Thursday, June 8Welcome

German rabbi resigns from leadership role, report confirms allegations against him

Berlin, Germany (JTA) – In a landmark step, investigators commissioned by Germany’s leading Jewish organization have concluded that abuse of power and sexual harassment occurred in Germany’s liberal rabbinical seminary. rice field. illegal.

The 44-page “executive summary” of the investigation initiated by Germany’s Central Jewish Council is the latest and most egregious account of Rabbi Walter Homolka’s leadership since the charges against him were made public last May.

After a tense public confrontation between the council and Homolka’s lawyers, the report, published Wednesday, called for a German liberal rabbinical seminary known as Abraham Geiger College and other related Jewish institutions to It concludes that structural change is necessary to put it in the right position.

“A significant cause of the emergence of the problems identified by the investigators at the institution under investigation, which the investigators believe, was the personal involvement of Rabbi Professor Dr. Homolka in his functioning as a leader or person of great influence. gross misconduct,” investigators wrote in their report.

Homolka announced Monday that he and German-born American rabbi Walter Jacob will withdraw from all functions at the seminary he founded in 1999. declined to run for another term as

Cologne-based law firm Geerke Wörschlager said a more comprehensive report was released in January, including details of the case in which investigators concluded that Homolka and his husband were involved in wrongdoing. It is scheduled to be announced.

Josef Schuster, President of Germany’s Central Jewish Council, attends a press conference in Frankfurt, November 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The preliminary report was welcomed in a joint statement by the Central Council, the German Ministry of the Interior and the Brandenburg State Ministry of Science, Research and Culture, stating that “the Abraham Geiger College will continue to be funded at the same level as before”. A structural new beginning is complete. “

There was also a voice of relief from a former student at the country school that sparked the scandal.

“I think the report and the documents that followed are a happy development,” Itamar Cohen, now a cantor, told the Jewish Telegraph Office. “It seems to confirm many of the allegations that I and others have shared. It affirms that I did the right thing and [this] It could mark the beginning of a new chapter for liberal Judaism in Germany. “

The scandal, which erupted publicly in May, began after Cohen sought help from Jonathan Schorsch, a professor at the Jewish Seminary. part of it.)

German newspaper coverage of the allegations, and apparent efforts to cover them up, opened the floodgates of criticism of Homolka from past and present students, employees, and colleagues. He took time off from the many leadership roles he held in the liberal Jewish religious and educational institutions he helped found.

The scandal shook the foundations of modern liberal Judaism in Germany. A new report suggests that those foundations were weak because they were largely dependent on her one individual.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of German Jews, said the report made it clear that Homolka could not continue in its former role.

Homolka has consistently denied the allegations against him, and his lawyer told German news media on Wednesday that he believed the entire investigation was politically motivated. They accused Schuster of wanting Homolka to leave Germany’s liberal Jewish leadership, and said the Central Council did not give due consideration to the statement Homolka gave investigators.

This report is the first to come from a third-party investigation into allegations against Homolka. Another study by the University of Potsdam, published in late October, found that some of the accusations of abuse of power were justified but found no criminally prosecutable behavior, leading Homolka to the professor. Homolka’s husband had quit his job by then and did not investigate the sexual harassment accusation.

Screen capture of Abraham Geiger College website, December 8, 2022. (Abraham Geiger College. Used in accordance with Section 27a of the Copyright Act)

A new report scrutinizes these claims. Investigators said they found 13 specific cases of her, including allegations against Homolka’s husband. German defamation law prohibits the publication of his name. Using what they called a “traffic light system,” investigators were able to classify nine of these cases as “red” cases and identify 25 cases of wrongdoing. Two of his cases involved “first suspicion of a crime,” they added.

Regarding allegations of abuse of power against Homolka himself, after interviewing 73 individuals, they found a total of 45 specific incidents, 14 of which were classified as “red” and a total of 23 cases of misconduct. included. A detailed description of these cases, including the response Homolka filed earlier this week, will be included in the final report in January, they said.

More broadly, their interviews revealed a culture of dishonesty where unchecked, illegal, or arbitrary decisions could be made, largely due to the consolidation of power under Homolka. they said. Because he presided over an institution ruled by a “culture of fear,” employees and students were less likely to voice criticism or concern due to the potential for reprisal.

