Germany’s first military rabbi in over a century is installed

‘This was unthinkable for decades,’ says the head of the Central Council of Jews, which proposed that Germany restore religious counseling for Jews in the armed forces.

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Zsolt Balla, the state rabbi of Saxony, in the synagogue in Leipzig, Germany, after his induction into the office of the nation’s Military Rabbi of the Armed Forces. The Hungary-born rabbi is Germany’s first military rabbi in over a century.

Zsolt Balla, the state rabbi of Saxony, in the synagogue in Leipzig, Germany, after his induction into the office of the nation’s Military Rabbi of the Armed Forces. The Hungary-born rabbi is Germany’s first military rabbi in over a century.

Hendrik Schmidt / AP

The German military has its first rabbi in over a century, with the installation of Hungary-born Zsolt Balla at a synagogue in Leipzig.

“This was unthinkable for decades and still can’t be taken for granted,” said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews, which in 2019 proposed that the German government restore religious counseling for Jews serving in the armed forces.

During World War I, many Jews fought for Germany. Dozens of rabbis are known to have performed pastoral work in the military. After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis excluded Jews from all spheres of public life, later murdering millions in the Holocaust.

Schuster said Balla would ensure that Jewish soldiers can serve in the military in line with their religious rules and also teach non-Jewish soldiers about Judaism’s traditions and holy days, helping fight prejudice.

The 42-year-old rabbi, who was ordained in 2009, said he felt “incredibly gratitude to be allowed to live in a country that faces its past but has also resolved to go forward and actively make the world better.”

There are about 300 Jews in Germany’s 180,000-strong Bundeswehr. About half of the country’s military belong to a Christian denomination, and 3,000 are Muslim. The German army already had only Catholic and Lutheran chaplains, and there are plans to introduce Muslim religious counseling in future.

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