German armed forces open to non-Christian chaplains

The first Jewish military chaplain in the German armed forces might start his work by the end of this year, reports the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost (April 10). This is actually a return to what had existed in earlier times in Germany, since 30 Jewish military chaplains used to serve in the German forces during the First World War. After the Second World War, military chaplaincy for German soldiers was reintroduced in the late 1950s, at a time when 98 percent of the soldiers were Christian. German soldiers are not requested to make their religious affiliation known, but estimates today are that only half of them are still Christian (with 53,000 Protestants and 41,000 Catholics). For the past seven years, the German Ministry of Defense has assessed the options for adjusting military chaplaincy to a more diverse religious environment—while already providing the opportunity for external non-Christian pastoral support to soldiers who request it, reports Deutsche Welle (April 2). The goal has been to find ways to include Jewish and Muslim military chaplains. There are currently around 300 Jewish soldiers and around 3,000 Muslim soldiers in the German armed forces, according to official estimates.

A state agreement will be concluded with the Zentralringzat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany), with the council providing a list of suitable rabbis and the armed forces making the final choice. Regarding Muslims, there are still hurdles due to the lack of a representative body for all Muslims in Germany, making it impossible to devise a similar agreement. Other legal provisions will be used in order to hire military imams. The candidates will have to meet various requirements, including studies in Islamic theology completed at higher education institutions recognized by Germany.