Germany signs ‘historic’ deal to reintroduce military rabbis

International

German Defence 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, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

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BERLIN (AP) — 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.”

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.

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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This story corrects the first name of the German defense minister to Annegret.

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