Charlemagne Prize 2024 to go to Europe's leading rabbi

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Charlemagne Prize of Aachen 2024


In recognition of his outstanding efforts to promote peace, the right of all peoples to selfdetermination, European values, tolerance, pluralism and understanding, and in acknowledgement of his significant commitment to interreligious and intercultural dialogue, the Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen has elected, with its 2024 award, to honour the President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, and the Jewish people in Europe.
With this accolade, the Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors wishes to broadcast the message that Jewish life is a natural part of Europe, and that there is no place for antisemitism in Europe. Jewish life is an essential part of Europe's past, its present and its future. 

"Any attack on a Jew is an attack on everything that Europe prides itself in. The way we treat Jews and other minorities is like a litmus test for the state of health of our open European society." This statement, by the former Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, makes an important point: every form of antisemitism – every attack, every denigration and, above all, every act of violence – is an attack on us all. An attack on our liberal, democratic and pluralistic order, on our coexistence in a Europe that strives to attain its unity precisely by embracing, respecting and, as a matter of course, practising its diversity. A Europe that – wherever minorities are under threat – must visibly demonstrate its attitude, its responsibility and its solidarity. 

We live in a pluralistic, and increasingly secularised, society. But our united Europe is not value-neutral. It is only where the dignity and the diversity of individuals are respected that peaceful coexistence – one characterised by tolerance, understanding and humanity – is possible.

As Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt emphasises: "The Bible, the root of our common Jewish-Christian heritage repeatedly speaks of the importance of welcoming 'the stranger'. This is also part of our European identity. If we acknowledge a common identity, then we should also strive to share it with others. If we espouse pluralism, we should not strive to deny it, but instead should rigorously promote it everywhere. [...] If we want to convey the idea of pluralism and a 'live and let live' mentality to emigrants from totalitarian societies where any alternative religious practice [...] is prohibited, Europe must – particularly in this respect – show the way towards religious pluralism by exemplifying tolerance."

And while the past weeks and months have, once again, brutally demonstrated how religion and culture can also be misused, how sources of hope and peace can be forged into instruments of hatred and violence, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt makes three fundamentally decisive points very clear: that people of the most diverse religious and cultural backgrounds must find their place in Europe; that intercultural dialogue – the ability to meet and exchange views without prejudice – is now, more than ever, one of the great challenges of our time; but that, when entering into such dialogue, European values are not negotiable and the European way of life, characterised by democracy, freedom and the rule of law, is not up for discussion. 

Pinchas Goldschmidt was born on 21 July 1963 to a Jewish-Orthodox family in Zurich. He left Switzerland at an early age for Israel, where, from 1979 on, he pursued rabbinic studies in Bnei Berak, subsequently also in Chicago, Baltimore and Jerusalem. In 1987, he was granted Semikhah (formal ordination as a rabbi). In addition to his ordination, he also holds a master's degree in Talmudical Jurisprudence and – after absolving secular studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore – a Master of Science degree. Goldschmidt is married and the father of seven children. 

After being granted Semikhah, he began working in Nazareth-Illit, today's Nof HaGalil, before complying, in 1989, with the request – expressed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the World Jewish Congress and an assembly of Jewish organizations and activists who supported the Jewish underground in the USSR – for him "to leave the West and go to the Soviet Union to revive Jewish life in a communist country". He moved to the former Soviet Union in order to restructure Jewish life there. 

In 1991, after the failed coup and the founding of the new Russian Federation, Goldschmidt was instrumental in establishing and developing communal and political structures of the newly freed Jewish community – starting with soup kitchens, kindergartens, and schools and progressing through to the establishment of the Congress of the Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations in Russia. In 1993, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Moscow. 

The difficulties he faced over the following years in representing the interests of the Jewish community became evident when, in 2005, after a sojourn in Israel, he was (initially) refused re-entry into Russia. It was only three months later – after international protests – that he was allowed to return to his community. 

