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Under pressure from the other committee members, Freehof agreed that chaplains could provide the pertinent information about conditional divorces when asked; however, they were not allowed to announce or encourage the option on their own initiative. It was in that context that Orthodox organizations such as Agudath Israel launched a campaign to educate Jewish soldiers regarding the matter.

Ultimately, soldiers in battlefield were well aware of their susceptibility to death and many of them became more spiritually inclined under those dire circumstances. The origin of the well-known aphorism, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” is attributed to World War II, and Corporal Harry Silber attested to that sentiment when he wrote a poem in 1944. His poem (below) illustrates his perception of those who did not share his strong religious background when faced with the realities of war.

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Left: Pamphlet regarding the importance of reciting Kaddish for the deceased, published by Dr. Jung, 1943 (Friedenson Collection, KHEC). Right: Orthodox Youth ad, 1943
Left: Pamphlet regarding the importance of reciting Kaddish for the deceased, published by Dr. Jung, 1943 (Friedenson Collection, KHEC).
Right: Orthodox Youth ad, 1943

“Look G-d, I have never spoken to You,

But now I want to say, ‘How do You do?’

You see, G-d, they told me You didn’t exist,

And like a fool I believed all this.

Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky,

I figured right then they had told me a lie.

Had I taken the time to see all the things You made,

I’d have known right then they weren’t calling a spade, a spade.

I wonder, G-d, if You’d shake my hand,

Somehow I feel You will understand.

Funny, I had to come to this hellish place,

Before I had time to see Your face.

Well, I guess there isn’t much to say,

but I’m sure glad, G-d, that I met You today.

I guess H-Hour will soon be here,

But I’m not afraid since I know You’re near.

The signal! Well G-d, I guess I have to go,

I like You lots, this I want You to know.

Look now, this will be a horrible fight,

Who knows? I may come to Your house tonight.

Though I wasn’t friendly to You before,

I wonder, G-d, if You would wait for me at Your door.

Look, I’m crying; no, shedding tears!

I wish I had known You these many years.

Well, I have to go now; goodbye,

Strange; since I met You, I’m not afraid to die.”

 

Silber noted, “[This is] the impression that I get watching my buddies, none of whom are [religious]… Don’t get me wrong, [my] outfit has earned the reputation of being the Toughest Regiment in the Army and with good cause too. However, we still needed a little more than just physical toughness… This may not be what I [was] taught in the yeshiva but it is one version of what may be the viduy [confession prayer] of many soldiers this year.”

In times of war, many of those who fought – and died – for this country found comfort in faith. May we merit to find faith and comfort in times of peace.

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