Conflict Between Belief, Regs Prevents Jewish Chaplain
The Wall Street Journal picks up on a story covered here previously: Rabbi Menachem Stern has been trying to become a US military Chaplain, but is currently unable because he wears a beard as a tenet of his faith.
The 28-year-old rabbi was notified last year that he had been accepted as a chaplain in the Army Reserve. Almost immediately, Army officials contacted him to say the acceptance was a clerical mistake, and that unless he was willing to shave his beard, he couldn’t join. As a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi, Mr. Stern refused, saying the beard is a tenet of his faith.
For nearly a year now, [Stern] has been trying to get a waiver to the regulation barring beards.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “I’m not asking them to bend any rules, but, rather, do what’s been done before and issue a waiver. What’s taking them so long?”
Stern’s understanding of the military is somewhat lacking, however. Neither he nor any other person is entitled to an exception to the rules. The fact that the Army has made similar exceptions in the past is irrelevant to each new case; otherwise, the exception would become the rule.
The article has an interesting aside on military beards, even noting Ulysses S. Grant’s. It also indicates New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has come out on Stern’s side, saying
no American should have to choose between his religion and service to our country.
That’s a somewhat broad statement, of course. No one has yet to suggest any other military member’s religion takes priority over military regulations. For example, Stern wants to be a Chaplain — but what of those who share his faith who want to join as line Soldiers, Sailors, or Airmen?
There is certainly the possibility the US military will one day alter its grooming standards to allow such accoutrements. Until then, however, the rule has been, and remains, that the military accommodates religious practice to the extent the mission allows. The regulations currently say the mission requires that military members not wear beards. Those who want to wear a beard in the military may seek an exception to the rule, but such an exception is not guaranteed.