In March 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he ultimately left Moscow after having resisted pressure on Jewish community leaders to support the war. According to Israeli media, he commented on the news that, a year later, he had been officially branded as a "foreign agent" by the Russian Ministry of Justice, saying that he was, "proud to be on the right side of history and to join the list of people opposing this terrible war that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands". 

Back in July 2011, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt had been elected President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) – as only the fourth president in the almost 70-year history of the CER, which, with over 700 rabbis, is a leading voice of Judaism in Europe, and which recently moved its headquarters from London to Munich. 

In dialogue with representatives of European institutions, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and national governments, in countless speeches, statements and commentaries, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt regularly provides reports on the state of the Jewish community, discusses the threats of antisemitism and campaigns against the restriction of religious life in Europe. As a representative of one of the oldest religious minorities in Europe, he has made it his goal to "help put an end to this burgeoning antagonism and conflict, which, in the years to come, could prove to be the greatest threat ever to the unity and security of Europe. I believe we have a duty to create an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect between the modern secular state and the current religious movements to make sure that this experiment called the 'European Union' does not fail."

Goldschmidt's commitment to interreligious dialogue, in particular, has also received much attention and is held in high esteem. In 2015, he co-founded the European Muslim-Jewish Leadership Council (MJLC), which includes high-ranking Jewish and Muslim dignitaries and aims to preserve religious freedom and religious peace, to intensify dialogue and improve mutual understanding between Europe's approximately 1.5 million Jews and over 40 million Muslims. The Council, which is chaired by Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt together with the Grand Mufti of Slovenia, Nedžad Grabus, is a very unusual constellation – not only for Europe. As a rule, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders only come together at interfaith conferences – trialogue events of the three major Abrahamic religions – or public political meetings. "We work with imams on combating threats to religious freedom," Goldschmidt stresses. "Even on national levels, we support these talks even though it isn't always easy. But we believe it's extremely important. Because Jews are not only in danger from the far-right, but also from radical religious Muslims. So that makes dialogue with Muslim leaders really important." 

Accordingly – above and beyond simplifications like 'Islam', or 'the' Muslims, – in Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt's view, "The Muslims who want to live, study and work in Europe and with whom we have no problems [...] are our allies." – also, and in particular, allies against radical Islamism. 

The Jewish-Christian dialogue has also been given significant impetus from the CER and Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt: The document "Between Jerusalem and Rome" – the first official declaration by rabbinical organisations on Christianity – has been available since 2016 and is, so to speak, a Jewish response to the "Nostra Aetate" declaration adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, a milestone in Jewish-Christian relations. "We are presently experiencing a fruitful moment of dialogue," declared Pope Francis when he welcomed a delegation of European, American and Israeli rabbis at the Vatican in August 2017 who had arrived to present him with their declaration. And Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt, head of the delegation, also spoke afterwards of a historic moment and expressed his hope "that we can use this as a catalyst for increased cooperation in the future". 

"Today more than ever," he believes, "dialogue is necessary to ensure that this century does not culminate in bloodshed and war, in despair and hatred, as the last one did. Considering that today, with the arrival of new immigrant societies and groups, the character of Europe is changing, I think that we, the Jews, who not only survived after losing their land and homeland, but lived and prospered as a minority for centuries and millennia, want to share our experience and expertise with others to make Europe and the world a better place, a safe place – for our own benefit and that of future generations." 

On the occasion of his latest meeting with Pope Francis, in November 2023, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt once again adopted a strong position on the current situation in the Middle East: "We [the CER] are for peace. We believe in the right of all peoples to self-determination. [...] We hope that the civilian population suffers as little as possible from this war. We pray for them and we hope that peace will return to the Middle East, to the Holy Land and to Europe." His hope: "Gaza will become a free democratic country that does not pose a threat to Israel, but guarantees security and a life in peace for its citizens. Or Gaza must be administered by a Palestinian leader who is supported by a community of Arab states." 

