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  • The Fighting Rabbis: Jewish Military Chaplains and American History
  • Samuel Weingart
The Fighting Rabbis: Jewish Military Chaplains and American History, by Albert Isaac Slomovitz. New York: New York University Press, 1999. 171 pp. $35.00.

Rabbi Slomovitz's book The Fighting Rabbis is not only a stirring tribute to the bravery, heroism, and tenacity of American Jewish military chaplains in the face of war, hardship, and privation, but equally so, it is an eloquent testimony to the highest princi ples of patriotism and humanitarianism displayed on the part of the American Jewish community in supporting its military chaplains. Time and time again, as Rabbi Slomovitz chronicles, American Jewry had to stand firm against the forces of bigotry and prejudice that called into question the patriotism and loyalty of American Jews to the United States. The efforts of American Jews to win the right to have Jewish military chaplains serving in the armed forces, beginning with the Civil War, are carefully noted and described by Rabbi Slomovitz.

In the five decades between the Civil War and World War I, the American Jewish community, in striving to gain equal acceptance and recognition of the efforts and sacrifices of Jewish military personnel, including chaplains, had to deal with several significant historical developments. These were an increase in antisemitism in America, which led to Jews being falsely accused of being unpatriotic and not serving in the armed forces; the increasing number of immigrant soldiers entering into the American [End Page 188] military, whose spiritual needs had to be met; and the rapidly expanding growth of Jewish communal organizations. Certainly the valorous deeds of Jewish military personnel, the extraordinary efforts of Jewish military chaplains, and the coordinated and vigorous campaigning of such Jewish communal organizations as the Young Men's Hebrew and Kindred Associations, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the United Synagogue of America, and the Union of Orthodox Congregations, among others, were all instrumental in gaining for American Jews and their chaplains full recognition and support from the United States government and the military establishment.

While the great heroism and bravery of Rabbi Alexander Goode and his non-Jewish chaplain colleagues on the torpedoed U.S.S. Dorchester in 1943 is well known, Rabbi Slomovitz also recounts, in a very moving and compelling manner, similar stories of Jewish chaplains from the battlefields of the Civil War to the Gulf War, who were willing to, and often did, give their lives to assist and save other military personnel in the most harrowing circumstances of military combat.

The level of cooperation between Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic chaplains, whether in peace time or in war, is movingly chronicled by Rabbi Slomovitz. The following account is typical of the work performed by military chaplains during the rigors of combat, regardless of denomination. During the Korean war, Chaplain Allen Neuman described what was part of his ministry: “There in a shallow trench were the men who had been waiting for hours for us to come and get them. They were all seriously wounded. We had to decide which ones we would take and which ones would be left to the next trip. A decision like that might mean the difference between life and death for some of them. . . . Broken legs, missing legs, torn bodies, dirty wounds, all were common to those who depended upon our skill and judgment for some chance to live” (p. 110). For the chaplains, this became a regular part of their military chaplaincy.

Rabbi Slomovitz's book is made more impressive by the fact that he himself is the Senior Chaplain at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. What distinguishes The Fighting Rabbis is that it is not only the historical quest of American Jews to have a military chaplaincy, but that the author presents the Jewish effort to win such acceptance as part of the larger struggle to establish a military chaplaincy for other religious bodies as well. By drawing upon extensive historical sources, Rabbi Slomovitz succeeds in accomplishing this task. In peace time, as in war, the Jewish military presence and those rabbis who served and continue to serve under the American flag supporting...

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