Accessibility links

Ukrainian-Born Female Rabbi Ordained In Berlin, First Since Before War


Ukraine-born Alina Treiger, the first woman ordained as a rabbi since World War II.

Ukraine-born Alina Treiger, the first woman ordained as a rabbi since World War II.

Ukrainian-born Alina Treiger has become the first female rabbi ordained in Berlin since before World War II.

The ceremony -- attended by German President Christian Wulff and leading rabbis worldwide -- hearkened back to the ordination of the world's first-ever female rabbi, Regina Jonas, also ordained in Germany, who died in Auschwitz in 1944.

Back in the 1930s, Regina Jonas fought for her ordination by penning an 88-page thesis arguing that female rabbis are in accordance with Jewish religious law.

Even after her 1935 ordination, however, she was not allowed to preach and served mainly as a religious teacher in liberal Jewish communities.

She died in Auschwitz in 1944, the last female rabbi ordained in the German capital -- until Treiger.

On November 4, Treiger was vested with the same religious authority as a male rabbi. She will serve at a community in the western city of Oldenberg, most of whose members come from the former Soviet Union -- like the rabbi herself.

"I unite three cultures in me: the Jewish, the German, and that of the former Soviet Union," she told the French news agency AFP. "And if I live here in Germany, I will work and hope that I can be of use to the Jewish community."

Cold War Coversion

The 31-year-old was born in Ukraine's eastern city of Poltawa to a Ukrainian mother and Jewish father. During her childhood, communist authorities demoted her father to factory work and forbade him from practicing his religion.

By the end of the cold war, Treiger had converted to Judaism and began to practice her faith openly.

She met teacher and rabbi Alexander Dukhovnyi at a summer camp in 1999, where Dukhovnyi says she told him she wanted to "help people discover Judaism."

Dukhovnyi says Treiger's devotion to music and magnetic personality made her a natural leader, calling her an "open person" with a "great voice."

"She sings like an angel," he says. "And this was her personal way of identifying her faith to God, through writing music. And she wrote music, and she sang the liturgical music in a way that everybody just dropped their jobs and joined in singing together with her."

Treiger came to finish her religious studies in Germany -- the birthplace of reform Judaism in the 18th century -- in 2002, after completing music studies in Moscow.

Orthodox Jews do not recognize reform Judaism.

Dukhovnyi says even though she left Ukraine as a young woman, he believes her Ukrainian roots have influenced her religious development.

"Her mother is Ukrainian," he explains, "and this is part of the blood Alina has" because "she grew up in Ukraine."

He says he has discussed with her the issue of minorities -- Jews and others -- in Ukraine and that they both talk often about their hope for a prosperous Ukraine.

"But to be prosperous, it's not only material prosperity," he says. "We need, actually, to help those Jews and others through interfaith dialogue, developing the tolerance between different ethnic groups, to promote the main human values."

Some say Treiger's ordination indicates a resurgence of reform Judaism in Germany after the movement largely moved to the U.S. following the Holocaust. Her ordination also comes ahead of a swell of female rabbis expected to complete their studies in 2012.

Today, some 200,000 Jews live in Germany, more than half of whom came after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
XS
SM
MD
LG