WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — An Orthodox Jewish rabbi who was barred from serving as an Army chaplain because he refused to shave the beard required by his faith has won his legal fight against the military and will be sworn in today.

Rabbi Menachem Stern of Brooklyn will be officially admitted to the chaplaincy in a ceremony at The Shul Jewish Community Center in Surfside, Fla. Stern is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch movement of Judaism, whose rabbis are prohibited from shaving their beards.

“I felt this was my calling,” Stern said of the chaplaincy.

The rabbi saw an advertisement in late 2008 for military chaplains and attended a recruiter’s presentation. After consulting with his wife, he decided to apply in January 2009, making clear in his application he intended to keep his beard.

“Although we adapted to the modern world, we still maintain old-world values,” he wrote. “By not trimming my beard, I represent the unadulterated view of the holy Torah, the way we believe a person should live.”

Some Orthodox Jews don’t shave, believing a passage in Leviticus — “Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor trim the edges of your beard” — specifically outlaws it.

According to the lawsuit he would later file, Stern was alerted by both email and letter that he had been accepted. When he first got word, he said he jumped in the air, thrilled at the news.

A day after the latter mailing, though, the Army rescinded its offer, citing its prohibition on beards.

“To find out the following day that it was an error was a very big letdown,” he said.

Stern has ministered in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, taught at a Hebrew school, volunteered as an EMT and directed children’s summer camps. But he said he felt the military chaplaincy most fit his duty to “ make the world a better place with acts of goodness and kindness.”

Military chaplains provide spiritual counsel to soldiers who seek it. Jewish chaplains are often sent to war zones to celebrate the High Holy Days.



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