web analytics
November 21, 2014 / 28 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



The Jewish Chaplaincy Controversy

(Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from American Jewry and the Civil War by Bertram W. Korn, Atheneum, 1970.)

“The American tradition of the military chaplaincy is as old as the United States itself. Clergymen served with the armies of the individual colonies almost from the first battle of the Revolution, and provisions for the payment of chaplains were enacted by the Continental Congress as early as 1775. The first regular army chaplain was commissioned in 1781. From then on, post and brigade chaplains were an accepted feature of the army table of organization. These chaplains were all Protestants, though of varying denominations.”

It was not until the Mexican War (1846-1848) that Catholic priests were allowed to serve as chaplains, albeit in a civilian capacity until the Civil War, when they were given the right to serve as army officers.

There apparently was no consideration of Jews serving as chaplains until the Civil War. Indeed, Jews were actually banned from serving as chaplains in the Union Army by the Volunteer Bill, which stipulated that a regimental chaplain had to be a “regularly ordained minister of some Christian denomination.” However, on July 12, 1861 Democratic Congressman Clement J. Vallandigham from Ohio suggested that the phrase “religious society” be substituted for “Christian denomination.”

“His peers – some of whom considered Vallandigham a near traitor – were unpersuaded, and the original language became law. By contrast, there was no legal obstacle to the appointment of Jewish chaplains in the South, nor was there any attempt to commission a Jewish chaplain in the Confederate army.”

In September 1861, less than three months after the House had refused to sanction the service of Jewish chaplains, a YMCA worker happened to visit the military camp in Virginia where the 65th Regiment of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, popularly known as “Cameron’s Dragoons,” was temporarily stationed. He was horrified to discover that a Jew, one Michael Allen of Philadelphia, was serving as the regimental chaplain, and promptly began such an agitation in the public press that ultimately the Assistant Adjutant General of the Army, George D. Ruggles, was forced to state in writing his official warning that “any person mustered into service as a chaplain, who is not a regularly ordained clergyman of a Christian denomination, will be at once discharged without pay or allowance.”

As a result, Allen resigned his commission rather than be dishonorably discharged. It should be noted out that Allen had been appointed to his position without any intention by his regiment to disobey the law. In fact, they were probably unaware of the stipulation in the Volunteer Bill that an army chaplain had to be a Christian. However, given that the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Max Friedman, as well a many of its officers and 1,200 men were Jewish, Allen was a logical choice.

Allen, moreover, had been a very fitting choice for the office. Born in Philadelphia on November 24, 1830, he was, from childhood, a pupil of the Rev. Isaac Leeser, and for a time he undertook to follow, under his rabbi’s guidance, a regular course of study for the Jewish ministry. In 1850-1, he took a formal course of study in Shulhan Aruch with Rabbi Max Lilienthal in New York, and was granted a certificate as Haber (Fellow in Jewish Studies) by him on March 22, 1851. Even after he abandoned this ambition, he remained close to Jewish affairs and preserved his relationship with Leeser. He taught classes for the Philadelphia Hebrew Education Society, and substituted for Leeser as Hazan (Cantor) in the conduct of services, when that frequent traveler was out of town. The Rev. Samuel M. Isaacs, editor of The Jewish Messenger, wrote a few years later that Allen was “the only gentleman not actually a minister, accustomed and able to read the entire ritual according to the Portuguese minhag [rite]. He really deserves credit for the alacrity with which he has always responded to … calls [to act as Hazan], having frequently officiated at the Franklin street and Seventh street Synagogues of Philadelphia, and occasionally at the 19th street Synagogue of N.Y.” As a layman, Allen took a further leading role in Jewish communal affairs, and served as secretary to both the United Hebrew Beneficial Society and the Hebrew Education Society.

Surely there was no one in the entire regiment better equipped by training as well as inclination to serve as its chaplain. During the two months of his service, Allen was not a Jewish chaplain, but the regimental chaplain for men of all faiths. On the New Year, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as on the Jewish Sabbath, he went to Washington or Philadelphia to attend services. But on Sundays, he held non-denominational services, consisting of brief Scriptural readings and a hymn or two, as well as a sermon.

The Struggle for a Jewish Chaplaincy

Allen’s removal as a “Jewish chaplain” to his regiment soon became public knowledge, and the Jewish community and the regiment decided to push this issue. It was clear that the objection to having a Jewish chaplain was discriminatory; nonetheless, the objection to Allen serving as a chaplain because he was not a rabbi was valid.

