Shortage of Jewish Military Chaplains Reportedly Will Worsen

Data from the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy indicate there is now a shortage of 16 Jewish military chaplains, relative to an agreed-upon quota of 80 such chaplains, and that the shortage will increase to 20 by the end of the year, it was learned here today. The commission, an affiliate of the National Jewish Welfare Board, is the official Jewish liaison organization for certifying Jewish chaplains for military service.

The data were made available as members of the commission met this week to hear a report from Rabbi Aryeh Lev, director, on the problems developing from the decision of the Yeshiva University (Orthodox) and the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) to drop their participation in the military chaplaincy draft. Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Theological Seminary suspended participation in the draft, effective last Jan. 1, in favor of a one-year test of volunteering by rabbinic students. The Jewish Theological Seminary, in a follow-through to a decision by the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, announced plans for a new seminary school for chaplains, starting in the fall, in a program in which all rabbinic candidates must choose either military chaplaincy duty or civilian chaplaincy assignments. Rabbi Lev noted that the Reform movement was still participating in the chaplaincy draft and that the Central Conference of American Rabbis had announced that the issue would be discussed at its convention next month.

According to the Commission data, there are now 64 Jewish military chaplains on duty, 16 short of the 80-man quota, and 14 will be released this year after their two-year tours of duty. Four Reform, one Conservative and five Orthodox rabbinic students are now being processed for service, for a total of 10 new military chaplains to replace the 14 who will be discharged.

Rabbi Lev told the meeting that despite the difficulties attending the draft program since its inception in 1950, he felt it would not have been dropped “by the Orthodox and Conservative groups while three million men are in the armed forces, were it not for the political and moral problems raised by the war in Vietnam.” He said that “the general student spirit of revolt” had affected the rabbinical schools and that the chaplaincy “has apparently been one of the first casualties of this revolution.” He noted that the students “listened carefully to the rabbinic leaders who opposed the government’s policies in Vietnam” but they did not hear the same leaders “when they affirmed that, as long as there are Jewish personnel in the armed forces, it is the responsibility of the rabbinate to serve these Jews.”

He warned that “many of the gains which we have made, Jewishly speaking, in the military and on the American scene in general – will be jeopardized if we have a ridiculously inadequate number of Jewish chaplains in uniform.” He declared that “without Jewish chaplains, intermarriages and conversion of Jews to Christianity are certain to increase in the services.”

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