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June 21, 2021 3:39 pm
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First Jewish Military Rabbi Appointed to Germany’s Bundeswehr in 100 Years

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

The inauguration at the Leipzig Synagogue of Rabbi Zsolt Balla on June 21, 2021. Photo: imago images/epd via Reuters Connect

The German Bundeswehr on Monday inaugurated into office the first military rabbi to the country’s army in 100 years.

The newly appointed Jewish chaplain to the German military will join the Protestant and Catholic chaplaincies in offering support for soldiers. The inaugural ceremony for 42-year-old Rabbi Zsolt Balla took place at the Leipzig synagogue.

In his speech Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster expressed joy and gratitude that around 75 years after the end of the Second World War, Jewish military chaplains are taking up their duties in the Bundeswehr. “That seemed unthinkable for decades,” Schuster remarked.

This is also an important step to combat antisemitism, according to Schuster.

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“This will reduce alienness towards Judaism, so that — I am convinced — prejudice will not occur, or will be nipped in the bud,” Schuster said. “The Jewish community accepts responsibility. Responsibility for our democracy. And that includes an army living these democratic values. An army, where there is no place for political extremism and intolerance.”

Germany’s Federal Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer called the appointment a “great sign of trust and commitment to our democracy, to our open, diverse and tolerant society. And that we are setting this example in the Bundeswehr — that makes me proud,” she said.

As a Jewish military chaplain, Balla will be responsible for the care of an estimated 300 Jewish soldiers and their families. He will act as a contact person the soldiers can turn to with ethical questions, with religious concerns, and personal issues.

Born in Budapest, Balla is married with three children and has been living in Germany since 2002. After studying in Budapest, Berlin, and Jerusalem, Balla became the second orthodox rabbi to be educated and ordained in Germany since 1938. Since 2009, he has been serving as the community rabbi of Leipzig and since 2019 he is the state rabbi of Saxony. In his new position he will continue to serve the Leipzig Jewish community and maintain his current roles.

Among the speakers at the ceremony were the Catholic Military Bishop Dr. Franz-Josef Overbeck, the Protestant Military Bishop Dr. Bernhard Felmberg as well as Rabbi Prof. Andreas Nachama and Rabbi Avichai Apel for the Rabbinical Conferences and Israel’s ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff.

In the coming months, up to ten military rabbis will be appointed, as agreed in the military chaplaincy contract.

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