Investigators said that if there is any hope of changing culture, structural change is necessary. In our opinion, it is highly unlikely that, to the extent that it falls within the essential sphere of influence of the person practicing and exemplifying the wrongdoing, the identified causes of deficits can be remedied,” their report said. I’m here.

Cohen told the JTA that he would like to see “a real change in leadership” and “setting up an external compliance system” for all liberal Jewish institutions in Germany.

He said, “I would love to see the institutions that Homolka founded take their own lives, with no strings attached.”

Anticipating the report, Abraham Geiger College announced its own restructuring plans on Monday, a day after it appointed four new rabbis and two cantors in a ceremony in Berlin.

In a statement, Interim Director Gabriele Tone said the new foundation would be the provider of rabbinic training in Potsdam.

Further, Thöne said, “the doors are open to the Zacharias Frankel College,” a conservative seminary also affiliated with the University of Potsdam’s Jewish Theological Seminary. I maintain my sexuality.”

But in a scathing response issued Wednesday, the conservative seminary said the interim government at Geiger University had not consulted them about the restructuring.

“Partnerships between equal parties require joint preparedness, mutual trust, transparency and consensus. All of these have so far been and continue to be lacking,” the statement said.

A statement signed by Rabbi Bradley Artson, dean of Zacharias Frankel College and the dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies, among others the Conservative Theological Seminary in Los Angeles, said a preliminary report released Wednesday “We have identified an asymmetrical power constellation in the training of the two Potsdam rabbis,” he said. University.

The Zacharias Frankel College “has been dependent on the will of one person since its founding in 2013. Our institution has been deliberately hidden and communicated with its German funders. has been excluded from,” read part of the statement.

“From the beginning, the project of Masorti’s rabbi training in Potsdam was only a temporary means to enable the establishment of the Jewish Theological Seminary. [also in 2013] It represents several denominations and appears to be positioned in a pluralistic way. But instead, the accumulation of power led to the monopoly of non-Orthodox Judaism to one person: Homolka.

Inside the Synagogue of the University of Potsdam. (Maro Niemann)

The government and Jewish funding bodies said in a statement Wednesday that they were “committed to ensuring that the training of both liberal and conservative rabbis continues in Potsdam in the future,” but the proposal was So far, Abraham Geiger College has failed to meet the requirement to be “a clear cut from the previous structure and a comprehensive new beginning.”

The release of the report commissioned by the Central Council was preceded by a series of statements by attorneys for both parties.

On Monday, counsel for the council said a preliminary report would be out in two days. On Tuesday, Homolka’s lawyer issued a statement criticizing the imminent “sudden” release of the report’s summary, suggesting it reeked of “prejudice”.

The law firm representing Homolka – Behm Becker Geßner – noted that the client received a “list of questions with serious accusations” from council lawyers and responded in writing last Sunday. If does not take into account the client’s meaningful statement, there will be a massive violation of moral rights,” the lawyer warned, successfully fighting some of Homolka’s critical press coverage. .

The Central Council criticized what it called Homolka’s delaying tactics, with lawyers asking Homolka in early September if it would respond to questions, but a response to a question sent on October 19 was given late Sunday night. He said he didn’t get it. Nevertheless, the council confirmed that its investigators would take Homolka’s response into account.

The Central Council said, “This tactic is the main reason why law firms are unable to complete a final and detailed report of their investigation by the end of the year.” “The courage of many victims must not be sacrificed to Homolka’s delaying tactics.”

Meanwhile, Germany’s Progressive Jewish Union is scheduled to meet in Berlin next week after a three-month postponement. Board elections will be held for the position of chairman so far he held by Homolka.

On November 26, the group released a report from a commissioned investigation that concluded there was no evidence of abuse of power at Abraham Geiger College.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Jewish Communities in Lower Saxony, a critic within the organization, said in a report commissioned by the Central Council that it “confirmed our demands for Walter Homolka to resign from all positions within the Jewish community.” I support it,” he said. May. “

There is also dissent within the Rabbinical General Assembly, Germany’s liberal rabbinical association. About a dozen members issued a statement in November, breaking the official cautious tone, stating: [in the university’s report of Oct. 26] Incompatible with Jewish and popular ethical values. “

The association, known as ARK, issued a statement at the end of November stating that, despite class disagreements, it “joined the call for structural and personal new beginnings as a chance for the next phase of rabbinical training.” I will.” Germany. “

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