The German military forces, the Bundeswehr, will appoint several rabbis as military chaplains for the first time over 100 years, the German Defence Ministry revealed, noting that their initial task would be to gain experience. For this, the German authorities and the Central Council of Jews in Germany are to negotiate a treaty, similar to the one for the military chaplains, representing churches in the Bundeswehr.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has branded the move an "important signal”. According to her, Jewish and Muslim soldiers also long for spiritual guidance “especially in times when anti-Semitism, religious polarisation and narrow-mindedness are on the rise in many places”.
"You have had this wish for a long time, and this desire is justified”, the politician, representing Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said, as cited by Deutsche Welle.
President of the Central Council of Jews Josef Schuster has welcomed the project.
"The appointment of military rabbis is a sign of the growing trust of the Jewish community in the Bundeswehr as a part of our democratic society”, he noted ahead of a special meeting, organised to discuss the measure.
According to DW, the announcement followed year-long debates over the issue of diversity in religious assistance for those serving in the Bundeswehr. The Defence Ministry has been examining the possibility of appointing military rabbis and imams for seven years, although soldiers could have always turned to rabbis and imams outside the military forces.
Meanwhile, the task to meet the demand for Muslim chaplains is more complicated than with rabbis as there is no central Muslim institution that could reach an agreement with the Bundeswehr.
The current plan suggests that Muslim clerics should be legally bound by "provisional contracts”, meaning the authorities could strike an agreement with a single association on the matter. The ministry is planning to hire a "low single digit" number of imams, as it is the case with rabbis.
According to the Defence Ministry, the number of Jewish soldiers is about 200-300 people, while 3,000 staffers define themselves as Muslims. However, the stats are rough as soldiers are not obliged to reveal their religion.