For the first time since World War I, the German military is set to appoint a chief rabbi. The move, an initiative of German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is designed both to serve the hundreds of Jews in the German military and to fight antisemitism. Some 300 German Jews currently serve in the country’s military.

Rabbi Zsolt Balla will continue in his current roles as chief rabbi of Saxony and its capital, Leipzig, while serving as the chief military rabbi.

Balla will head the military rabbinate that will be established in Berlin and will be responsible for the work of 10 religious figures in the military. Alongside the provision of religious services to Jewish soldiers, the military rabbinate will take part in the education of all German soldiers to prevent antisemitism.

Balla will officially enter the role at a ceremony at a Leipzig synagogue, scheduled for June 21. The ceremony will be broadcast live on the German TV channel ARD. Among those set to attend are Kramp-Karrenbauer, Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, Central Council of Jews in Germany President Josef Schuster, as well as representatives of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), of which Balla is a member.

CER and Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt welcomed Balla’s appointment.

“This is a significant step in bolstering ties between the German people and the Jewish community that has resided in Germany for hundreds of years,” he said.

“The establishment of a military rabbinate in the German military sends a clear message of tolerance and pluralism, which will bring us one step closer toward maintaining Jews’ freedom of religion in Germany and fighting against any anti-Semitic phenomenon that arises later on,” he said.

While the decision to appoint a chief rabbi was made last year, its implementation was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany approved the appointment of rabbis as chaplains in 2020.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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