web analytics
August 20, 2014 / 24 Av, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



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
The Gaza Region
Live Updates: Hamas Rockets Explode in Southern Israel (16:39pm)
Latest Sections Stories
Lewis-081514-Anna-Ticho

“I didn’t choose the landscape; it chose me.”

Astaire-081514

Woe to us that we have to be put to death like common heathen and murderers!

Baim-081514

The world sees the hand of God through us, and does not like it.

Rosen-081514-Amen

The Rebbetzin began campaigning to increase public awareness of the importance of saying Amen.

Some educators today believe that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder falls into an executive function category.

It’s ironic that the reality of death is often the greatest force steering the affirmation of life.

The theme of the event was “Together Let us Rebuild our Holy Beis HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av.”

Chaya Aydel Seminary has already established a close connection with France’s Jewish community.

All attendees left with fervent wishes for a swift and lasting peace in Israel.

How can awareness evolve from exploding stars?

Is God apologizing for taking away my Father? Is God telling me that He is sorry?

The traditional services that take place here transport visitors back in time, enabling them to smell and feel the authentic historical experience.

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Jonas Phillips

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.

Last month’s column outlined some efforts during the first half of the nineteenth century to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in America. In only one case was a colony actually established.

There were very few Jewish farmers in Europe during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Indeed, in many parts of Europe Jews were forbidden to own land. Despite this there were some Jews who always felt they should return to the agrarian way of life their forefathers had pursued in ancient times, and that America was an ideal place to establish Jewish agricultural colonies.

The President having signed the Treaty of the Geneva Conference and the Senate having, on the 16th instant, ratified the President’s actions, the American Association of the Red Cross, organized under provisions of said treaty, purposes to send its agents at once among the sufferers by the recent floods, with a view to the ameliorating of their condition so far as can be done by human aid and the means at hand will permit. Contributions are urgently solicited.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

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: