The March 29th, 2017 issue of Hamodia featured an article in the “Features” section entitled “The Battle for Beards” about the struggle waged by several frum military chaplains to wear beards in the military.
In the May 24th, 2017 issue, Hamodia published a letter from Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Jonathan J. Klein, Esq., who argued that, in his opinion, “the battle of for beards is one that ought not to be fought,” since wearing beards (a) contravenes uniform grooming standards in the Armed Forces; (b) interferes with protective gas masks; and (c) since the chaplains’ fight for beards on religious grounds is based on the representation to policy makers that halacha prohibits shaving and that claims makes him and other Torah-true but beardless Jewish soldiers look like irreligious phonies, to which he takes great offense.
In the May 30th, 2017 issue of Hamodia, Chaplain (Colonel) Jacob Goldstein, US Army (Ret.) responded to concerns (a) and (b) and in the June 7th 2017 issue of Hamodia, Rabbi Moshe Wiener responded to issue (c).
Following are the texts of those responses:
Response by Chaplain (Colonel) Jacob Goldstein, US Army (Ret.)
The recent response by LTC Jonathan J. Klein, a retired JAG Officer, to “The Battle for Beards” (Features, “Got You Covered,” 2 Nisan 5777/March 29, 2017), demands a response to his misstatements and innuendo. Although a thorough rebuttal to his piece would take several pages, I wish to address the most egregious comments.
“The battle for the beards is one that ought not to be fought.”
How wrong you are and as an Army lawyer you should know better. Let me refresh your memory. Rabbi Michell Geller, z”l, was an Air Force Reserve Chaplain who had a trimmed beard which he wore proudly in uniform on his base for many years. When a new base commander issued him an ultimatum — cut off your beard or get out, he refused and sued in Federal court. He won and was reinstated.
I entered the Army and was accepted, with my full untrimmed beard, based upon that court decision at the time. Six months into my service, the Chief of Army Personnel said it was a mistake and told me to shave or leave. I decided to engage a lawyer to retain my beard and serve my country. After 18 months, I was victorious and was granted a waiver for my beard. I have attached the letter sent by the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army approving the wearing of my unshorn beard while on duty.
As a JAG officer, you should know the Army Shulchan Aruch AR 670-1, however, you should know where the grooming regulations are found. It is not there; it is in AR 600-20 Para5-6a (h) (6), dated 6 Nov 2014. There you will find the latest updated beard grooming regulations which also include permission for Sikh turbans and beards. Army regulations should be properly quoted especially if you use them to bolster your comments.
You are also wrong when you state that one cannot mask properly wearing a beard. I went through the gas chamber on various occasions with my mask and hood on and was given a PET test which is the most accurate mask seal test, and I passed. Since 9/11, I deployed four times, twice to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. All times prior to deployment I went through the gas chamber and passed the test. Chaplain (Cpt) Mendy Stern currently assigned to Ft. Hood, has a full beard the same as I do; he too underwent full masking under the watchful eyes of many people at Ft. Jackson and passed with flying colors. Your statement and premise are both wrong.
I proudly served my country for 38 years and retired two years ago. Deployed in combat zones six times for long periods of time, I never had an issue with my beard especially in the Middle East where more than one General told me it is an asset to our forces. The thousands of troops in the various Commands I served in gave me the greatest respect for wearing my beard while in uniform. They all knew that I was a Jewish Chaplain as I wore the Jewish Chaplain’s insignia on my uniform.
My goal was to make a kiddush Hashem every day I wore the uniform and with the brachah of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, I feel I accomplished that mission.
Chaplain (Col) Jacob Goldstein,
US Army – Ret.
Response by Rabbi Moshe Wiener
I would like to reply to Jonathan J. Klein, Esq., Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve (Retired), who disapproves of soldiers who fight for the right to keep their beards.
Klein was replying to “The Battle for Beards,” waged by some military chaplains (Features, “Got You Covered,” 2 Nisan 5777/March 29, 2017) Regarding the issue of beards in the military, there is a minimal level of alignment between the concerns relevant to the military and those associated with the allowance of beards in prisons.
In 1985, the issue of the prohibition of beards longer than one inch in the New York State prison system was the subject of a federal court case which eventually was elevated to Supreme Court consideration.
I served as an expert witness in that case (qualified based on having authored what the court considered a scholarly work on the topic [the sefer, Hadras Panim Zakan]) and testified regarding the significance of the beard in Jewish law and whether the proscription of wearing a full beard constitutes a violation of religious rights. Ultimately, forcing the prisoner to cut off his beard was declared unconstitutional by the federal District Court.
The issue of whether a Jewish soldier should insist and campaign to wear a beard in a secular army has already been ruled upon by the most universally accepted and revered halachic authority of modern times, namely, the saintly Chofetz Chaim. One of the sefarim of the Chofetz Chaim is entitled Machne Yisroel, a handbook for Jewish soldiers in the Russian army, in which the Chofetz Chaim strove to be as lenient as possible, due to the immense pressure and torment Jewish soldiers were exposed to, as explained in the introduction.
Yet despite the extreme extenuating circumstances of the Russian army, the Chofetz Chaim writes (in Chapter 13) that Jewish soldiers should not even trim their beards with scissors to make them shorter, even if they are persecuted or suffer major monetary damages as a result of keeping their full beard.
If the Chofetz Chaim ruled thus regarding Jewish soldiers in the oppressive, anti-Semitic Russian army, how much more so should a Jewish soldier in the U.S. Army emphatically insist on wearing a full beard and crusade for that right.
The U.S. Army prides itself on being inclusive and accommodating whenever possible. They want Jews to enlist. They want and need Rabbis to service the religious needs of those Jews. Many Rabbis feel strongly that a beard is a religious requirement. The fact that there are some Rabbis who do not, does not make it correct to exclude those Rabbis that do. Moreover, it is laudable not only from the army’s standpoint of inclusiveness, but also from the standpoint of religious obligation — the Jewish concept of arvus — for Rabbis to put their careers on hold, and risk their lives, to minister to their fellow Jews who are serving their country. The fact that there may be Rabbis without beards is not an answer. That’s like saying, “I don’t need to help my fellow Jew — someone else will do it!”
Add to that the pragmatic fact that a very large proportion of Orthodox Jewish chaplains in the armed forces come from Chabad, and therefore subscribe to the view that beards are mandatory in Halachah. If beards were prohibited, many would be precluded from serving in that vital role and there would likely be a severe shortage of frum chaplains, leaving many Jewish soldiers at the mercy of non-Orthodox or even non-Jewish clergymen, R”l!
Rabbi Moshe Wiener