German Jewish Community Head Calls for Inquiry into Sexual Harassment Allegations at Rabbinic Seminary
The head of the Jewish community in Germany called for an independent inquiry to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct at the liberal Abraham Geiger College rabbinic seminary in Potsdam, located outside of Berlin.
The appeal comes as Rabbi Walter Homolka, the founder and director of the seminary, announced on Friday that he is taking leave of absence following a report in German daily Die Welt, which claimed that his husband Hartmut Bomhoff, a teacher at the college at the time, had allegedly sexually harassed at least one student by sending a pornographic video.
Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Tuesday that the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of power at the college, which belongs to the University of Potsdam, are “profound,” and have been met with shock inside and outside the Jewish community.
Schuster declared that a completely independent investigation and clarification of the allegations was “imperative.”
“This is not only about the criminal dimension of the crimes, but also about the moral behavior of leaders and employees in Jewish institutions as well as the protection and rights of those affected,” he said in a statement, adding that the Central Council of Jews in Germany will commission a law firm to examine the allegations.
“Under no circumstances should such accusations be ignored,” he emphasized.
According to the Die Welt report, Bomhoff is said to have sent a student a sexually explicit video in 2019. While both he and Homolka are said to have initially confirmed the incident, a lawyer’s office allegedly tried to stop the matter from being published days later. Homolka, who is also Chairman of the Union of Progressive Jews and director of the School of Jewish Theology, is accused of mishandling sexual harassment at the college by failing to fully pursue the incident, and of abuse of power of his position. Homolka and Bomhoff are said to have been involved in additional incidents of sexual harassment at the college, according to the German news outlet.
In a statement on Monday, the Abraham Geiger College that they had become aware of two cases of sexual harassment before the Die Welt report.
The University of Potsdam, which houses the college, is said to have set up an investigative commission in recent weeks to examine “various allegations” against Homolka and others. The commission is expected to present a report with its findings in August.
Founded in 1999, Abraham Geiger College is the first liberal rabbinical seminary in Continental Europe since the Shoah, and trains men and women alike on rabbinical and cantorial tracks.