tradition, and today it offers an excellent education for future rabbis.
The ordination of four new rabbis today is thus a moment of great joy!
It is another milestone on the path of German Jewish renaissance, which hardly anybody dared believe in a few decades ago. Although there are still those who have doubts…
And may I add: in the past few weeks their number has grown again…
A key task of the four new rabbis will be to instill in their communities the knowledge of Jewish religion and tradition. A rabbi is a teacher and a counselor. He shares with us the fundamental commandments and rules of Jewish life:
Rules that for thousands of years have accompanied us in our daily lives,and have helped us to keep our faith despite being dispersed around the world, and which we have passed on to our children;
rules that gave the Jewish people strength and hope for the future, even during the darkest hours of our history;
rules that are an integral part of our identity as Jews.
A few weeks ago, a court in this city gave a verdict that questioned a fundamentalcommandment for Jews – the ‘Brit Milah’, male circumcision.
In America, where I come from, the circumcision of boys is a common practice, and most pediatricians recommend it, for a number of reasons, not least medical ones.
In Europe, where I spend a lot of my time,people are starting to question the practice.Some, like the judges here, even believe that circumcision should be banned.
But when prejudice restricts religious practice, we have a problem.
Jews are no strangers in these parts – not here in Germany, and notelsewhere in Europe!
Jews have lived here for many centuries.
Jews are part of this society.
Yet today, we witness in many European countries Jews being regarded as strangers, our customs and traditions called into question. This is nothing new.
It has been done in the past- first in the name of religion and then in the name of race. Today, it is being done in the name of rights.
Secular countries want to dictate to us what a Jew can or cannot do. But I urge you: Don’t tell us Jews how to be Jewish!
We argue amongst ourselves enough about what is right and what is wrong.
We know that some ancient traditions may seem outdated in the modern world.
But there are many things in today’s societies that appear strange at first glance. But are theyall harmful to the individual, are they all bad for society? Where would we be if any unusual behavior, any foreign tradition was prohibited or restricted?
The hallmark of a free country is that it respects minorities and protects their rights.
Therefore, I ask all the countries of Europe: choose freedom, choose tolerance, choose respect, and let us be Jews here!
If you want to know about key tenets of Jewish identity and tradition, ask the four young rabbis here: they know much more about it than I – and let me add: also more than the District Court of Cologne.
I wish our four new rabbis - as I wish all of you here - the best for the future and a very Happy New Year, Shana Tova!
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