The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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5 July 1933

Interim examination certificate issued to Erwin Zimet by the College for the Science of Judaism

In May 1933 Erwin Zimet (1912–1989) gave up the study of philosophy at the Friedrich Wilhelm University and devoted himself entirely to his rabbinical education. On 5 July he was issued this certificate showing his results in the interim examinations he had successfully completed in late May at the College for the Science of Judaism (Hochschule der Wissenschaft des Judentums) in Berlin. It reveals that Zimet was studying with some of the most prominent teachers of the day, including Chanoch Albeck (Talmud), Leo Baeck (Midrash), Ismar Elbogen (Jewish history and literature) and Julius Guttmann (the philosophy of religion).

Parallel to his studies, the twenty-one-year-old worked as a rabbi-in-training at both the liberal synagogue in Schönhauser Allee and, beginning in 1934, the synagogue in Rykestrasse. Later, he also held services at the Hermann Falkenberg Synagogue East and served as a rabbi and teacher at the Jewish rest home in Lehnitz near Oranienburg. Zimet was also the leader of the youth organization "Liberale Jugend Ili" and actively supported the efforts of many young people to immigrate to Palestine. In 1932–1933 he published several articles on youth issues in the Jüdisch-Liberalen Zeitung. He was particularly interested in the worries and needs of Jewish youth at a time of political upheaval and social exclusion. In April 1932 Zimet said: "Nothing is certain. People have rarely lived through an era of such helplessness and despair. We young people feel this uncertainty much more intensely than does the older generation."

Michaela Roßberg

Categorie(s): religious life | scholars | students
Interim examination certificate issued to Erwin Zimet by the College for the Science of Judaism, Berlin, 5 July 1933
Gift of Lilli Gehr Zimet.

The College for the Science of Judaism

The Berlin-based College for the Science of Judaism was opened in 1872 and saw itself as an institution devoted to the academic study of Judaism in all its facets. Its founding manifesto, written in 1869, reflects the desire for an institution that stood above the individual movements within Judaism: "Independence appears to be one of the most important prerequisites for the success of such an institution … Only through the pure pursuit of true knowledge can it flourish and bear noble fruit for the continued existence and development of Judaism." The faculty included professors from different movements within Judaism and the academy was open not only to non-Jews but also later to women.

Over time, the college increasingly focused on training rabbis and religious instruction teachers. After the November Pogrom in 1938—the year Erwin Zimet completed his studies—it was temporally closed and many of its teachers and students emigrated. From 1939 on, it offered only a limited selection of courses. In July 1942 the college was permanently closed along with all other Jewish educational institutions in Germany. By then it had only three students.

The dean of the college, Ismar Elbogen (4th from right, 1st row), together with Erwin Zimet (4th from right, 1st row) and other students on an excursion on the holiday of Lag ba-Omer, Berlin, May 1932. Lag ba-Omer commemorates the Bar Kokhba revolt, when Jews rose up against Roman rule in Palestine.
Gift of Lilli Gehr Zimet.