Thanks in part to help from a local organization that assists Jewish military personnel and their families, a bearded Rabbi will finally be sworn into service as an Army chaplain in Miami on Friday, reports Chabad.org.
Rabbi Menachem Stern has wanted to be an Army chaplain since 2008, but was compelled to file a federal lawsuit when his swearing in was repeatedly delayed because of his beard. Though short, it sprouts in bold opposition to military codes for dress and appearance.
With assistance from the Surfside-based Aleph Institute, a Chabad-Lubavitch organization deputized to recruit and vet chaplains, Rabbi Stern fought the Army as far as he could. But despite pleas from Jewish Senators Charles Schumer, Kristen Gillibrand and Joe Lieberman, he didn't get far enough to follow his calling as the Army kept demanding he shave.
Citing the case of Col. Jacob Goldstein, a bearded Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who was granted a one-time exception 33 years ago, and the Army's waiving of dress code for several Sikh men and a Muslim to keep beards and turbans on active duty, he ultimately filed a federal lawsuit last December arguing that the Army was violating his Constitutional rights to religious freedom and equal protection under the law.
The Army just recently settled the case, allowing Rabbi Stern to become just the 10th Jewish rabbi on active duty in the chaplaincy. He told Chabad.org he believes the shortage of rabbis played into the decision, but that his fight will help him serve.
"A soldier, whether they're Jewish or not, will see someone who is serious and standing by his faith without compromise," he explained. "They'll respect that person and come to trust him."
Because the effort to admit the Brooklyn-based father of three was centered in Miami, Stern's historic swearing-in as Chaplain, First Lieutenant will take place Friday morning at 10 a.m. at The Shul, 9540 Collins Ave.
"This is a huge victory for religious freedom in the military," said Chabad.org's Rabbi Motti Seligson. "Enlisting a bearded chaplain into the U.S. Army is a sign of a major change of culture in the military, one of more acceptance."