West Germany soon will have its first Jewish theological seminary since the end of World War II and the first in history authorized to grant academic degrees, thanks to the vision of a German-born American who now is chief rabbi of the German region of Baden.
Die Jeudische Theologische Hochschule is expected to open its doors in Heidelberg to 20 students about Oct. 1 with some financial support from the German government.
A faculty of five will be selected from applications from Jewish scholars living in Germany, the United States, Israel and Great Britain.
Brfore the Hitler period, Germany had three centers of Jewish theological education. Jews in Switzerland and Austria had depended on German schools to train their rabbis, cantors and religious teachers.The destruction of Jewish institutions by the Nazis left the German-speaking world without a Jewish seminary.
This lack concerned Rabbi Nathan Peter Levinson, a native of Berlin who came back to Germany in 1958 as an American Air Force chaplain and stayed to become one of 10 rabbis ministering to West Germany's 35,000 Jews.
Levinson said that he is concerned not only that German Jewish scholars be trained but also that non-Jews in Germany have the opportunity to study Judaism.
"They should have the opportunity to learn not what someone else says about the Jews but rather in depth from Jewish scholars," the rabbi said.
The seminary is being organized under the West German state law governing universities and specialized schools on a university level. This means that it will be able to grant degrees, the first time that has been true of a Jewish seminary in German history.
It also will mean some financial support from Baden-Wuerttemberg and from the German Federal Republic. The board of directors will come primarily from the Central Council of Jews in Germany but with representatives also of the state and federal governments.
There also will be arrangements with the world-famous Heidelberg University for the joint use of library facilities and exchange of students.