Eight years after the issue of Chaplain Geller and his beard was tried, the issue of accommodation to Orthodox practice would again spread its wings in the United States Air Force. This time the focus was Captain Rabbi Dr. Simcha Goldman who entered the military in September 1970.
From the time of his induction into the Navy, Goldman never encountered a problem wearing a yarmulke in the U.S. military. Initially, he had served as a chaplain (the JWB Navy chaplain screener at the time of Geller had subsequently retired) and for those years (1970-1972) the yarmulke that he constantly wore was never a concern to anyone. In 1973 Goldman’s aspirations took flight when he realized that the Air Force had more to offer him and his professional interest in clinical psychology than the Navy.
Goldman made the necessary adjustments between the military branches and was admitted to the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship Program earning his PhD in clinical psychology in 1977. Goldman’s method to repay Uncle Sam for the education was four years of active military duty. He was awarded the rank of captain and assigned to the March Air Force Base (subsequently closed) in Riverside, Calif., some 30 miles east of Los Angeles.
At this deployment too, he also wore his yarmulke without controversy, until matters would change in April, 1981. At that time Dr. Goldman was called as a defense witness in a court martial. As the hearing was a military tribunal, Dr. Goldman testified in uniform.
The prosecution’s case against an airman accused of grand theft of government property was contingent upon discrediting the testimony that the psychologist provided in his defense. Toward this goal, the prosecutor questioned as to which precise examinations were applied to determine the defendant’s sanity, as there are different methodologies that are considered standard.
As Dr. Goldman had not administered every exam, the thoroughness of his evaluation was called into question. Simcha Goldman did not take this as a personal affront, assuming that this was standard procedure employed by the prosecution to advance their case and weaken the defense.
One year later, Goldman was again called as a defense witness in a court-martial where the accusation was argued by the very same prosecutor. The man wanted to know which exams were used to determine the mental health of the accused. Repeating the tactics of one year earlier, the prosecutor demanded, “Did you perform an MMPI?”
This time the answer was affirmative, causing the prosecution to wax long and hard as to how inferior an evaluation the MMPI provides. The fact that the very same man could change 180° in just one year irritated Goldman, but he did not say anything, dismissing it once again as the methodology of litigators who are wont to employ the arguments that best serve their case, even if it is not consistent.
He didn’t say something initially, but he also did not totally dismiss it. Goldman put his psychological training to work and plotted how to one-up the prosecution. Dr. Goldman argued that the defendant possessed a weak personality and was influenced by bad friends with stronger personalities. And with this assertion Simcha Goldman had sowed the seeds of manipulation.
The prosecutor took the bait and, electrified like a cold motor from a jump-start, questioned, “Did you ask him if he had any good friends?”
“I didn’t believe that this was relevant.” Goldman deliberately answered vaguely, placing the red meat directly before the predator.
The military prosecutor fell for the trap head first and demanded to know why such a key factor would not be considered relevant when determining the innocence or guilt of the accused?
“Captain, I did not believe,” explained Goldman in the tone of a teacher repeating what should have been comprehended on the first take, “that this was a relevant question.”
Goldman’s response did not merit an immediate response. Silence began to flood the courtroom as everyone present understood with dread clarity that the prosecutor had been irked. The insult leveled caused annoyance to spew out of him like the spray from a hydrant wrenched open in the summertime.
Grabbing hold of himself, he finally uttered through clenched teeth, “Dr. Goldman just answer the question and let the court decide what is relevant.”
“Captain,” Goldman responded all smiles, “I don’t think the question is relevant to my clinical evaluation.” It was cheap, but it worked. This snappy rebuttal brought down the house. Ultimately, however, it was the prosecutor who would have the last laugh.
Ten days later, Goldman’s commanding officer informed him that a complaint had been lodged against him for wearing a yarmulke in violation of Air Force regulations. And just as a face can launch a thousand ships, one line can ignite a legal battle all the way up to the United States’s Court of Last Resort.
To be continued
Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!Rabbi Hanoch Teller