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Rabbis to Return to German Military Amid Growing Anti-Semitism

BERLIN — Germany will allow rabbis to return to the chaplaincy of its military for the first time since they were kicked out under the Nazis in the 1930s, as officials struggle to curb a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in society as a whole.

Lawmakers on Thursday unanimously approved an agreement drawn up last year between the government in Berlin and the country’s Central Council of Jews. It stipulated that up to 10 rabbis would provide spiritual support to the estimated 300 Jewish soldiers serving the country in missions abroad.

Germany’s defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, called the vote “a special sign of solidarity and recognition” of the Jews who serve in the modern German Army, called the Bundeswehr, and a “special moment” for the country.

“With this, Jewish life is demonstratively returning to the Bundeswehr” in such a way that serves as “a visible contribution against the anti-Semitism that is growing daily in our society at large,” she said.

Germany’s Conference of Orthodox Rabbis welcomed the parliamentary approval as “an important signal, especially in times as these when there is again fertile ground for anti-Semitism, hate from the far right and conspiracy theorists.”

Jews have a long history in the German military: About 12,000 Jewish soldiers died fighting on the German side in World War I. Many hoped their military service would promote their acceptance into German society. Instead, in the years after the war, the Nazis blamed Jewish treachery for the country’s defeat.

The move to restore rabbis to the military comes amid a rise in anti-Semitism in Germany and the growing presence of right-wing extremists, including within the ranks of the military, despite decades of promoting a culture to “never again” allow a repeat of Nazi crimes.

Government figures released in May showed that anti-Semitic crimes in Germany had reached their highest level last year since the country began keeping statistics. Anti-Semitic crimes rose 13 percent, more than 90 percent of them attributed to far-right extremists, including an attack in October on a synagogue in Halle, where a gunman was prevented from entering the building but killed two people on the street.

The German Defense Ministry said it had fired 49 members from its ranks for extremist activity or a failure to uphold their oath. They came both from the far left and far right; some had ties to radical Islamism.

Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer has vowed to continue purging all ranks of the military of extremists, including the elite special commando, the KSK. The authorities found a stash of weapons and far-right symbols at the home of a member of the elite unit who was arrested tin the eastern state of Saxony in May.

Under the agreement reached this past week, the rabbis will be trained to join the 80 Roman Catholic and 100 Protestant chaplains who currently serve roughly 94,000 Christian soldiers. The number of Jewish chaplains could be increased as needed, it said.

The rabbis will also provide general spiritual guidance to the military and weigh in on ethical questions, the Defense Ministry said.

The ministry has been seeking to draw up a similar agreement with Muslim leaders to introduce imams into the force to provide spiritual guidance to the estimated 3,000 Muslims soldiers.

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