Rabbi Wins Right To Become Army ChaplainFiled under Employment Law
An Orthodox Jewish rabbi who was barred from serving as an Army chaplain because he refused to shave his beard, which is required by his faith, has won the right to serve as a military chaplain. Rabbi Menachem Stern of Brooklyn will be officially admitted to the chaplaincy in a ceremony at The Shul Jewish Community Center in Surfside, Florida.
According to a federal lawsuit filed by Rabbi Stern, he was initially accepted by the Army to serve as a chaplain but notified later that it was rescinding its offer on account of the fact that he has a beard. Rabbi Stern, who has ministered in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, taught at a Hebrew school, volunteered as an EMT and directed children’s summer camps, believed that the military chaplaincy would offer him an opportunity “to make the world a better place with acts of goodness and kindness.”
After filing the lawsuit, the Army agreed to accommodate Rabbi Stern by allowing him to serve as a chaplain. Observers noted that it is only the second time ever — and the first in 30 years — that a bearded Jewish rabbi has been granted an exemption to serve as a military chaplain. Army regulations require men to be clean-shaven except for neatly trimmed mustaches as part of a long list of grooming standards. However, like many Orthodox Jews, Rabbi Stern does not shave because he believes a passage in Leviticus — “Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor trim the edges of your beard” — specifically outlaws it.
Rabbi Stern’s lawsuit accurately noted that, aside from another rabbi in the 1970s, a handful of Sikh and Muslim chaplains have been granted exemptions from the beard ban in recent years. Additionally, it notes that members of the Special Forces are routinely granted exemptions, purportedly for missions in the Arab world, where a beard could allow a soldier to blend in more easily.
Rabbi Sanford Dresin, a retired Army chaplain, noted that if the military can live with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it should certainly be able to live with a few bearded rabbis. Commenting on the Army’s decision to permit him to serve, Rabbi Stern stated: “I was expecting that I would be accepted the way I am, not that I would have to fight and make headlines.”
Addressing this case that was filed on Rabbi Stern’s behalf by the Aleph Institute, Paul Padda of Paul Padda Law, PLLC noted that it was gratifying that the Army came to the right decision. “No one should be excluded because of their religious beliefs, especially when they desire to serve their country as Rabbi Stern certainly wanted to do” stated Padda. Padda further added, “at this firm we are dedicated to protecting the rights of people, especially when it comes to religious beliefs.” “The military, like the rest of the country, is becoming more diverse,” stated Padda who added “I’m glad the Army realized that Rabbi Stern is someone that should be welcomed rather than excluded.”