Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
February 2005

Jewish Chaplaincy

A couple of weeks ago Rabbi Jack Frank gave the guest sermon on the topic of Jewish chaplaincy. Rabbi Frank is a skilled, veteran rabbi, who completed a doctorate in pastoral counseling and has additional training in hospital chaplaincy which included academic and clinical training. This is in addition to his training in Talmud, halakha, and Jewish studies as part of his rabbinic training. Training and experience in education is also a plus for a chaplain.

Chaplaincy is a specialty that requires training after one is ordained or finished with the academic religious preparation. The National Association of Jewish Chaplains and other religious based professional organizations require at least a master's degree in addition to religious ordination (simikhah). The masters or doctorial program includes academic, clinical, and self awareness training. The era of professional, full-time trained hospital chaplains is about 55 years old. The mitzvah of bikur holim (visiting the sick) was given to all Jews. We are required to help the patient to the best of our ability. Hospital patients are visited by their rabbi and members of their congregation. I remember an aunt who took this obligation seriously and spent time each week visiting the patients in Jewish Hospital. I gave her a small book to aid in her visits. When she passed away I found the book and it was well worn. While these visits are very important, the rabbi or congregational visitors had limitations as to what they could do behind the scenes. Because of privacy laws these people can not do perform all the services that a hospital employed chaplain can do.

Jewish chaplaincy as a profession started with the military. In times of danger and distress many people turn toward their faith. Soldiers, away from home, did not have the spiritual support of family, friends, and congregations. The Continental Congress authorized the payment of chaplains in 1775. The first regular army chaplain was appointed following authorization by Congress in 1781. The first chaplains were all Protestants, though of many denominations. Catholics served in military posts as civilians during the time of the Mexican War of 1846. [fn 1] In July-August of 1861 Congress passed legislation to appoint chaplains to the Army. Thousands of Jews had volunteered for both the Union and Confederacy. The legislation stated that the chaplains had to a member of a Christian denomination. Members of Congress and the Jewish community were split as to whether this was discrimination or not. Dr Isaac Meyer Wise, who opposed the war, at first did very little about changing the legislation, but later in cooperation with Ohio representative Clement L. Vallandigham, fought to have the legislation changed on the basis that rabbis and priests can be just as good citizens of this country. [fn 2] Dr Arnold Fischel was appointed to lobby for Jewish representation in the chaplaincy. [fn 3] On March 12, 1862, the Senate passed legislation that abolished discrimination; however the House delayed passage for a few months. The bill became law on July 17, 1862.

In World War I the Jewish Welfare Board's purpose was to transcend organizational differences and help Jewish soldiers The JWB worked with the War Department to appoint chaplains and see to the religious needs of Jewish soldiers. Among the activities of the JWB was the distribution of ritual articles, siddurim, Bibles, and J.H. Hertz's Book of Jewish Thoughts, to every soldier who asked. [fn 4] These actions established that professional chaplains could be appointed to serve those who had no congregational affiliations. Military chaplains were also appointed to military hospitals and this led directly to the appointment of non-military hospital chaplains.

There still is a need to answer the question, "Why do we need professional chaplains for spiritual care?" First there is a spiritual need in everyone. If we are well, we can attend shul, davan, and ask people for help. For well people the need for spiritual help may be unvoiced or tacit. In times of sickness or great distress, we may not know to whom to turn to. I remember when my father was sick in a hospital in Madison, WI. We had a pastoral visit from a local para-chaplain, who was not a hospital employee. Because we were not locals, he was able to help us with some of our religious needs. My mother was able to find a host for a Shabbat meal, while I returned to Chicago.

We have professional chaplains because--

1) Healthcare organizations are obligated to respond to spiritual needs of patients and their families. Spiritual help (religious observance) is important in the recovery or coping process.

2) Serious illness generates fear and loneliness that create spiritual needs that can't always be met by family and congregational rabbis.

3) Spiritual care and religious behaviors (read also halakha) play a significant role in family care when cure is not possible and people are questioning the meaning of life, death, and happiness.

4) Caregivers including doctors, nurses and other medical personal face life, death and sadness on a daily basis. They need someone to turn to when they are facing questions of life, death and quality of life.

