The German parliament stamped the law restoring the official position of the military rabbi on Thursday in what was the first expansion of the military pastoral care law since 1957.
Military rabbis were part of the German armed forces during the First World War, when around 100,000 Jewish soldiers fought for the country. They were banned shortly after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, as part of the early Nazi efforts to remove Jews from public life.
According to the defense ministry, the role of rabbis will mirror those of Catholic and Protestant chaplains. They will provide pastoral assistance to soldiers and accompany them on foreign missions.
The new military rabbis will work as temporary military contractors for six years, but their positions may become permanent in the future, the ministry said. A similar initiative is being discussed to introduce military imams.
The law will also establish a special federal military rabbinate in Berlin, which will oversee the branches in Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Leipzig. Up to 10 rabbis will report to the federal chief initially, the ministry said.
Germany does not formally register the religious affiliation of its soldiers. According to official estimates based on voluntary disclosure, around 300 Jewish soldiers and 3000 Muslims are currently serving in the German army. There are 53,000 Protestants and 41,000 Roman Catholics, who together represent about half of all members of the service.
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