is undoubtedly one of the highlights of cultural life in Cologne, attracting numerous tourists. Like any event, the carnival has both its opponents and its ardent supporters.
On January 8, 2023, another carnival session was held in the synagogue in Roonstraße. The Cologne audience received this event with enthusiasm. But for a considerable part of the community members, the celebration of carnival in the synagogue caused astonishment, to say the least. For community members, for Jews who observe the laws of the Torah, it was particularly distressing to see costumed carnivalists at a photo shoot in front of the Torah ark (Aron ha-Kodesh). Such an act is perceived by observant Jews as nothing more than a desecration of the synagogue.
Torah ark is not a sight in front of which you should necessarily take a picture.
Synagogue – what is it actually?
Let’s start with the fact that the word synagogue is not of Jewish origin. In Hebrew, this building is most often called Beit Ha-Kneset (House of Assembly) or Beit Ha-Tfilah (House of Prayer), and more rarely Beit Midrash (House of Learning). Therefore, behavior and appearance should express respect commensurate with the sanctity of that place. For millennia, synagogues were built exclusively as a place to speak with G-d, a place to study Torah.
Synagogue at the Roonstraße
After the war, the synagogue was rebuilt and extensively reconstructed. In addition to the prayer hall, the synagogue building also has a kosher restaurant and an adjacent community hall (banquet hall). Various community events are held in the hall: official meetings, the celebration of various Jewish festivals and cultural events, including concerts.
The dilemma of celebrating a carnival in a synagogue
On my inquiries with rabbis outside Germany (rabbis paid from germantax money do not answer my questions) I received a clear answer (e.g. the answer of one of the rabbis of the organization „Toldot Yeshurun„):
„It is strictly forbidden to hold such events. Events held in the synagogue building must be in keeping with the spirit of Judaism and must not violate the law of the Torah.“
„It should be noted that festive meals and activities are permitted only if they are necessary for the needs of the community. In addition, such places usually have aron ha-kodesh, Torah scrolls, holy books, etc., which in itself implies respectful behavior. Reckless behavior and actions that profane the sanctity of the synagogue and the house of learning are strictly forbidden on all occasions and at all times.“
All this is unacceptable. The synagogue – the house of prayer – the small temple in the exile of the people of Israel!
For the above reasons, it is not acceptable to hold a carnival in a synagogue building. The synagogue is not a place where girls in miniskirts can dance. Such an appearance does not correspond to the Jewish understanding of modesty.
Banquet hall in the synagogue building on Roonstr:
The German carnival has its origins in the pagan, pre-Christian cults of the Germanic tribes. Even if the carnival had been an exclusively Christian-Catholic celebration, it would have had no place in a synagogue in this case either.
Anyone who has visited Cologne on „Rose Monday“ will remember not only the carnival procession and candy throwing, but also the crowds of drunken men, for whom the walls of houses turn into a toilet, half-naked women and girls, who on this day allow themselves to behave in a way that is considered indecent during the rest of the year.
Carnival, of course, includes not only „Rose Monday“, but also the various carnival sessions, which bring a lot of joy and positive emotions to the participants.
About the organizers of the synagogue carnival
In numerous interviews, Aaron Knappstein presents himself as a member of the liberal Jewish community (Gescher LaMassoret) in Cologne. His active civil society engagement aims at defending the rights of homosexuals. But Aaron Knappstein’s attitude towards the believing minority is the most incomprehensible for me. How can one stand up for the rights of one group and at the same time violate the rights of another group, namely the believing Jews, and this in a synagogue?
From an interview by Aaron Knappsteins in the newspaper „Jüdische Allgemeine“ of 05.02.2013: – The slim man with red hair and a full beard inherited his enthusiasm for carnival from his parents. „My father was a full-blooded carnivalist. … My parents were highly respected and very well integrated,“ he says. They didn’t talk about their Jewishness.“
Why would a man who calls himself a member of the liberal Jewish community „Gescher LaMassoret“ come to an Orthodox community with his „carnival enthusiasm“? This is incomprehensible to me, as it is to many other members of the congregation. In Cologne there are many places outside the synagogue…
- Jüdische Allgemeine, 16.11.2006 – „They are lost to the community“, Aaron Knappstein on the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade and gay Jews in Germany
- Jüdische Allgemeine, 05.02.2013 – Carnival reveler, Aaron Knappstein is gay, „1st officer of the StattGarde“ and a Jew
I also cannot understand what Rabbi Yechiel Brukner said in his welcoming speech to the Jecken in the prayer hall: „What do we have in common? Our consciousness about the importance of preserving tradition.“*
If more than 100 years ago a small group of Jews celebrated carnival, how did this act become a Jewish tradition today?
The preservation of the Jewish Orthodox tradition lies precisely in the fact that the community did not celebrate carnival 100 years ago, is not allowed to celebrate today and will not celebrate in 100 years.
Further in the text:
The rabbi stressed the importance of carnival: „We are all stewards of joy. We all have one concern: Where there is joy, all is well. Shalom.“
* From the „Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger“ of 08.01.2023 – Falafel and Kölsch with the Kippa Köpp – „Where there is joy, all is well. Shalom“
By the way, why falafel? What is this „cultural appropriation“ for? What does the Middle Eastern dish (falafel) have to do with a German-Jewish tradition?
Who can allow every event?
But as we know, it is impossible to hold such events without the permission of the community board. One can only guess why the community board allows it to be carried out.
|Verein Kölsche Kippa Köpp, carnival organizers||Community board Jewish community of Cologne|
|Aaron Knappstein (Präsident)||Abraham Lehrer|
|Carlos Levy (Ehrenpräsident)||Bettina Levy|
|Patric Levy (Vizepräsident)||Dr. Michael Rado|
|Volker Scholz-Goldenberg (Schriftführer)||Dr. Felix Schotland|
|Frank Levy (Schatzmeister)|
„Practically everyone who has a position in politics, culture, business in Cologne is a member of a carnival association, because it is part of the general culture of the city“ – Aaron Knappstein, from the article on Time of Israel (see link below). This tradition is known inside and outside the city of Cologne as the „Kölsche Klüngel“. As they say in Cologne – „you know each other, you help each other“ or „manus manum lavat„.
- Time of Israel – German Jews go all in with a Catholic Carnival tradition
Ich möchte die Vorstandsmitglieder daran erinnern, dass der Gottesdienst in der Kölner Synagogen-Gemeinde der orthodoxen Tradition folgt.
I would like to remind the members of community board that the service in the Jewish community of Cologne follows the Orthodox tradition.
I can understand the love of carnival for those who were not born Jewish but converted to Judaism out of love or respect for their Jewish spouse, or simply for someone who is the German spouse of a member of the community.
- But I don’t understand why they don’t respect the feelings of observant Jews in an Orthodox Jewish community?
- Why won’t they show respect to the synagogue?
- Why do they not want to respect the belief in one God, in whose house there is no place for carnival (the pagan origin)?
Für den amtierenden Vorstand ist der Spaß der Gäste der Gemeinde wohl viel wichtiger als die Gefühle der eigenen Glaubensbrüder und -Schwestern.
For the current member of the community board, the fun of the guests of the congregation is probably much more important than the feelings of of their own brothers and sisters in faith.
Cologne Carnival is a wonderful festival for children and adults and there are many places in Cologne to celebrate it. But the synagogue is definitely not one of them.
In order to clarify the situation from a halakhic point of view, I contacted many rabbis and organizations, including the German Orthodox Rabbinical Conference, whose headquarters are located in the building of the synagogue on Roonstraße.