Congregation Approves Resolution Calling for Volunteer Military Force and Opposing National Draft

A resolution calling for the support of an all-volunteer military force and opposing the “inauguration or implementation by our government of any national draft at this time” was approved overwhelmingly by the membership of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue at the recent annual meeting of the congregation. The resolution was presented by the Social Action Committee of the congregation.

Rabbi Balfour Brickner, spiritual leader of the 800-member congregation, said “We are, I believe, the first and only Jewish congregation in America publicly to debate this issue and to take such a stand. It is as courageous an action as it is unprecedented. Most congregations, if they even consider issues as controversial as this one, do so in the privacy of some small committee. Their conclusions are rarely, if ever, discussed with the entire membership.”

The resolution stated, in part: “We support the existing all-volunteer military force. We oppose the inauguration or implementation by our government of any national draft at this time. Similarly, we oppose the idea of registering our youth at this time for some future draft. We believe that should there arise some national emergency necessitating the mobilization of our population, sufficient techniques exist by which to affect that mobilization. Males and females should be conscripted equally.”

The congregation went on record urging members of the congregation to provide counselling services and “to widely advertise this service in, and to, the community so that Jewish youth, particularly, might know where they might come for counselling that is based in the Jewish religious tradition.”

RATIONALE FOR THE RESOLUTION

The rationale for the resolution was stated in its preamble which noted that: “Judaism recognizes the right of both conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection to war”; “Judaism teaches us to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34.15)”; “registration at this time is both unnecessary and unnecessarily provocative, reflective of a national trend toward increased militarism that threatens world peace”; “the costs of such an action draws funds from needed social, educational and economic programs that will make for social betterment.”

At the congregational meeting, Frank Ashen, chairperson of the Social Action Committee, emphasized the importance for placing such an issue before the entire congregation for a vote. He said: “We believe that this congregation, as a religious institution in this country, has an obligation not only to educate its constituency but to take a public stand on the issues. What is at stake is not only our lives, but also, possibly, the lives of our children. Decisions on these matters are as much our responsibility as they are the responsibility of our politicians, our militarists, our ‘experts’.”

In anticipation of the congregational debate, the Social Action Committee prepared and distributed to every family in the congregation a 14-page background paper outlining both the Biblical and rabbinic material on the subject of conscription and conscientious objection.

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