Germany is reintroducing rabbis into its military for the first time since the Nazis banned them from the armed forces in the 1930s.
The German Parliament rubber-stamped the law reestablishing the official position of military rabbi on Thursday in what was the first expansion of the law on military pastoral care since 1957.
Military rabbis were part of the German armed forces during World War I, when around 100,000 Jewish soldiers fought for the country. They were banned shortly after Adolf Hitler assumed power in 1933, as part of the Nazi’s early efforts to remove Jews from the public life.
The German military has admitted recently it has a problem with extremism within its ranks. Last year, it set up a central coordinating office to combat the issue.
A report by the military released in March said 49 military personnel were dismissed in 2019 because of extremism and anti-constitutional beliefs. The report said 46 of the dismissals were due to right-wing extremism, two were classified as Islamism, and one soldier was identified as a left-wing extremist.
According to the defense ministry, the role of the rabbis will mirror those of Catholic and Protestant chaplains. They will provide pastoral care to the soldiers and accompany them on foreign missions.
The new military rabbis will work as temporary military contractors for six years, but their positions might become permanent in the future, the ministry said. A similar initiative to introduce military imams is being discussed.
The law will also establish a special federal military rabbinate in Berlin, which will oversee branches in Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Leipzig. Up to 10 rabbis will initially report into the federal chief, the ministry said.
Germany does not formally record the religious affiliation of its soldiers. According to official estimates based on voluntary disclosures, around 300 Jewish soldiers and 3,000 Muslims are currently serving in the German military. There are 53,000 Protestants and 41,000 Roman Catholics, who together account for roughly half of all service members.