Immediately, the regiment defiantly elected another Jew, Rabbi Arnold Fischel of Shearith Israel in New York, as their chaplain. Fischel applied to the War Department for a commission. His application was rejected since granting it would have been contrary to the law. The issue was clear-cut. Jewish periodicals wrote strong editorials demanding equal treatment of Jews, and rabbis called attention to the issue from pulpits throughout the North. Petitions were circulated and protests were made. The Board of Delegates of American Israelites, the only Jewish national organization at the time, asked Rabbi Fischel to serve the Jewish units and hospital patients in the Washington area, and to lobby for a change in the law.

Rabbi Fischel met with President Lincoln who promptly recognized the unfairness of the law and submitted a list of changes in the chaplaincy law to the Committee on Military Affairs of the House of Representatives. During the time that Congress was considering the President’s recommendations, Rabbi Fischel was not idle: he served unofficially as chaplain visiting the troops; comforted the sick and wounded; conducted services in the Washington area; visited congressmen and senators to explain the Jewish position…. Rabbi Fischel labored valiantly to neutralize this opposition – and with success. The new regulation stipulated that “No person shall be appointed a Chaplain in the Army who is not a regularly ordained minister of some religious denomination and who does not present testimonials of his good standing as such minister, with a recommendation for his appointment as an Army Chaplain from an authorized ecclesiastical body or not less than five accredited ministers belonging to said denomination.” [“The American Jewish Chaplaincy” by Louis Barish, American Jewish Historical Quarterly, Sep 1962-Jun 1963; 52, 1-4; AJHS Journal]

This change in the law was important for two reasons: (1) it created the foundation for a Jewish ecclesiastical endorsing agency to be recognized by the government, and (2) it authorized the appointment of Jewish chaplains.

Surprisingly, Reverend Fischel never became a chaplain. The reasons for this will be discussed in next month’s column.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Jewish Chaplaincy Controversy”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Colleagues of the hanged Arab bus driver whose death continues to be referred to as murder despite autopsy finding of suicide. These are Arab drivers of Egged buses, claiming they suffer discrimination by Israelis.
Arab Pathologist Singing New Tune: Murder (By Jews) Not Suicide
Latest Sections Stories
L to R: Sheldon Adelson, Shawn Evenhaim, Haim Saban

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

South-Florida-logo

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

South-Florida-logo

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

South-Florida-logo

Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

“Grandpa,” I wondered, as the swing began to slow down, “why are there numbers on your arm?”

So the real question is, “How can we, as hosts, make sure our guest beds are comfortable?” Because your guests will never say anything.

It was a land of opportunity, a place where someone who wasn’t afraid of a little hard work, or the challenges of adapting to a different climate and culture, could prosper.

Rule #1: A wife should never accompany her husband to hang out with his buddies at a fantasy football draft. Unless beer and cigars are her thing, that is.

There are many people today with very little training who put out shingles and proclaim themselves to be marital coaches, shalom bayis helpers, advisers etc.

The two World Series combatants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, were Wild Card teams (meaning they didn’t win their respective divisions) that got hot at the right time.

It seems ironic to use the words “Ronald McDonald” and “kosher” in the same sentence, but venture out to New Hyde Park and the two go hand in hand.

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Glimpses-logo-NEW

“Throughout his life, he observed Tisha B’Ab as the Nahalah (anniversary) for all of his relatives who were murdered, as this is the national Jewish day of mourning.

Glimpses-100314

Practically to his last days the patriarchal founder was at his office almost daily and took an active interest in all matters connected with the business.

In 1787 Jonas wrote a letter to Congress asking that the federal Constitution guarantee religious liberty in the state of Pennsylvania.

Like many of his contemporaries, he went through some hard years, but eventually he earned the rewards of his perseverance and integrity.

These letters give us the privilege of knowing him in his old age when he is mellow, tempered in his judgments, and sagacious from long experience of dealing with people.

The British evacuated New York on November 25, 1783, and Congress demobilized the American army shortly thereafter.

“Simple, modest, altogether unassuming, Gershom spent his happiest hours with his ever-growing family who were never far from his thoughts.

“Attuned to the ideal of establishing a new Zion in free America, they named their new colony Palestine.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/the-jewish-chaplaincy-controversy/2012/01/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: