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Rabbinical Seminaries


Until the first quarter of the 19th century the only source for the training of rabbis was the *yeshivot. These were not rabbinical training institutions in the strict sense, but institutions of higher rabbinic learning designed for the education of the people as a whole. The curriculum was thus strictly limited to Talmud and its commentaries and the codes. A student wishing to enter the rabbinate obtained semikhah and thus became an ordained rabbi.

With the advent of the era of emancipation and the consequent demolition of the ghetto walls in Western Europe, and under the influence of the *Haskalah and the development of the Wissenschaft des *Judentums, the demand became increasingly heard for the establishment of institutions specifically for the training of rabbis. These institutions would produce a new type of modern rabbis, equipped with a thorough mastery of the vernacular and a knowledge of both secular and extra-talmudic Jewish subjects. An added incentive to the establishment of such institutions was the regulation enacted by Franz Joseph i of Austria-Hungary in 1848 requiring secular knowledge of an academic standard for rabbis in his country.

The proposed seminaries were bitterly contested by the rabbis and heads of the yeshivot of the old school as a dangerous innovation, with the result that where they dominated the religious life of the community these seminaries never struck root and consequently they played no significant part in Russia and Poland. This opposition, which still exists, is the cause of the curious fact that in Israel there is no institution specifically set up for the training of rabbis. It was only in Central and Western Europe and in the United States that such seminaries flourished.

The first rabbinical seminary was the Instituto Convitto Rabbinico, established in Padua by I.S. *Reggio in 1829, in which Lelio Della *Torre and Samuel David *Luzzatto were the first teachers. It served as the model for all future seminaries. It was closed in 1871 but reopened in 1887 in Rome as the Collegio Rabbinico Italiana. In 1899 it moved to Florence where it remained until 1932, when again it moved to Rome remaining there until it was closed down under the Fascist regime in 1939. In 1928 a branch was established for Sephardi communities on the Island of Rhodes, but it was also closed down at the outbreak of World War ii.

The Ecole Centrale Rabbinique was established in Metz in 1830 and a year later it received a state subsidy. It moved to Paris in 1859 as the Seminaire Israelite de France and later was given the name of the Ecole Rabbinique. Probably the most famous rabbinical seminary in Europe was the Juedisch-Theologisches Seminar of Breslau founded by Zacharias *Frankel in 1854. Among its professors were H. *Graetz, Immanuel *Loew, J. *Guttman, and Yiẓḥak *Heinemann. Jews' College was founded in London in 1855. Its most prominent principals were Michael *Friedlaender (1865–1907), Adolph *Buechler (1907–39), and Isidore *Epstein (1948–62). In Berlin the Juedische Hochschule was established in 1872. Its name was changed to the Lehranstalt fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1883, but it resumed its old name in 1920. A year after the establishment of the Hochschule the strictly Orthodox Rabbiner Seminar fuer das Orthodoxe Judentum was established in Berlin by Azriel *Hildesheimer, and is usually referred to as Hildesheimer's Seminar.

The bitter opposition of Hungarian Orthodox circles to the establishment of a rabbinical seminary in that country caused a delay in its opening for over a quarter of a century. In 1850 the Emperor Franz Joseph i devoted a million talers, derived from the fine imposed upon the Jews of Hungary for their participation in the rebellion of 1849, to a fund for Jewish education, but the rabbinical seminary was not established until 1877 in Budapest. Among its prominent teachers were Wilhelm *Bacher, M. *Guttmann, and I. *Goldziher. The Israelitisch-theologische Lehranstalt of Vienna, established by A. *Jellinek in 1862, did not make much progress until 1893 when it moved to the Jewish quarter of Leopoldstadt and Adolph Schwarz was appointed its rector.

An outstanding example of the complete failure of a rabbinical seminary was provided by Poland. Established in 1826 and strongly supported by the government, in the 36 years of its existence, it did not produce a single rabbi. The fact is not surprising since both its principal, A. *Eisenbaum, and its main teacher, A. *Buchner, were pronounced assimilationists. Buchner actually published a book, Der Talmud in seiner Nichtigheit ("The Worthlessness of the Talmud", 1848). Not much more successful was the Russian seminary which was opened in 1847 in Vilna and in Zhitomir. It was regarded with suspicion by the Jews as an instrument of the government's anti-Jewish educational policy and was closed down in 1873.

On the other hand the Makhon le-Ḥokhmat Yisrael, whose name was later changed to the Makhon le-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, established by M. *Schorr, the chief rabbi of Warsaw and its first principal, served as the rabbinical seminary for Poland until the outbreak of World War ii.

The United States has rabbinical seminaries for all three trends in religious Jewry. The first to be established, the Reform Hebrew Union College, was founded by Isaac Mayer *Wise in Cincinnati in 1875. In 1922 Stephen *Wise established the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York which merged with the Hebrew Union College in 1950.

The rabbinical seminary of the Conservative movement, the Jewish Theological Seminary, was established in 1886. Orthodox seminaries are represented by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, later a unit of the Yeshiva *University, established in 1897; and the Talmudical College of Chicago, in 1922. As a result of the Holocaust, all the seminaries in Central and Eastern Europe, with the exception of the Budapest seminary have ceased to exist. The only seminaries still functioning in Europe are the Ecole Rabbinique, Jews' College, and the Reform Leo Baeck College in London.

See also the articles on the individual seminaries.


D. Prato, in: Relazione sul biennio 18991900 (1901); A. Toaff, in: rmi, 12, nos. 7–9 (1937/38), 194f.; Jews' College Jubilee Volume (1906); P. Smolenskin, in: Ha-Shaḥar, 9 (1876/77), 57–61; Sefer ha-Zikkaron le-Veit-ha-Midrash le-Rabbanim be-Vinah (1946); Sefer ha-Yovel li-Melot 50 Shanah le-Veit-ha-Midrash ha-Rabbanim be-Budapest (partly in Ger. and Hung.; 1927); A. Geiger, in: wzjt, 2 (1836), 1–21; M. Brann, Geschichte des juedischtheologischen Seminars… in Breslau (1904); J. Elbogen, in: Festschrift… der Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin (1922), 101–44; J. Bauer, L'Ecole rabbinique de France 18301930 (1930); J. Heinemann, in: Bericht des juedischtheologischen Seminars… in Breslau (1929), 34–48; Festschrift zum 50-jaehrigen Bestehen des Rabbinerseminars zu Berlin 18731923 (1924); G. Kisch (ed.), Das Breslauer Seminar (partly in Heb. and Eng.; 1963). in the u.s.: M. Davis, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), Jews, Their History, Culture, and Religion, 1 (19603), 488–587.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

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