Three rabbis ordained in Dresden.

Unalloyed good news is rare, so I wanted to raise my virtual glass to this. Last Thursday three rabbis were ordained in Dresden, the first in Germany since the Holocaust. (I wonder if “ordination” is the right technical term?) The rabbis trained at a Progressive rabbinical seminary attached to the University of Potsdam; another Orthodox college in Berlin will graduate its first rabbis soon.

There was apparently a lot of coverage in the German media – see here for the ZDF (German public TV) report. The BBC ran the story prominently too.

Why did the community choose Dresden for the ceremony, as it’s 125 miles south from Berlin or Potsdam?

Maybe it just has the most televisual synagogue. Perhaps it’s because Moses Mendelssohn, the father of the German Jewish Enlightenment, came from nearby Dessau. Perhaps it because of the powerful symbolism of rebirth from the devastation of the 1945 firebombing – a war crime committed on, not by, Germans. Most likely, it was because the synagogue, destroyed in the Kristallnacht in 1938 and reopened in 2001, was the first to be rebuilt in former East Germany.

The surprising and happy rebirth of German Judaism doesn’t of course undo the past. The final couplet of Paul Celan’s great poem on the perpetrators of the Final Solution, Todesfüge (translation here):

dein goldenes Haar Margarete

dein aschenes Haar Sulamith

can be read as portraying the absolute abyss created by the Nazis between the long-intertwined German and Jewish cultures. This must have been an additional burden of grief for a German-Jewish survivor, condemned by the Muse to write in the language of his mother and of his mother’s killers. But that particular evil seems less final than Celan thought.

In Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, there’s a famous and very old rose, a white sport of the common rosa canina, growing vigorously up the outside wall of the apse of the fine Romanesque cathedral in the middle of the former cloister. (Visit also the superb eleventh-century bronze doors and chandelier). It was already ancient in 1573. The legend has the rose helpfully guiding the foundation of the church by the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious in 872. The church could, one supposes, have been aligned on the miracle-abetting thorns. Since a rose-bush has no permanent trunk, you can’t settle its age by counting tree-rings. The rose burnt down to the ground in a bombing raid in 1945, and everyone thought it was a goner. But it indomitably sent up a fresh shoot from its own ashes.

If you think my metaphor has an inappropriate Christian or pagan baggage, hear the prophet Isaiah instead (35:1):

The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.


Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

5 thoughts on “Roses”

  1. As a goy, I speak entirely without authority, you understand. But I believe 'ordination' is indeed the usual term in English. The original Hebrew — 'smicha' (sp.?) — is, however, analogous less to the ordination of a Christian minister than to the admission of a lawyer to the bar — having received smicha, the rabbi is recognised as qualified to advise on matters of (Jewish) law.
    No idea why Germany's first post-WWII rabbinical ordination took place in Dresden, though. Berlin's is the largest Jewish community in Germany, followed, I believe, by Frankfurt.

  2. Maybe the ordination was held in Dresden instead of Berlin or Potsdam because Dresden is more centrally located in Germany, and they wanted to make it more convenient for people from various regions of the country to attend.
    Otherwise, no idea.

  3. Of course this is the same Germany where Pope Malefactor the ninety seventh has just told the Islamic world, "Screw you, god hates you all". One step forward, three steps backwards.

  4. Raj, I don't think that can be it. Dresden is tucked away off in a far corner (it's the only part of the old East Germany that couldn't receive West German broadcasts). Berlin is in the east of the country, it's true, but all roads lead there these days. And if central location had been really important, they'd likely have come to Frankfurt.
    Possibly Dresden used to have a particularly important synagogue, or rabbinical academy, or what have you. Or possibly it was a calculated "fuck you", given that Saxony (Dresden's state) is one of the places where neonazis score relatively well in elections. I simply don't know.

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