June 20, 2008

Chaplaincy Takes All

A June 13 article accurately notes the growing need for Jewish chaplains in California and the fact that, as Rabbi Lon Moskowitz quite rightly states, there “simply aren’t enough chaplains to fill all the vacancies” (“Demand for Kosher Cuisine Swells Ranks of Jewish Prison Chaplains”). Indeed the need is even greater than that conveyed, given that the article focuses on Jews in prisons and, as such, did not mention the aging Jewish population in general and the increasing need for chaplains in hospitals and nursing homes.

But as disturbing as this is, what was more disturbing was the conveying of the all-too-common perception that only rabbis can be chaplains. Until fairly recently, Jewish chaplains were overwhelmingly ordained rabbis, and there has been real resistance among some to accept non-ordained colleagues, the feeling being that only clergy have the necessary religious training required to minister in this realm There are, however, opportunities for dedicated men and women to undertake training that combines serious Jewish learning and the pastoral and professional skills needed for chaplaincy.

Rabbi Mark Diamond of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California says that the board is seeking to recruit rabbis who can work with Jews across the denominational spectrum. This effort is half right: There’s a need for those who can work with all Jews across the denominational spectrum — but they do not necessarily need to be rabbis.

Hagee Has Done Good

It was surprising to me that Leonard Fein resorted to the same base rhetoric for which he castigates Pastor John Hagee (“Our Hagee Problem Has Yet To Be Addressed,” June 6). To call his fellow Jews “cheap whores” because they are willing to accept money and welcome support of Israel from Hagee and his followers crosses the line of decency.

Hagee and members of his ministry have provided substantial financial resources to the very same organizations and causes for which mainstream Jewry labors tirelessly. These include funds for Israeli absorption centers and foster homes, hospitals and counseling centers. In the United States he has provided support for Holocaust education and for high school trips to Israel and for the March of the Living program.

Hagee’s distorted view of the causes of the Holocaust — no matter what theology he bases it upon — is unacceptable and needs to be repudiated. Since the time he delivered his ill-advised sermon nearly two decades ago, Hagee has acknowledged that his personal understanding of the Holocaust and other matters for which he has been justifiably criticized, such as his opinions on the Catholic Church, have changed and he has publicly apologized for his mistakes. How many of us, including Fein, would want to be held accountable for all of our views — written, visual or spoken — that we held 20 years ago?

If the Jewish community were smart about it, it would do its best to ignore Hagee on issues where we disagree and accept his financial support for the things we value most and for which Hagee’s church provides very generous support.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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June 20, 2008

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