A group of rabbis in Cologne were the first to be ordained in Germany since the Nazis came to power. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wished them a “practice rich in blessings”, noting that Germany wanted “Jewish life to flourish”. In this context he stressed the importance of being able to follow traditional practices without uncertainty as to the legal consequences – currently a key issue in the debate on religious circumcision.
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Mr Lehrer, representatives and members of the congregation of Cologne’s synagogue,
Rabbis Burk, Ehrentreu and Engelmayer,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Rabbis Fabian, Konits, Konnik and Surovtsev,
Jewish life in Germany began here in Cologne. The Jewish community in Cologne is the first one outside the Mediterranean region to be mentioned in documents. The first evidence of it dates back to 321 AD. Jewish life in Germany thus predates German statehood itself.
During the era of National Socialism and the Second World War, Germany brought great suffering over the world. Jews were systematically persecuted and murdered. There is hardly a Jewish family that has not suffered on account of the murders and expulsions. Would not the rupture in civilization of the Shoah by any human standard necessarily mean the end of Jewish life in Germany for all time?
With sincere thankfulness and great joy we see that today more and more Jews are again deciding to live in Germany. We see that Jewish cultural and intellectual life in Germany is vibrant and expanding.
Today, more than 100,000 members active in over 100 Jewish communities are living in Germany. We are happy to see rededicated and new synagogues and community centres as well as rabbis being ordained.
Let me now say a word to the new rabbis.
You were born in Israel, Belarus, Ukraine and the United States. You have been living in Germany for years, to some extent grew up here and you have studied here. After your ordination, you will work in Germany as pillars of the Jewish communities. That will be very agreeable work for you personally, and certainly also demanding. It is a strong signal to us all that Jewish life in Germany is thriving.
We want Jewish life in Germany to flourish and for that to happen, it must be possible for Jewish traditions to be practiced without legal uncertainties. Religious freedom and religious traditions are protected in Germany, and they have to stay that way. Whoever prohibits the circumcision of boys in Germany, prohibits Jewish life in Germany.
That is one thing that must be said clearly in the debate over the ruling by the Cologne Regional Court on the circumcision of boys.
How this debate has been conducted and what its impact has been for the Jewish communities here in Germany, for Muslims and worldwide – explicitly not just in Israel – is another thing.
The lack of knowledge that came to light in some statements was disturbing. It is absurd to equate the circumcision of boys with the mutilation of girls.
I am outraged by the brutal attack on Rabbi Alter and his daughter. It is extremely painful for us all to find that it was possible for such an act of violence against Jewish citizens to be perpetrated right in the middle of our capital city.
Anti-Semitic, xenophobic and right-wing radical crimes will be prosecuted with absolute severity by the German state in accordance with the rule of law.
Anti-Semitism and xenophobia have no place in Germany.
Germany is aware of its responsibilities both at home and abroad. We are not silent when Israel’s existence is called into question. A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable for us.
Paul Spiegel gave his memoirs the title At Home Again? (in German, Wieder zu Hause?) He placed a question mark at the end of the sentence. Not a full stop and definitely not an exclamation mark.
It is this question mark that I am talking about. We are not holding a medical or legal debate. It is a question of whether Jews are at home in Germany.
We want Jewish life in Germany to flourish. We want Jews in Germany to live here and feel at home. We want Jewish families to be not a protected minority, but a central part of our society.
A tolerant society, cultural diversity and religious pluralism are not patronizing gifts to others, but the greatest gifts one can bestow on oneself.
Germany is a cosmopolitan, tolerant country with an open, pluralistic and democratic society. An open society requires active and vigilant citizens. And we have them in Germany.
To those who have been ordained here today, let me say that I hope that your efforts in fulfilling your responsibilities are blessed. Let me say today that I hope the coming year is full of health, happiness and success for you and for us all. Shana Tova! Thank you.