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Discrimination Against non-Christian Chaplains in U.S. Army Prohibited, 1862

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

On This Day in Jewish History: July 17th, 1862




Legislation abolishing discrimination against the service of Chaplains who were not Christians in the US army became a law #onthisday paving the path for Rabbis to become chaplains in the army.


In July 1861, a law was passed in Congress that required each regiment to have a chaplain who was ordained as any type of Christian minister. This was met with protest by the Jewish community in America who felt that they should have rabbis in the Army for the thousands of Jewish soldiers who were fighting in the Civil War.


The 65th regiment’s commander, days before the bill was passed in Congress, appointed Michael Allen, a Philadelphia Jewish businessman to be the chaplain. But when news reached the higher-ups he was forced to resign.


In his place, Rabbi Dr. Arnold Fischel, the Rabbi of Shearith Israel was appointed. But the War Department said no since he was Jewish. Rabbi Fischel decided to travel to the White House and speak with Abraham Lincoln himself. When President Lincoln heard that Rabbi Fischel was waiting on-line outside, he called him in immediately and saw the letters from many Republican politicians as well as petitions signed by Jews and non-Jews alike.


Lincoln decided that the law had to change and Congress agreed.


#onthisday an amendment to the bill stating that chaplains have to be ordained by “some religious denomination” passed Congress. On September 18, 1862 Rabbi Jacob Frankel (image 2) of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, was commissioned as the chaplain for a hospital in Philadelphia after two Jewish soldiers died there without a rabbi by their side. President Lincoln himself signed Rabbi Frankel’s commission.



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