Here’s a retired Navy chaplain’s perspective on the news that the Army has allowed fellow rabbi Menachem Stern to keep his beard while serving as a military chaplain:
Retired Navy chaplain Rabbi Bruce Kahn worries that when politicians get involved in chaplaincy issues, they “typically demonstrate that they don’t know enough or care enough about the realities of the chaplaincy to get the answer right. This may be a case in point.”
First off, he fears the waiver “will cause the young rabbi problems. Some folks senior to him that he meets will resent the privilege extended to him. It may be that his fitness reports will suffer. They should not suffer because of the exemption provided him, but people can be small.” He adds: “Also, it emphasizes that the rabbi is different from the entire rest of the Chaplain Corps, including other rabbis. Not good.”
Rabbi Kahn also hopes the Army has paid as much attention to the young chaplain’s attitude as it has to his facial hair. “Chabad is a proselytizing community whose leaders try to convince other Jews to be Jewish the way Chabad thinks Jews should be,” Kahn says. “Will this rabbi forego his proselytizing orientation in order to work with Jews in the service given where they are without trying to make them lovers of Chabad? If he can’t forego the proselytizing he should not be a chaplain.” In a separate but related issue, the Chabad chaplain would have to think through his response to troops who have been raised as Jews by a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. “Will this rabbi tell them they are not Jewish and have to convert to be considered Jewish? I think that, too, should be resolved before a chaplain gets accepted into the Chaplain Corps.”
Other thoughts on the subject?