5) When faced with ethical and moral concerns for the allocation of limited resources, the professional chaplain can help the caregivers and family sort through the options.

Professional chaplains give care in all kinds of medical situations including acute, long term, rehabilative, addictive, developmental disability cases, outpatient, inpatient, palliative, and end of life. The chaplain sometimes acts as an advocate for the religious, ethical, and spiritual needs to the medical staff or the patient's family.

Chaplains are trained to be sensitive to individual needs and differences. They are respectful of the religious practices of others even when they are different than theirs. They understand that caregivers are impacted by the patients. They have knowledge of medicine and the healthcare organization so that they can give qualified advice and options. They are accountable to their own religious authorities and organizations. Before starting training they need the approval of their religious organization. They are members of the patient care team. As part of this team they may be empathic ears or proactive in getting the best medical in the hospital and aftercare. They may sit in on ethics committee meetings to give ethical, religious, or Jewish law opinions.

Chaplains may also help in time of a simha such as help arranging for a brit milah for a baby born in the hospital. They may arrange for kosher food, Hanukah lights, meditation therapy, music therapy or other non-medical help.

Chaplains have the connections to hospital administrations and religious communities along with the training so that they can serve the needs of the patients, their families and the medical staff.

Sources for Additional Information:

Adler, Eric, "Hospital chaplains taking on greater roles." Saturday, July 18, 1998

Epstein, Sharon Selib. Visiting the sick : the mitzvah of bikers cholim. Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronson , 1999.

Friedman, Dayle A. Jewish pastoral care : a practical handbook from traditional and contemporary sources / edited by Dayle A. Friedman. Woodstock, VT : Jewish Lights Publishing, c2001.

The Jewish Chaplain's Resources for Chaplains, Physicians, Rabbis, Social Workers, Supervisors and Jewish Professionals Includes links to organizations, journals and lists of books for chaplains.

"Jewish Chaplains Spread Out for the High Holidays" posted Sept. 8, 2004.

National Association of Jewish Chaplains

Ozarowski, Joseph S. To Walk in God's Ways: Jewish Pastoral Perspectives on Illness and Bereavement. Northvale, NJ, Jason Aronson, 1995. Paper back edition published by: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2005.

Pickus, Abigail. :Jewish chaplains offer spiritual guidance" in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. October 1, 1999/21 Tishri 5760, Vol. 52, No.5

Rosman, Steven M. Jewish healing wisdom. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, c1997.

Schur, Tsvi G. Illness and crisis : coping the Jewish way. New York, NY : National Conference of Synagogue Youth, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, c1987.

Stern, Sholom. When words fail a religious response to undeserved hurt. Northvale, NJ : Jason Aronson, 1999.

Rothstein, Joseph. Meeting life's challenges with pastoral counseling : helping people cope / edited and with an introduction by Rabbi Joseph Rothstein ; with a foreword by Lloyd Setleis. New York : Vantage Press, 1986.

Teller, Chester Jacob. "Jewish Welfare Board," In American Jewish Yearbook, 1918-1919 v. 20. p. 88-102.


1. Few Jews fought in the war. Jacob Hirschorn wrote some reminiscences of being a 16 year old soldier in that conflict. See: Documentary history of the Jews in the United States, edited by Morris U. Schappes (New York, Citadel Press, 1952) p. 263-273.

2. For a full discussion of the controversy see American Jewry and the Civil War, by Bertram W. Korn. (Cleveland, World Publishing Company, 1961) p. 56-97.

3. Fischel's speech before the Senate Committee on Military Affairs may be found in Schappes, Morris. Ibid. p. 462-464.

4. It is very interesting to see a siddur published by the U.S. Government. These books are all condensed in content and size. While the JBW distributed books and religious supplies they did not give out tephillin. In a 1944 brochure published by the National Council of Young Israel, "A guide for orthodox servicemen" inductees were advised to bring their own tallit, tephillin and complete small siddur.

5. Adapted from: "Lecture Notes On Professional Chaplaincy" by George Grant, April 2003. (

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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 ©2005 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised March 10, 2005