An Interview with Rabbi Abba Dunner, Secretary
General of the Conference of European Rabbis about
Modern German Jewry
Jewish communities in Germany are in an upheaval. Mass
emigration from the CIS to Germany is on the rise. The
German government's indiscriminate policy of opening its
gates, without quotas or time limitations, is disturbing
the status quo of the local Jewish population. Under
current German Law, anyone who is Jewish, or even a
gentile who has a Jewish relative, is able to procure
permanent residency in Germany. This fact is causing
World Jewry to be on the alert.
At the European Rabbinic Conference, which took place a
number of months ago in Munich, Germany, the rabbonim
aired their concerns about the spiritual danger that
could result from these circumstances. Recently, Paul
Spiegel, president of the Central Council of German
Jews, has joined the cry against the potential danger.
In wake of Spiegel's step, we approached Rabbi Abba
Dunner, the dynamic Secretary General of the Conference
of European Rabbis who has dealt extensively with the
How did the problem occur?
The problem is with Germany's immigration policy. The
German Government allows anyone who calls himself
Jewish, or one who has a Jewish relative in Germany, to
immigrate and to receive permanent status. As a result,
Paul Spiegel, President of the Central Council of German
Jews, has approached the authorities asking them to
allow only Jewish immigration -- of those who are Jewish
according to halocho. To date, the German
criteria is similar to the Israeli Law of Return, with
similar results. There is a strong fear that a deluge of
Russian gentiles will flood the Jewish communities in
Why do they pose as Jews? What motivates them to do
First, this is simply their only way to immigrate.
Likewise, Jews are known for their benevolence. They
(the immigrants) perceive that by joining the Jewish
community they will receive charity assistance from
Jewish communal funds which will cushion their
absorption. Until recently, this had (only) occurred in
Eretz Yisroel. Now this threatens the kehillos in
Germany as well. The intermingling of Jews and Gentiles
within the kehillos was unique to the Reform and
Conservative. There wasn't any penetration (of gentiles)
in the Orthodox kehillos. But now this situation
threatens to affect the religious kehillos as
There isn't anyone who could suppress this phenomenon
within the kehillos?
Regarding this matter, there is a problem with the local
rabbis. This is not the place to elucidate this matter,
since one would have to speak extensively about it.
About a year ago, the Conference of European Rabbis
established a European beis din for Germany,
headed by the dayan, HaRav Chanoch Ehrentreu
shlita in order to deal with matters of gittin
and geirus. We informed Israel's Chief
Rabbinate that any get or conversion that had not
been performed by us is not valid-- since Germany does
not have a rav who could arrange a get or
officiate at a conversion.
However, the Jewish Community in Germany is not
generally known as such a committed community.
Therefore, why are they interested in driving away the
non-Jews? Why did the Jewish Community suddenly start
speaking up about the halachic definition of being
I heard expressions of fear among the Jews in the
kehillos because of this immigration. Because of
the enormous quantity, there is a fear that these
Gentiles will take over the kehillos. The local
Jews' impetus for taking action is, perhaps, different
from our fear of the spiritual danger.
What numbers are we talking about?
I saw the numbers of the German Foreign Ministry.
According to their forecast, in another three years,
there will be 180,000 Jews in Germany -- according to
the present definition and according to immigration
policy. These circumstances are bound to create
difficult, unsolvable halachic problems. Automatically,
the Reform movement will attempt to implant themselves.
With them, there's no problem to deal with the
conversions in their way. This is dangerous.
But the German government, because of its dark
historical past, has found it difficult to discriminate
between Jew and "Jew," fearing the public opinion of
It is therefore important that one's claim to be a Jew
shall be a Jew according to halacha. It must come
within Judaism's guidelines. I recently sent a letter to
Paul Spiegel in the name of Rav Moshe Rose and Rav
Avrohom Moshe Dunner, offering any necessary assistance
to solve the problem and to thwart the danger. They are
in need of encouragement for there are many, even in
Israel, who have vocally objected to slowing down this
Are you also working in a positive, practical manner
to increase Jewish awareness in Germany?
There are high concentrations of Jews in the main cities-
- Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Dusseldorf. However, the
government distributed the immigrants according to
convenience and concerns of absorption ability. One must
emphasize that there are full-fledged Jews amongst them,
and we are on the lookout for them. We want the
children. Look, in Berlin we have great influence. A
yeshiva with a maggid shiur was founded there for
Russian children. I personally gave a shiur
there. Rav Ehrentreu also gave a shiur there.
There is a tremendous thirst for the dvar Hashem,
an unexplainable thirst. In Frankfurt, we plan to
establish a girl's institution. These Jews that suddenly
merited a feeling of freedom, wish to return to their
Jewish heritage and one must provide for them.
In addition, we are planning weekend seminars. Throngs
of people are interested, coming to hear the best of the
lecturers from Israel and Europe. The success rate is
incredibly high. Any place that we are active, we are
successful. There is an incredible thirst. If we don't
act, a claim will be made against us that we didn't do
enough. These precious gems are located on the
crossroads. One just needs to gather them.
Where does one obtain activists for the Jewish
kehillos in the Diaspora?
In truth, not everybody is able to be an activist. Not
everyone, from his own perspective, is allowed to act. A
seminar will soon be opened for 30 suitable bnei
Torah. We will teach them the methods of activism,
which will continue for two years. It is absolutely
essential to have training in how to be a rav or
community leader. They will go out throughout Europe.
Their spiritual contribution will be enormous, both in
asei tov, and sur meiroh -- building a
barrier against dangerous situations, like the one that
presently threatens the German kehillos.