German rabbis get historic ordination

By Toby Axelrod berlin, June 4, 2009

For the first time in seven decades, two homegrown Orthodox rabbis have been ordained in Germany.

The historic ceremony, which was broadcast live on television, is seen as further evidence of the return of Jewish life to the country — and in particular, of Orthodox Jewish life, which has revived at a far slower pace than the other denominations.

The new rabbis, Zsolt Balla, 30, and Avraham Radbill, 25, were both born behind the former Iron Curtain and emigrated to Germany as part of the post-unification influx of former Soviet Jews. Both were introduced to Jewish studies through Lauder Foundation programmes.

Rabbi Radbill will take up a position in Cologne. Rabbi Balla will do outreach work in Berlin and work as a “weekend rabbi” in Leipzig.
He was unaware that he was Jewish until he was nine years old, when he asked his mother about attending a Christian Bible school in his native Budapest.

“She said, we might find you a better place to go,” Rabbi Balla joked.
There is still a tremendous dearth of rabbis locally, with 50 pulpit rabbis serving about 100 communities. The majority of Orthodox rabbis are Israelis.

Later this month, the Reform movement will ordain its second batch of rabbis. Lubavitch in Berlin also recently started ordaining visiting rabbinical students, only some of whom have settled in German-speaking countries.

Berlin’s Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, which ordained Rabbis Balla and Radbill, currently has nine students. What distinguishes it, aside from its traditional orientation, is that virtually all its students come from Germany or the former Communist states. Berlin also has a school for Jewish women and a growing community of traditional families — partly developing through introductions between the two seminaries — which has led to the creation of new kindergartens and schools.

“Ten years ago, no one could have dreamed of such visions as we see today in this yeshivah,” Rabbi Balla said.

Last updated: 12:19pm, June 4 2009