Germany signs accord to reintroduce military rabbis after more than a century
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Germany signs accord to reintroduce military rabbis after more than a century

Defense chief says agreement ‘a strong sign for Jewish life’ in the country; move expected to be approved by parliament early next year

President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster (C) attends the "Gemeindetag 2019" meeting of Jewish organisations and members of Jewish communities from all over the country, where he and the German Defence Minister signed an agreement on the implementation of a Jewish military chaplaincy within the German armed forces Bundeswehr on December 20, 2019 in Berlin. (Photo by Gregor Fischer / dpa / AFP)
President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster (C) attends the "Gemeindetag 2019" meeting of Jewish organisations and members of Jewish communities from all over the country, where he and the German Defence Minister signed an agreement on the implementation of a Jewish military chaplaincy within the German armed forces Bundeswehr on December 20, 2019 in Berlin. (Photo by Gregor Fischer / dpa / AFP)

BERLIN — Germany’s defense minister signed an agreement Friday with the country’s main Jewish organization to reintroduce military rabbis, saying it was a “strong sign” of the importance of Jewish life in the country.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the decision to restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the Bundeswehr armed forces after more than a century also underscored the government’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism in Germany.

“This is a strong sign for a diverse and open Bundeswehr,” she said at a meeting of the Central Council of Jews in Berlin.

“This is also a strong sign for Jewish life in Germany.”

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, left, and Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, right, shake hands after they signed a treaty on rabbis in the German forces in Berlin, Germany, December 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council, called it a “historic day,” saying the Bundeswehr was a “reflection of our society.”

“Why shouldn’t a menorah be lighted in a barracks next to a Christmas tree?” he said.

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)

The German army doesn’t 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.

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.

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.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said she expected parliament to approve the measure early next year.

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