Germany will get the primary navy rabbi in over a century

BERLIN (AP) – With the inauguration of the Hungarian-born Zsolt Balla in a synagogue in Leipzig, the German military received its first rabbi in over a century on Monday.

In 2019, the federal government approved a proposal by the Central Council of Jews to restore religious counseling for Jews in military service.

“That was unthinkable for decades and still not a matter of course today,” said the Chairman of the Central Council, Josef Schuster. “So today we have every reason to be happy and grateful.”

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During the First World War, many Jews fought for Germany and dozens of rabbis are known to have provided military chaplaincy. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis excluded Jews from all areas of public life and later murdered millions in the Holocaust.

Schuster said Balla would ensure that Jewish soldiers can serve in the military in accordance with their religious rules, and also educate non-Jewish soldiers about the traditions and holidays of Judaism, thereby helping to reduce prejudice.

The 42-year-old rabbi, who was ordained in 2009, said he was “incredibly grateful to live in a country that is facing its past but also determined to move forward and actively improve the world.”

According to the German news agency dpa, there are around 300 Jews in the 180,000-strong German Bundeswehr. About half of the country’s military are Christian, while 3,000 are Muslim.

There were already only Catholic and Lutheran pastors in the Bundeswehr, and Muslim religious counseling is to be introduced in the future.

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