For the Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors, it is of paramount importance to emphasise that all people have the right to live within secure borders and in a free, peaceful and democratic society.

With regard to Europe, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt expresses serious concern because: "Antisemitism has once again become politically correct."

"Does Judaism have a future in Europe?" the newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine recently asked the President of the CER provocatively. "If we look at Russia," Goldschmidt replied, "I have my doubts. The more authoritarian that country becomes, the fewer Jews will remain there. As far as Ukraine is concerned, if there is a Marshall Plan to rebuild everything after the end of the war, I definitely see a chance that Jewish life will flourish there again. And as far as the EU countries are concerned, a lot depends on whether extreme parties come to power and whether Europe will remain an area that can guarantee freedom, security and diversity for Jews, too."

In the person of the President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt – alongside the Jewish people in Europe – the Board of Directors of the Society for the Conferring of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen in 2024 honours an outstanding representative of European Judaism and Jewish life in Europe, which has enriched our continent for centuries and for which there will and must always be a place here.

The Aachen International Charlemagne Prize 2024 goes to the President of the European Rabbinical Conference Pinchas Goldschmidt and the Jewish communities in Europe, the board of directors of the prize announced on Friday.

According to the statement, the aim of the award is to broadcast the message that Jewish life is a natural part of Europe, and that there is no place for antisemitism in Europe.

"Jewish life is an essential part of Europe's past, its present and its future," the board said, adding that Goldschmidt has always advocated that people of different religious and cultural backgrounds should find their place in Europe, the board said.

The announcement comes amid a sharp rise in antisemitic crimes in many European countries since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, triggered by the terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas militants on 7 October and Israel's response.

Antisemitism in Germany flares amid Israeli-Hamas war


Who is Pinchas Goldschmidt?

Pinchas Goldschmidt was born in Zurich on July 21, 1963 to an Orthodox Jewish family. He left Switzerland at an early age for Israel, where he began his rabbinical studies in 1979 in Bnei Berak, and later in Chicago, Baltimore, and Jerusalem. He was formally ordained as a rabbi in 1987.

The European Rabbinical Conference is an association of some 400 Orthodox rabbis in Europe. Its headquarters are in Munich. Goldschmidt has headed the organization since 2011.

He had been chief rabbi of Moscow since 1993. He gave up his role there after resisting pressure to support the invasion of Ukraine.

Goldschmidt has been a promoter of interfaith dialogue, having co-founded the Muslim-Jewish Leadership Council (MJLC) in 2015.

The Charlemagne board also highlighted his role in Christian-Jewish dialogue, including his direct dialogue with Pope Francis.

'A significant part of the Jewish community has left Russia'


European prize

Since 1950, the international Charlemagne Prize has been given to personalities and institutions who have made a contribution to the unification of Europe.

The prize, which is awarded annually in Aachen, is considered one of the most important European honors.

It is named after Emperor Charlemagne (742-814), whom some call the "Father of Europe," as he united much of western mainland Europe for the first time since the classical era of the Roman Empire. At the end of the 8th century he chose Aachen as his capital.

Among the most prominent winners are Pope Francis and French President Emmanuel Macron.

In 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people were awarded the prize.

dh/ab (dpa, KNA)

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The awarding of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen takes place on 9 May 2024 in the Coronation Hall of Aachen City Hall.


The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen is considered one of Europe's most respected awards, given to people or institutions who have made outstanding contributions to the unification of Europe. Since its inception in 1950, recipients have included the founding fathers of a common Europe; kings and heads of government; presidents and popes; the opposition in Belarus; and the Ukrainian people.

On May 9, 2024, the prize will go to a rabbi for the first time.

Pinchas Goldschmidt has been president of the Conference of European Rabbis, which includes around 800 Orthodox Jewish scholars, for almost 13 years. At age 60, Goldschmidt is now probably the most prominent rabbi in Europe.

