15 October 1999

20 Years of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg

Festive ceremony with Federal President Johannes Rau on 21 October 1999 – Title of Honorary Senator of the University of Heidelberg conferred posthumously on Ignatz Bubis

The Institute of Jewish Studies is the only institution of its kind in Germany. This year it celebrates its 20th anniversary. The festive ceremony on 21 October 1999 will be attended by prominent political figures. The guest-list is headed by German Federal President Johannes Rau and Baden-Wuerttemberg's minister-president Erwin Teufel and the Federal Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, will also be present to congratulate the Institute on reaching the 20-year mark. Their presence is a reflection of the Institute's status as the first higher education institution of its kind in Germany to be maintained by public finance. The Institute was founded in 1979 very much in the awareness of carrying on in the tradition of its predecessors, notably the Institute for the Study of Judaism that existed in Berlin up to 1942. With the seizure of power by the National Socialists this institute was forced to close its doors and the students and professors left the country.

The scholars found a welcome in Palestine and the United States and continued their research there. It was with support from these quarters that the Institute was re-established in Heidelberg and the foundations laid for a library which now boasts some 40,000 volumes. Ties with the institutes in Israel and America are still very close. Administratively the Institute operates under the aegis of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Unlike the situation in other institutes of the kind, the Heidelberg students study a variety of subjects within the purview of Jewish Studies, such as history, the Bible, the Talmud, philosophy and art. Major importance is attached to teaching the languages of Judaism. Source texts are read in the original Hebrew or Aramaic and modern literature and Yiddish also feature prominently on the curriculum.

"A cardinal aspect of the twenty-year history of the Institute is the growing cooperation with the University of Heidelberg," says Rector Professor Dr. Michael Graetz, who has held this office since 1997. Professor Graetz came to Heidelberg from the University of Jerusalem, where he taught Jewish history for 23 years. "It started with the mutual recognition of examination results and now we're proud to be able to point to a number of M.A. and doctoral theses made possible by the excellent collaboration with the University." At present a new course of study is being put in place leading to a state examination qualifying graduates to teach religion in secondary schools. Approval from the Ministry of Higher Education is expected to be granted before the end of the year.

At the festive ceremony the University of Heidelberg will be conferring the title of Honorary Senator posthumously on Ignatz Bubis, the President of the Central Council who died in August this year. The award of this distinction was resolved by the University and Senate in June and Ignatz Bubis' widow will be at the ceremony to receive the documents and medal from the hands of the Rector of the University, Professor Dr. Juergen Siebke.

The Institute has a firm place in the higher education landscape in and around Heidelberg. With 140 students registered (including those taking subsidiary subjects) it also looks after a further 21 young people working for a doctorate and studying other subjects at the University. "With austerity measures on the increase in the public sphere," says Professor Graetz, "the Institute of Jewish Studies is also looking around for alternative sources of funding. One thing we'd really welcome is an endowment for a chair of Yiddish."

The anniversary celebrations were ushered in by a symposium at the University's International Science Forum from 11 to 14 October entitled "Creative Impulses in European Jewry from the 16th to the 18th Century". Concentrating on five Jewish centres in Europe (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Venice, Prague, Cracow), the conference set out to establish the beginnings of the modern age in Jewish history. 21 October sees the opening of the exhibition "From the Middle Ages to the Modern Age: Urban Images of Judaism in Frankfurt, Prague and Amsterdam". Like the symposium its aim is to draw attention to a number of important centres of European Judaism reflecting the onset of the modern age in the period between the 16th and 18th centuries. The exhibits (and the accompanying volume of essays) testify to the creative vigour of the European Jews and range from literary, philosophical and rabbinical writings to the pictorial arts and architectural works. A section of the exhibition (on show at the University Library till 30 December 1999) is devoted to the history of the Heidelberg Institute.

Axel Suetterlin

Please address any inquiries to:
Institute of Jewish Studies Heidelberg
phone: 06221/22576, fax: 167696
e-mail: presse@aleph.hjs.uni-heidelberg.de

or to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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