Jewish Chaplains Oppose ‘selective Objection’ to Vietnam Service by Rabbis
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Jewish Chaplains Oppose ‘selective Objection’ to Vietnam Service by Rabbis

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The executive committee of the Association of Jewish Chaplains of the Armed Forces was disclosed today to have taken a stand of strong opposition to refusal by any rabbi to serve as a military chaplain in the Vietnam war on grounds of “selective conscientious objection.” That stand was revealed by Rabbi Bertram W. Korn, a Naval Reserve chaplain and association president, in a letter to “present or future” colleagues.

Rabbi Korn said the statement was sent to association members, to presidents of the cooperating Jewish seminaries, to heads of their student groups, and to the presidents of the rabbinic organizations. These are the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Central Conference of American Rabbis; the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Rabbinical Assembly; and Yeshiva University and the Rabbinical Council of America. Yeshiva University reported recently that it had dropped its participation in the military chaplaincy draft, as of last January, and was permitting its graduating student rabbis in the Rabbi Elchanon Rabbinical Seminary to volunteer in a one-year experiment. The Jewish Theological Seminary disclosed recently that It had established last year the category of conscientious objector in its participation in the draft program.

Rabbi Korn declared, in his letter, that the association had been informed that “at some of the seminaries and in some of the national rabbinic organizations, there are those who feel that a rabbi who is opposed to our present military involvement in Vietnam should refuse to serve as a military chaplain in the ground of ‘selective conscientious objection.” He added that the Jewish military chaplains, attending a recent meeting of the executive committee and representing all three branches of Judaism, had agreed that because many soldiers might be fighting in Vietnam for a cause which they either did not understand or opposed, the military chaplain was particularly needed.

Asserting that the chaplains at the meeting constituted a group which, “militarily, knows whereof it speaks,” he reported also that they had agreed that “any clergyman who uses ‘selective conscientious objection’ as a reason for avoiding service as a military chaplain does not understand the essential nature of the military chaplaincy, which is that the military chaplain’s task is to give spiritual solace and religious guidance to troubled human beings, not to act as a special pleader for any particular ideology or course of political action.”


Rabbi Ell Bohnen, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, proposed last night that chaplains of all faiths cease to be part of the military establishment so that they can counsel servicemen according to conscience, not military rules. Delivering his president report to 500 delegates at the Rabbinical Assembly’s 68th annual convention at Kimesha Lake, Rabbi Bohnen also proposed that “selective conscientious objection” should be recognized as valid for exemption from the draft. The military chaplaincy Issue will be debated at a special convention session tomorrow, he said.

He told his rabbinical colleagues that as part of the military, the chaplain was unable to question the premises on which war is fought, adding “what is he to say to a pilot or bombardier who tells him he has been ordered to drop bombs in an area where he knows that women and children” will be killed. The changing nature of war, he declared, has made it imperative “that we rabbis Join with our counterparts in other faiths” to re-examine the role of the clergy in relation to the military. He stressed that he did not oppose sending spiritual advisors to the men in service, asserting that fighting men must be served whether or not one believes in the war they are fighting.

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