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The Fighting Rabbis

Jewish Military Chaplains and American History

Albert Slomovitz

Publication Year: 1998

Rabbi Elkan Voorsanger received the Purple Heart for his actions during the Battle of Argonne. Chaplain Edgar Siskin, serving with the Marines on Pelilu Island, conducted Yom Kippur services in the midst of a barrage of artillery fire. Rabbi Alexander Goode and three fellow chaplains gave their own lifejackets to panicked soldiers aboard a sinking transport torpedoed by a German submarine, and then went down with the ship.

American Jews are not usually associated with warfare. Nor, for that matter, are their rabbis. And yet, Jewish chaplains have played a significant and sometimes heroic role in our nation's defense.

The Fighting Rabbis presents the compelling history of Jewish military chaplains from their first service during the Civil War to the first female Jewish chaplain and the rabbinic role in Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. Rabbi Slomovitz, himself a Navy chaplain, opens a window onto the fieldwork, religious services, counseling, and dramatic battlefield experiences of Jewish military chaplains throughout our nation's history.

From George Washington's early support for a religiously tolerant military to a Seder held in the desert sands of Kuwait, these rabbis have had a profound impact on Jewish life in America. Also striking are original documents which chronicle the ongoing care and concern by the Jewish community over the last 140 years for their follow Jews, including many new immigrants who entered the armed forces. Slomovitz refutes the common belief that the U.S. military itself has been a hostile place for Jews, in the process providing a unique perspective on American religious history.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The mission involved danger, possibly death. The U.S. First Division expected to attack in the morning. The most likely battle area required a nighttime reconnaissance. Three officers led the patrol. Throughout the night they sent back messages by runners...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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1. The Genesis of the Chaplaincy

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pp. 1-9

The story of Jewish chaplains is part of the larger history of military spiritual leaders. From Biblical times to our own, soldiers and sailors have wanted their endeavors blessed by holy men and women. The American military chaplaincy, on the eve of the Civil...

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2. The First Military Rabbis: Fighting for Equality

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pp. 10-25

Religion played a crucial role in the Civil War. The prevailing religious ideologies of the North and South performed significant functions in the context of the war, inspiring those on both sides. Within the armed forces, the prevalence or lack of clerics played a...

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3. Fighting Anti-Semitism

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pp. 26-42

In the five decades that bridged the Civil War and the First World War, the attention and efforts of the Jewish community toward their coreligionists in the military expanded in a dramatic fashion. A number of reasons explain this heightened attention: an increase of...

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4. Rabbis in the Trenches

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pp. 43-62

When America entered the First World War, the Jewish community’s efforts to gain rabbinic representation in the armed forces came to fruition. The creation, growth, and subsequent work of the National Jewish Welfare Board represented the community’s dedication...

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5. The Interwar Years

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pp. 63-73

The years between the two world wars saw a marked increase in anti-Semitism. This society-wide prejudice caused lost employment opportunities, produced publicly printed and broadcast stereotypical attacks, and legitimized groups that advocated Nazism. Yet...

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6. The World at War Again

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pp. 74-108

By the onset of the Second World War, Jewish participation in the military had met several historical challenges. In the Civil War, the Jewish community had fought for rabbis to be legally included within the ranks of the chaplaincy. By the First World War...

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7. Adapting to a Changing World

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pp. 109-140

In the decades between 1945 and the present, the world has experienced continued warfare. Wars in Korea and Vietnam and the conflict known as Desert Storm have become known to entire generations of Americans. In each of these conflicts, the United States armed...

Appendix: Seeking God’s Presence

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pp. 141-148


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pp. 149-160


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pp. 161-168


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pp. 169-170

About the Author

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pp. 171-172

E-ISBN-13: 9780814786680
E-ISBN-10: 0814786685
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814780985
Print-ISBN-10: 0814780989

Page Count: 170
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 835511489
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Fighting Rabbis

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Military chaplains -- Judaism -- History.
  • Military chaplains -- United States -- History.
  • Rabbis -- United States -- History.
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