On May 11, 1820, a child was born in Prussia who would, as a grown man, almost single-handedly change the face of German Jewry. Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer attended yeshiva in Hanover, and, when he turned 17, enrolled in the yeshiva of Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger in Altona. In 1840, he returned to his hometown of Halberstadt, and, while continuing his rabbinical studies, mastered Semitic languages and mathematics at the University of Berlin. In 1844, he received his doctorate from the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

In 1851, as rabbi of Eisenstadt, Hungary, Rabbi Dr. Hildesheimer insisted that proper pedagogy and grammar be requirements in the local Jewish parochial school. There he founded a yeshiva where he only accepted students who had general studies education. In addition to the traditional curriculum of Talmud, Halachic codes and responsa literature, the yeshiva taught Tanach (Scriptures) and Hebrew language. The yeshiva opened with six students, and by 1868, the yeshiva had educated 128 students, including one American.

In 1869, the Orthodox minority in Berlin, with governmental permission, was allowed to found a separate communal organization catering to their 200 families. They chose Rabbi Hildesheimer to lead them. Here too, on October 22, 1873, corresponding to the 1st of Cheshvan, Rabbi Hildesheimer founded a yeshiva, the Rabbinical Seminary for Orthodox Judaism, also known as the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. Thirty of his former students immediately enrolled. An all-star list of rabbinical luminaries with general educational backgrounds served as the faculty and taught traditional and non-traditional topics, such as Bible, religious philosophy, theoretical and practical homiletics, Jewish history and geography of “Palestine” (pre-state Israel).

Rabbi Hildesheimer died on July 12, 1899 and was succeeded by prominent faculty member, Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman. Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg was presiding over the Hildesheimer Academy when it was forcibly closed by the Nazis in 1938. 71 years later in 2009, with the blessing of two of Rabbi HIldesheimer’s great-grandsons, the seminary was re-opened as the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, funded by the German Central Council of Jews and the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

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