Germany's Jewish Community to have Equal Status to the Churches

Nov 22, 2002 03:00 AM EST

Bielefeld, Germany, -- Jewish leaders have welcomed as a milestone the German government's plan to give the country's Jewish community an equal legal status to the main Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

"This is a historic event," said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said at a news conference on 14 November attended by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "That Jews live here once again in considerable numbers is a fact that those who returned after 1945 can hardly imagine."

Under the plan, the details of which have yet still to be finalized, the government will make a formal agreement with the Jewish central council to increase funding of Jewish schools, legalize Jewish religious education in schools and finance other Jewish institutions, such as kindergartens and hospitals.

The plan establishes a legal partnership between the Jewish community and the German government, creating a pact similar to the one it has with the churches, under which the state finances the costs of some religious-run institutions, such as schools.

The accord recognizes the rapid growth of the Jewish population in Germany, from 30 000 in 1990 to 100 000 today. Most Jewish immigrants to Germany come from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Before the Holocaust, there were an estimated 600,000 Jews in Germany.

Government funding for Jewish institutions is expected to increase from 1 million euro to 3 million euro.

Stefanie Rotermann, spokesperson of the German (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conference, told ENI: "The Bishops' Conference welcomes the agreement, but it does not have any effect on our relations to either the [Jewish] central council or to the state. Nor does it affect any of our agreements with the state."

By Frauke Brauns