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German Jews Get Europe’s First State-Run Divinity School

Europe’s first state-run Jewish divinity program, the School for Jewish Theology, has opened at the University of Potsdam outside Berlin.

The program, which was opened on Monday, is being called a groundbreaking development in the German university system, which up to now has only subsidized Catholic and Protestant theological training programs. Recently Islamic programs also were introduced.

“The light of history now shines on Potsdam,” Johann Hafner, dean of the Faculty of Arts at Potsdam, said in a statement, “because it is the first time that confessional studies of Judaism at a state university are possible at an academic level.”

With 47 students enrolled in its first class, the program is oversubscribed, Rabbi Walter Homolka, rector of the Abraham Geiger College and chairman of the Leo Baeck Foundation, told JTA.

While all instructors are Jewish, the academic program, which is part of the faculty of arts, is open to students of all backgrounds pursuing bachelors and advanced degrees in Jewish theology.

Jewish students can pursue ordination as rabbis or cantors at the other programs associated with the university: the Progressive Abraham Geiger College, launched in 1999; and the Conservative Zacharias Frankel College, which opened to applicants this week.

Homolka told JTA the state is investing “easily 2 million euro ($2.7 million) annually” in the theology school to cover six new professorships and the refurbishing of its own building on the university’s Neue Palais campus. Funding comes from federal and state ministries as well as from the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

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