After a yearlong legal battle, Rabbi Menachem Stern will be enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces as a chaplain this Friday.
Stern has wanted to be an army chaplain since August 2008, but said the U.S. Army initially refused to accept him unless he shaved his beard in accordance with official military codes for dress and appearance. In keeping with Jewish teachings regarding preserving a man’s facial hair, the Chabad-Lubavich rabbi refused to comply.
In 2009, Stern received preliminary approval for a reserve commission, but was told his swearing-in would be delayed as a result of unresolved issues regarding his facial hair.
He sought the assistance of U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer, Kristen Gillibrand and Joseph Lieberman, as well as that of the Aleph Institute, a Chabad-Lubavich organization that assists Jewish military personnel, Jewish inmates and their families. But despite their efforts, they were not able to secure Stern an exemption.
Failing that, Stern filed a federal lawsuit last December, accusing the army of violating his Constitutional rights to religious freedom and equal protection under the law.
The court case was recently settled.
Proud of his breakthrough, Stern said he believes his unwillingness to compromise on religious principles will serve as an inspiration to fellow military men.
“A soldier, whether they’re Jewish or not, will see someone who is serious and standing by his faith without compromise,” said Stern. “They’ll respect that person and come to trust him.”
According to Stern, there is a shortage of Jewish chaplains in the U.S. Army, even though there are many rabbis who would love to serve, but their beards get in the way.
Stern’s formal commission ceremony will take place this Friday at the Aleph Institute’s headquarters in South Florida. He intends on requesting active duty upon completion of chaplain school.
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