Senior Reform German rabbi steps down after being accused of sexual misconduct

A “climate of fear” is said to prevail at the Abraham Geiger College, where Homolka served as rector.

Rabbi Walter Homolka (photo credit: Ellenson1/Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Walter Homolka
(photo credit: Ellenson1/Wikimedia Commons)

Rabbi Walter Homolka, co-founder and rector of the Potsdam Abraham Geiger College in Germany, has decided to step down from all of his roles after the German newspaper Die Welt published an in-depth article exposing claims of sexual harassment and misconduct by the senior liberal (Reform) rabbi and his husband.

According to German media, Homolka announced he would no longer actively carry out his duties in the Jewish community and at the University of Potsdam.

“In light of the allegations made in the press today, I would like to express my personal dismay. It hurts to have to read such things,” Homolka’s statement from the college said, according to Der Spiegel.

“He has spent his entire life in the service of liberal Judaism and tried to promote opportunities to deal with Jewish tradition creatively, without fear and to get involved in the life of the Jewish community in a variety of ways,” the press release said. Homolka did not elaborate about the allegations.

According to Der Tagesspiegel, Homolka’s husband, who himself worked as a lecturer at the college, is said to have sent a sexually harassing video to a student in 2019, allegedly showing his “erect penis.” Homolka and his husband were said to have initially confirmed this, but a few days later a lawyer’s office allegedly tried to stop the report from being published.

Then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert with Rabbi Walter Homolka in 2007 (credit: WUPJ/Wikimedia Commons)Then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert with Rabbi Walter Homolka in 2007 (credit: WUPJ/Wikimedia Commons)

Der Tagesspiegel quoted Jonathan Schorsch, a professor at the Institute for Jewish and Religious Studies at the University of Potsdam, as saying he had been notified of further cases of misconduct, including sexual harassment. There reportedly was a commission of inquiry at the college.

The Die Welt report said Homolka’s behavior was a result of his powerful position and status and accused him of blatant abuse of power. A “climate of fear” was said to prevail at the Abraham Geiger College.

According to the report, the disgraced rabbi threatened his opponents with “eradication.”

Homolka is rector and managing director of the Abraham Geiger College rabbinic seminary, which he co-founded in 1999. It belongs to the University of Potsdam and has trained rabbis and cantors for several years.

“Three new Reform rabbis will be ordained in Berlin in the second such ceremony held in Germany,” JTA reported in 2009.

The seminary “is supported by the German federal government; the state of Brandenburg; the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of all the German states; the Central Council of Jews in Germany; and the Leo Baeck Foundation,” the report said.

The seminary is part of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the world umbrella organization for the Reform movement. Homolka established the Jewish Institute of Cantorial Arts and has been serving as its president. He is a member of the French Legion of Honor and holds other honorary titles.

“We are shocked to learn that, according to research by ‘Welt,’ there are said to have been several cases of sexual harassment at the Abraham Geiger College,” Central Council of Jews in Germany president Josef Schuster said Friday in a statement.

“Such news about a training center for rabbis appalls me,” he said. “It is essential that the entire situation be clarified as quickly and comprehensively as possible. This can only be done by experts who are independent of the Abraham Geiger College.”