German Army appoints its first Military Rabbi in 90 years

German Army appoints its first Military Rabbi in 90 years to supervise the pastoral care for 300 Jewish soldiers

  • Zsolt Balla  is German military’s new chief rabbi and will be sworn in on Monday
  • He will be one of 10 rabbis providing pastoral care to Jews in the Bundeswehr 
  • Jewish soldiers were expelled from the military in 1933 after Hitler rose to power 

A Hungarian rabbi has joined the German army 90 years after Jewish soldiers were expelled from the military.

Zsolt Balla, 42, is the German military’s new chief rabbi and will be sworn in at a synagogue in Leipzig, east Germany, on Monday.

The position has not existed since 1933 and Mr Balla will be one of 10 rabbis providing pastoral care to Jews in the Bundeswehr.

Mr Balla’s appointment comes against the backdrop of a series of scandals involving antisemitism in the army.

Zsolt Balla, 42, 90 years after Jewish soldiers were expelled before the holocaust. He is is the German military's new chief rabbi and will be sworn in at a synagogue in Leipzig on Monday

Zsolt Balla, 42, 90 years after Jewish soldiers were expelled before the holocaust. He is is the German military’s new chief rabbi and will be sworn in at a synagogue in Leipzig on Monday

Germany‘s top commando unit the KSK was partially dissolved following claims it was infiltrated by right-wing extremism last year but Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Tuesday announced it will continue after reforms.

And the special task force (SEK) of the Frankfurt police was last week disbanded after officers allegedly glorified Nazis in online chats

Mr Balla told CNN: ‘I think every responsible person should be worried about this issue.’

Military rabbis will not ‘solve every single problem within one week’, he said, but the position will go some way to addressing the issue.

Mr Balla said: ‘We have to work with a vision for the future, of how we want German society and the Bundeswehr to look like in a decade.’ 

The German army does not record the religions of its members but there are an estimated 80 to 300 Jewish soldiers in the country.

Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (pictured on Thursday) ordered the partial dissolution of the country's Special Forces Command (KSK), she announced today

Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (pictured on Thursday) ordered the partial dissolution of the country’s Special Forces Command (KSK), she announced today 

Mr Balla told Israeli broadcaster Kan: ‘It is a great responsibility. 

‘We need to help all Jews [in the army] live a Jewish life, if they are looking for Kosher food, if they are looking for the opportunity to pray.’

Germany has reportedly invested €5million (£4.3million) in the army’s new chief military rabbinate.

The last time rabbis served in the German army was the first world war, when around 100,000 Jews were in the country’s ranks. 

Adolf Hitler banned Jews from serving in the military after assuming power in 1933 before the army was deployed to carry out the holocaust.

Mr Balla told LocalNews8: ‘The Jewish community has changed. We understand that this is not the same Germany.

‘[There is an] understanding that Germany really did its best among European countries to face and confront its past, and I think it should be acknowledged.’

He was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1979 and did not find out he was Jewish until he was nine.

His grandparents were holocaust survivors but his father, a lieutenant colonel in the Hungarian army, was not Jewish.

Mr Balla moved to Berlin complete his rabbi training and was one of the first orthodox rabbis to be trained in Germany since the 1930s. 

There he met his wife and the couple have three children in Leipzig, where he is a rabbi at the local synagogue. 

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