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Furore Within Religious, Lay Communities over Move to Eliminate Jewish Chaplains

Rabbi Harry Hymen, chaplaincy director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has advised Rabbi Harold H. Gordon, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, that “This state chaplaincy matter has stirred up quite a furore all over the State of California,” and that “the religious as well as the lay community are taking all the steps necessary to change the contemplated ‘new plan.’ ” Rabbi Hyman, in a letter dated March 15, was referring to the proposal by California’s Department of Mental Hygiene, endorsed by Gov. Ronald Reagan, to eliminate the three Jewish chaplaincies for the 825 patients in the state’s 14 mental hospitals, ostensibly for economic reasons, while retaining the more than 30 Catholic and Protestant chaplains. Reagan and the Department have suggested that local rabbis take over the duties of the Jewish chaplains, a plan that Rabbi Hyman has scored as impractical and unfair. The rabbi, in his letter, pointed out that “practically every member of the California State Assembly and the California State Senate is being contacted and we hope, and have already some indications, that there will be a change in plans.” In a letter to James M. Hall of California’s Human Relations Agency, a copy of which was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Rabbi Hyman called the arguments for the proposed cutback “completely unrealistic and fallacious.”

Rabbi Hyman noted: “If the California state budget calls for reduction of expenses, such as apparently travel expenses in the case of the Jewish Chaplaincy. I am sure that ways can be found through readjustment and reassignments to accomplish this end. Why, for instance, should a Jewish chaplain have to travel from Los Angeles all the way up to Stockton…if there is a Jewish chaplain available in Northern California?” The two cities are 300 miles apart. The California Jewish community “will not sanction this discriminatory hit-and-miss approach,” Rabbi Hyman asserted, explaining: “As taxpayers to the State of California and on democratic principles, we feel that we have the right to the same type of state-sponsored chaplaincy service which is accorded the other denominations.” The rabbinical leader urged the Human Relations Agency to rescind its proposal “before harm will be done to the welfare of our patients and before statewide repercussions are bound to ensue which cannot possibly benefit anyone concerned.” In a separate letter to Reagan the same day, Rabbi Hyman said he hoped “that a realistic appraisal of all the factors involved in this situation will prompt you to change your stand in this matter.”

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