A bearded rabbi has won his legal suit against the US Army, which conditioned his being a chaplain on his face being hairless.
Rabbi Menachem M. Stern, a father of three, has been trying to become a U.S. Army chaplain since August 2008 and finally will get his wish this Friday in a swearing-in ceremony, to be followed by a course at the military chaplain school.
The Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi had been turned down because of military dress codes, even though another Chabad rabbi kept his beard while serving as an Army Reserve chaplain.
The Aleph Institute, a Chabad-Lubavitch organization that assists Jewish military personnel, Jewish inmates and their families, and Senators Charles E. Schumer, Kristen Gillibrand and Joseph Lieberman, were unable to convince the military to allow Rabbi Stern the same privilege.
Rabbi Stern finally filed a civil a lawsuit last year, arguing that the army was violating his freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The military finally gave in and will make Rabbi Stern the 10th active duty Army rabbi-chaplain.
Rabbi Sanford Dresin, a career Army chaplain for more than 26 years who now serves as director of military programs for Aleph, told the Chabad website earlier this year that there are only “about 37 Jewish chaplains in the entire U.S. armed forces, including the reserves."
“There’s always the possibility of being deployed somewhere overseas,” said Rabbi Dresin. But Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries are willing to go anywhere for the sake of their mission, “which is exactly what chaplaincy is all about.”
A case example, he added, were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who were among those murdered in the Mumbai massacre terrorist attack three yards ago.
“The military would benefit from the selflessness exhibited by emissaries like the Holtzbergs in Mumbai and other young couples who would go anywhere,” said Rabbi Dresin.