"With this accolade, the Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors wishes to broadcast the message that Jewish life is a natural part of Europe, and that there is no place for antisemitism in Europe," the prize organizers said in a statement.

'A significant part of the Jewish community has left Russia'


'Explosion of antisemitism since October 7'

"Unfortunately, the reality is exactly the opposite," Goldschmidt told DW. "We have seen this explosion of antisemitism in Europe since October 7."

The Hamas-led terror attacks against Israel on that day resulted in the largest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust. Around 1,200 people were killed, thousands were injured and some 240 were taken to the Gaza Strip as hostages. Israel responded with a large-scale military offensive in Gaza, which has killed tens of thousands over the past seven months, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Since that offensive began, hatred of Jews has grown around the world. Goldschmidt said Jewish parents are afraid to send their children to school. Jewish men, young people and children are afraid to walk in public with a yarmulke on their head. Jewish life in many places is taking place under police protection.

Antisemitism "became politically correct again," said Goldschmidt, adding that this must be reversed. Governments must make it clear that hatred of Jews must not be tolerated, "not in schools, not on the streets, not in cultural life." As long as open hatred of Jews is tolerated, he added, "we have a serious problem."

Murky myths behind antisemitism


With "we," Goldschmidt wasn't speaking only about Jews. For him, it's all about Europe's future.

The European history of Goldschmidt's family includes the horrors of Auschwitz. Goldschmidt was born in Zurich in 1963; his grandparents relocated from Vienna to Switzerland in 1938 — just in time to save themselves — because his grandmother was ill.

However, the rabbi said his maternal great-grandparents, their siblings, his grandfather's sisters and brothers and more than 40 of his relatives were murdered in the German concentration camp.

Escaping Putin's war of aggression

Goldschmidt was chief rabbi of Moscow from 1993 to 2022. Just a few days after Russia's full-fledged war on Ukraine began in February 2022, he fled Russia because the Kremlin was forcing religious representatives to align with its program.

Since Goldschmidt left Moscow, he said more than a 100,000 Jews have also left Russia. "The political situation in Russia is becoming increasingly difficult. The country is returning to complete isolation — to the Soviet Union, without communism. And antisemitism has again become part of government policy," he said.

Goldschmidt and his wife, their seven children and numerous grandchildren moved from Russia to Jerusalem, to a country that changed dramatically on October 7, 2023. "We fell from one war into another war," he said.

He describes war as "terrible — one of the most terrible things that humanity has invented." Of course, like every country, Israel has the right to defend itself, he said, pointing out that Israel is not fighting a all-out war on an army in Gaza, but rather, on a guerrilla force.

Is it time for Russia's Jews to leave the country?


Goldschmidt brought up Iran's role in supporting Hamas and the Hezbollah militia — both are classified as terrorist organizations by the EU. "This is Europe's hour. Europe must defend itself against these attacks — these attacks against democracy and freedom that are coming from Russia on one side, and from Iran on the other," he said.

The rabbi is multilingual, and a master of dialogue. He is in contact with many leading politicians, and has often been a guest at the German Chancellery and even visited Pope Francis several times.

Since becoming president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Goldschmidt has established an ongoing dialogue between leading rabbinic scholars and Muslim imams from European and North African countries. The Conference of European Rabbis is now based in Munich, in southern Germany.

Islam 'can become a valuable part of Europe'

"Instead of fighting radical Islam, the Islamic religion itself is being fought. That is a big — a very big — mistake," said Goldschmidt. Radical Islam must be countered, but at the same time, it's also clear that "Islam, as such, can become a valuable part of Europe — if its believers and representatives actively live European values, such as freedom, democracy and tolerance."

Germany honors leading rabbi


Goldschmidt was pleased to hear that he was the 2024 Charlemagne Prize honoree. "For me, personally, and for the Jewish community in Europe, it is a nice sign. Because we would like to see more support for Jewish communities from civil society. That is so important."

This article was originally written in German.

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Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.


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