August 11th, 2005

Historical outline

25 years at the College of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg

More than thirty years ago the chief rabbi in Baden, Prof. Dr. Nathan P. Levinson, was already publicly championing the need to establish a school of Jewish theology in Germany where teachers of religion, cantors and rabbis could acquire their training. In autumn 1979 the idea – albeit modified – was put into practice. A year previously the Education Ministers of Germany’s federal states had endorsed the foundation of an institution of this kind and agreed that funding would be contributed by both the federal and state governments. Now a decision was taken by the Directorate of the Central Council of Jews in Germany to set up a “college of Jewish studies”. It would be open to students of any religious denomination.

Two years later, in 1981, the establishment was officially recognized as an education provider by the state government of Baden-Württemberg. This ensured an independent status for the degree in Jewish Studies, which was unique in Germany. The College of Jewish Studies assumed its full place in the German academic landscape in 1995, when it was granted the right to confer doctorates. There are currently 166 students registered as pursuing a major or secondary course here. The facilities available to them include a notable library with a collection of 50,000 volumes. However, the College’s tasks are not merely academic. In response to the immigration of Jews from countries of the former Soviet Union, the Jewish communities were facing a growing need for trained religious instructors. In 2001 the College of Jewish Studies became the first institution in Germany’s history entitled to train teachers of the Jewish religion to degree level. Since the winter semester of 2001/2002 it has also offered a foundation degree course for the training of rabbis. The Central Council of Jews in Germany currently awards bursaries for young Jews whose families have emigrated from the former Soviet Union to enable them to study here in Heidelberg. In this way the College of Jewish Studies has been making a major contribution towards integrating newcomers into the Jewish communities in Germany. The College seeks to convey an all-round understanding of Jewish religion and culture. This is reflected in the wide variety of courses on offer: History of the Jewish People, Jewish Philosophy and History of Thought, the Talmud, Codices and Rabbinic Literature, the Bible and Jewish Interpretation of the Bible, Hebrew Philology and Literature, Yiddish, Religious Didactics and Education Methods, Practical Religious Instruction. Moreover, the College boasts the only Chair in Jewish Art in the whole of Germany. The Ignatz Bubis Chair in the Religion, History and Culture of European Jewry was endowed in 2001 by the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach Foundation. Thanks to this diversity of subjects and close working links with Ruprecht Karl University in Heidelberg, where College students are expected to attend at least one course, a great many career prospects are open to those who graduate, whether they complete an M.A., a standard degree or the foundation module for rabbis. As a result, former alumni of this highly reputed establishment have been most successful in a variety of academic and cultural fields, as well as in the Jewish communities. They include eminent professors, museum directors, embassy staff, teachers of religion and rabbis. Many former students play a crucial role in society by passing on their knowledge to others. In this way they make an invaluable contribution towards countering prejudice, promoting tolerance and helping Jews and Gentiles to live and work side by side.