Berlin Orthodox deny rabbinical turf war

By Toby Axelrod, November 4, 2010

The head of the Berlin Orthodox rabbinical seminary, Rabbi Josh Spinner, has denied reports that he is engaged in an inter-denominational funding battle.

His statement comes after it emerged that the German Federal Ministry of the Interior was resisting the funding of Orthodox rabbis while continuing to contribute to the training of Reform rabbis.

Rabbi Spinner said that both the Reform and Orthodox seminaries are official, legal successors to Germany's two pre-war seminaries, which were shut down by the Nazis, and should get equal support.

He added that he did not want to see the government reduce the annual payment to one seminary in order to support the other.

The rabbi says his argument has been solely with the Federal Ministry of the Interior. He says he has been trying to persuade the ministry to give his training school the same amount - around £260,000 - that it gives to the Reform seminary, the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, for over a year. But since Rabbi Spinner suggested publicly this week that Germany might have something against Orthodoxy, the government appears to have softened its position.

Our rabbis should be role models in Germany

Interior ministry spokesperson Hendrik Lörges said: "The request for funding for rabbinical training at the Orthodox Rabbiner Seminar zu Berlin is currently the subject of talks between the Ministry of the Interior and the Central Council of Jews in Germany… These talks are ongoing."

Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews, confirmed he had met ministry officials and proposed that they should channel funds for both seminaries through the council, the administrative umbrella organisation for Jewish institutions.

"Then you avoid the mistake of giving external funding to either one of the seminaries. We need every rabbi we can get, and every institution we can get," Mr Kramer said. He acknowledged that the ministry may not have money to spare right now. But, he said, he sympathised with those who ask: "If they have millions for educating imams, why don't they have 300,000 euros for Josh Spinner?"

Germany's Ministry of Education recently announced it was giving £14 million towards the establishment of Islamic theology faculties at four universities, with the aim of training moderate imams to counteract what Chancellor Angela Merkel has referred to as a failed integration policy. There are four million Muslims in Germany, mostly of Turkish origin.

There are 220,000 Jews in Germany, most having emigrated from the former Soviet Union over the past 20 years. There is a dire need for rabbis: currently, there are around 50 serving approximately 100 congregations.

"Our students are German-speaking, educated in German schools and universities, and they are integrated into society," Rabbi Spinner said. "They should be role models and the government should be jumping on this."

Last updated: 4:49pm, November 4 2010