A soldier prays in a Shul in Frankfurt. Photo by Refael Ehrlich

For the first time in almost 100 years, and 76 years after the Holocaust, military rabbis will once again serve in the German Army.

Almost a year and a half after German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer worked with the Central Council of Jews in Germany to renew the position of military rabbis in the Bundeswehr (Military of Germany), and almost a year after the Bundestag approved the decision, Council President Dr Josef Schuster announced the appointment of Rabbi Mordechai Eliezer Bala – a member of the German Rabbinical Committee and winner of the Maharal Matanel prize at the biennial convention of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) – as the first federal military rabbi of the German army.

In the near future, around ten more rabbis will be appointed to the Chief Military Rabbinate.

His appointment ceremony will take place in Leipzig in three weeks’ time, where Rabbi Bala – a graduate of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary – will serve as the Chief Rabbi. The ceremony will be attended by Minister President of Saxony Michael Kretschmer and Vice-President of the Standing Committee of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) Rabbi Avichai Apel, alongside members of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

CER President Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt welcomed the historic move, saying that “apart from the practical benefit to the 300 Jewish soldiers serving in the Bundeswehr, this is a clear statement from Germany, as the defence minister said when signing the military Rabbis agreement with the Central Council of Jews in Germany”. He went further to add: “In Germany, in this appointment, I see a clear statement sent out to Europe and the whole world, especially in these challenging times; no, in the great thousand, to antisemitism.”

Shortly after the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, the activity of Rabbis in the German army was banned. 75 years later, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer submitted a bill to restore military rabbinical activity to Germany, which was approved by parliament six months later. In a speech to parliament, the defence minister said: “This is a historic day for Germany – the move is a return to an ancient tradition. It is a sign of solidarity and recognition towards Jewish soldiers. The Rabbis will make a significant contribution against growing antisemitism in our society, and against extremism and populism.”

The return of military rabbis began with an article published by Dr Josef Schuster in the prominent German newspaper, Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he called for German federal army standards to add the rabbi equivalent to military priests. “70 years after World War II, it is time to renew the role of a Jewish cleric in the Bundeswehr [Military of Germany], as it was in the past.”