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Posted at 2:04 PM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Rabbi sues Army over beard ruling

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Editors

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi from Brooklyn sued the U.S. Army Wednesday for denying him a commission to serve as an Army chaplain because his faith prohibits him from shaving his beard.

Menachem M. Stern of the Chabad-Luvabitch community, a Hasidic group in Brooklyn, alleges in federal court in the District that the Army at first approved his application to serve as chaplain in June 2009 and appointed him a reserve commissioned officer (first lieutenant), before rescinding the appointment that September citing the Army's "no-beard" regulation.

Stern's attorneys, Nathan and Alyza D. Lewin of the District, say that since then, the Army has granted a waiver to two Sikh captains and an enlisted man, who were permitted to wear a turban and beard in uniform, and an unnamed, bearded Muslim officer who has served as a surgical intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Stern says the Army rules, which only apply on entering service and can be waived for those who cannot shave for medical reasons, are discriminatory and violate the Constitution, especially because waivers have been granted to Sikh and Muslim soldiers. The federal courts in 1976 barred the Air Force from enforcing its beard ban against an Orthodox Jewish chaplain, his suit added.

A spokesman for the Army did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) wrote Army Secretary John McHugh about Stern's case, the suit said, and were told that current Army grooming standards do not allow beards.

By Spencer S. Hsu  | December 8, 2010; 2:04 PM ET
Categories:  Spencer S. Hsu  
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There are good reasons that beards are not allowed, the most important being that it prevents sealing the gas mask. If you have a beard and there is a chemical attack, you will die. Even men who get a medical waiver have to keep the beard very, very short for this reason.

If the Army has already granted waivers to other men for religious reasons, then they don't have good cause to tell this Chaplain he can't have one too. Gotta be consistent.

Personally, I think the best consistency is achieved by not granting any waivers other than medical. No turbans, yarmulkes, headscarves, hijab, whatever. There IS an allowance for religious medallions.

The Army is a very uniform place. It's also all-volunteer. If you can't fit in then please take your "Army of Me" and go home.

Posted by: Lila1 | December 8, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Actually, those Sikhs brought something to the table that I doubt the Rabbi has in his favor. Every one of them is natively fluent in Hindi and/or Arabic. These skills are highly desirable in the military and were a major part of the reason their waivers were accepted.

Posted by: HappyArmyWife | December 8, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I have a photo of U.S. Grant on the wall with a beard. The Rabbi is right. Dumb regulation or at least misguided.

Posted by: jobandon | December 8, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

I have a photo of U.S. Grant on the wall with a beard. The Rabbi is right. Dumb regulation or at least misguided.

Posted by: jobandon | December 8, 2010 6:35 PM
Your ignorance is evident. Beards are not allowed in the modern army because a soldier would not be able to properly seal a gas-mask. In an era of insurgents and asymmetric warfare, anything is possible.

Personally I am sick to my stomach that the Army is kowtowing to all these different interest groups. The Military is all volunteer and professional. If one does not want to shave their beard or take off their turban due to religious reasons that is their prerogative. However, they should not expect to enter the military.

Posted by: jab00 | December 8, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

All three Sikh recruits finished basic training this year and were able to accomplish all the requirements, including sealing a gas mask. See for the story. You can ask the Army.

Posted by: anjukaur1 | December 9, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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