Orthodox Rabbis Reject Selective Conscientious Objection to Military Chaplaincy

The Rabbinical Council of America, a major association of Orthodox rabbis, rejected here today selective conscientious objection to the military chaplaincy and voted to maintain the draft of military chaplains in contrast to the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism which have eliminated it. The resolution as introduced by Rabbi Zev Segal of Newark, president, and passed unanimously by the organization at its 33rd annual convention here, also called on Orthodox rabbinical seminaries to maintain the draft of newly-ordained rabbis, or to reinstitute it if it has been eliminated.

The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, at which most of the 1,000 members of the Rabbinical Council were ordained, has dropped the draft. Rabbi Segal said that it was a “sacred and unquestionably moral obligation to serve the religious needs of Jews in the armed services,” and he declared that those who refuse to serve would not be admitted into membership in the rabbinical organization. This prohibition would make it difficult for such rabbis to obtain pulpits, he said.

“Whether rabbis approve or disapprove of our country’s military involvement in Vietnam bears no relation to the fact that young Jews require the service of their clergymen,” Rabbi Segal’s resolution declared. “Men who are being drafted into the military services are not asked whether they are for or against the war in Vietnam and they are entitled to spiritual guidance and assistance during their service. The need for chaplains to lead religious services, teach the principles of their faith, provide pastoral counseling, perform religious rites and represent the small minority of Jews in the military does not diminish because the United States is right or wrong in being in Vietnam.” the measure stated.

Rabbi Segal stressed that as long as the armed forces of this country consist primarily of draftees and not volunteers, “it is our solemn duty to support the imposition of a similar draft upon the spiritual leaders whose committed goal is to serve their flock under all conditions. When and if the U.S. Government decides to substitute a volunteer army for that based on conscription, a similar option should be granted to rabbis, allowing them to determine whether or not they wish to serve in the military.”

The Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Segal stressed, maintains that while “laymen may refuse to participate in military service because of the dictates of conscience, the recourse to selective conscientious objection on the part of rabbis does not constitute a valid reason not to serve as chaplains.” He said also that “experience of World War II and the Korean War confirmed the truth that chaplains serve the needs of their men and not the political-military objectives of governments.”

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