German Reform movement honors ex-minister

Annette Schavan receives prize for promoting academic study of Jewish theology

BERLIN (JTA) — Germany’s Reform movement has given its top annual award to Annette Schavan, the former federal minister of education and research.

Schavan, 57, was honored with the Abraham Geiger Prize on March 20 for her commitment to promoting Jewish theological study in Germany.

In announcing its decision, the jury said that Schavan was “largely responsible for the fact that, after almost 200 years, the study of Jewish theology has finally been established in a German university,” the University of Potsdam. “In this way she has promoted the equality of Jewish theology with the Christian and Islamic theologies,” thus fulfilling a dream of Rabbi Abraham Geiger, a 19th-century founder of liberal Judaism in Germany.

The college that bears his name was founded in 1999 and has been training rabbis since 2002. It opened its Jewish Institute of Cantorial Arts in 2007; four trainees provided a concert for those attending the award ceremony this week.

Geiger College has functioned as a private institute associated with the public university, which is currently planning to establish six professorships in Jewish theology as an entity within the university system.

Paving the way for this move, the Brandenburg Parliament on March 20 changed its laws on higher education to allow for theological education at state universities.

In her remarks, Schavan said her dream was to help establish “Jewish education at the heart of the university,” and not only outside.

Rabbi Walter Homolka, the rector of the Geiger College, has said he hopes the new department will receive its own building alongside a new synagogue that is planned across from the City Palace.

Schavan recently made headlines in Germany after allegations surfaced that her PhD thesis — submitted about 30 years ago — included plagiarized sections. The University of Dusseldorf found that she had paraphrased secondary literature without naming the source in more than 60 instances, and revoked her degree last February. She resigned as minister on Feb. 9 but has denied any wrongdoing.

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