After 100 years, Germany to reinstate military rabbis
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After 100 years, Germany to reinstate military rabbis

German defense minister says move shows commitment to Jewish life in country; 300 Jews estimated to be in army

In this photo from July 20, 2019, soldiers attend an oath-taking ceremony of the German army at the Defence Ministry in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
In this photo from July 20, 2019, soldiers attend an oath-taking ceremony of the German army at the Defence Ministry in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN — Germany’s government decided Wednesday to reintroduce military rabbis, backing a proposal by the Central Council of Jews to restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the armed forces after more than a century without such assistance.

“Today, we set an important example for our Jewish soldiers,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tweeted after the decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said the addition of military rabbis was a clear commitment to Jewish life in Germany.

The German army does not document the religious affiliations of its members. But according to estimates about 300 Jews, 1,400 Muslims and 94,000 Christians are in the Bundeswehr armed forces, German media reported.

The German army has only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, but there are plans to also introduce Muslim religious counseling in the Bundeswehr, the government said.

Religious counselors in the army offer advice on ethical issues and accompany soldiers as they carry out training or further education.

A German soldier kneels down during a wreath laying ceremony at the monument for German Jewish soldiers who died between 1914 and 1918 in World War I at the Jewish cemetery Weissensee in Berlin, November 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

During World War I, many Jews fought for Germany. Rabbis were relatively common in the military until Adolf Hitler’s Nazis came to power in 1933 and excluded Jews from all spheres of public life.

Germany’s armed forces have over the years repeatedly come under fire over suspicions that some members are far right-leaning.

Last year, then defense minister Ursula von der Leyen ordered the military to cleanse itself of all links to the wartime Wehrmacht, after learning that steel helmets and memorabilia of the Nazi-era army were openly displayed at one of its barracks.

Most recently, Kramp-Karrenbauer vowed to take decisive action against cases of radicalism in the army, after it emerged that the Bundeswehr was to suspend a member of its elite force on suspicion of far-right extremism.

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