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The Schmooze

New York Rabbi Sues Army Over Beard Ruling

Has the U.S. Army set a double standard by refusing to allow an Orthodox rabbi to serve as a chaplain because he won’t shave his beard?

Menachem Stern’s lawyers think so. Attorneys Nathan and Alyza D. Lewin told the Washington Post that the Army “has granted a waiver to two Sikh captains and an enlisted man, who were permitted to wear a turban and beard in uniform, and an unnamed, bearded Muslim officer who has served as a surgical intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

Stern alleges in District of Columbia federal court that the Army at first approved his application to serve as chaplain in June 2009 and appointed him a reserve commissioned officer (first lieutenant) — before rescinding the appointment that September citing the Army’s “no-beard” regulation, the article says.

“While they’re stalling me, they’re taking in other religions, for instance, Sikhs and Muslims with beards and turbans at the same time,” Stern, a naturalized US citizen from Israel, said. “At that point, my question became, ‘Who says yes and who says no?’ It shows how in a great institution such as the Army, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

According to Army Times, Stern, an adherent to the “ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidism,” is suing with the support of the Aleph Institute, a Florida-based endorsing agency for Jewish chaplains that has ties to Chabad. Rabbi Sanford Dresin, director of military programs for the Aleph Institute, told Army Times he first tried to persuade Army leaders to be more accommodating in light of the service’s low number of Jewish chaplains.

Orthodox web site Chabad.info, which is not affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch, is calling the Army’s selective issuing of waivers “ridiculous.” The same Army “issued waivers to convicted felons when it was struggling to meet recruitment goals. The cons got their waivers before taking the oath,” according to an editorial on the web site. “There are more than 100 religions represented in the Army ranks, including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Wiccans. Many have special grooming or clothing standards that conflict with Army regulations… Why not a rabbi?”

Army Times reports there is one bearded Jewish chaplain — Reserve Col. Jacob Goldstein — who is allowed to have a beard under Army regulations because it was approved before 1986.

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