The American Jewish chaplain experience: historical perspectives

by David P. Rosenberg, Senior Reference Librarian - Collections, Center for Jewish History

Many things come to the minds of Americans when they think of Abraham Lincoln: the story of the apple tree and the nickname “honest Abe,” the address at Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation. One thing that may not immediately come to mind is the fight for religious freedom that Lincoln fought amidst the perils of war. Rabbi Benjamin Szold (1829-1902) said in his eulogy for Lincoln: “To us Jews Lincoln has a special meaning. In the course of history we found many father-lands. We never knew freedom. It was here in the United States that we found freedom. It was Lincoln, who was so devoted to freedom…” (from The presidents of the United States & the Jews / by David G. Dalin & Alfred J. Kolatch. p. 80

One of Lincoln’s most significant gestures was his revocation of General Ulysses S. Grant’s order No. 11, which expelled “The Jews, as a class” from the Treasury Department of Tennessee. (ibid p. 77) In addition to his support of Jews in the military—exemplified when he tapped Uriah P. Levy, who helped to abolish corporal punishment in the Navy, to the Courts-Martial board in Washington (ibid p. 75)—Lincoln encouraged Jews to serve as military chaplains. He first met with Rabbi Dr. Arnold Fischel 150 years ago yesterday. Click here to see “Rabbi-Chaplains of the Civil War” by Karen Abbott of the New York Times, which cites material from the American Jewish Historical Society collections here at the Center.

The Center for Jewish History houses a wealth of material on the American Jewish chaplain experience. Each of our five partners has material on the subject:

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From the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society
Correspondence from Arnold Fischel to Henry I. Hart, December 13, 1861, Board of Delegates of American Israelites records,I-2, Box 2, Folder 5.

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From the collections of Yeshiva University Museum,
Gift of Rabbi Abraham Avrech

Korean War Chaplain Rabbi Abraham Avrech’s dress uniform 1950s

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From the collections of the American Sephardi Federation
Responsa in War Time 

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From the collections of the Leo Baeck Institute

From doom to dawn; a Jewish chaplain’s story of displaced persons

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Library of the YIVO institute for Jewish research
The fighting rabbis:  Jewish military chaplains and American history among other works. 

Learn more by searching the catalog at search.cjh.org or sending an inquiry: inquiries@cjh.org.