Battle for Beards, II

As I was away from home for Shavuos, it was not until June 6 that I saw retired Army Reserve Chaplain (COL) Jacob Goldstein’s response (5 Sivan 5777/May 30, 2017) to my recently published letter to the editor regarding beards in the military. Please permit me the brief opportunity to defend myself against his accusations that I made misstatements and that I cited the wrong Army regulation regarding grooming standards.

I made no misstatements. Just as I wrote, AR 670-1, “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,” dated 31 March 2014, is, in fact, the regulation which governs grooming standards, including, specifically, Paragraph 3-2a(1)(b), which addresses hairstyles, and Paragraph 3-2a(2)(b), which addresses facial hair. Paragraph 3-2 is one of the paragraphs of the regulation which is punitive, meaning that violations may subject offenders to adverse administrative action, and/or criminal charges under the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The regulation which Chaplain Goldstein incorrectly claims is “where grooming regulations are found,” AR 600-20, is, rather, the regulation which contains provisions dealing with accommodating religious practices. Chaplain Goldstein cites the wrong paragraph of that regulation with respect to the accommodation of beards worn for religious reasons.

It is not, as he said, Paragraph 5-6a(h)(6). No such subparagraph even exists. He probably meant to say Paragraph 5-6h(4)(i)(5), which accords limited grandfathering status to his beard. It states, “The Army’s grooming standards are contained in AR 670–1. (Emphasis added.) Religious-based exceptions to policy previously given Soldiers under the provisions of this regulation prior to 1 January 1986 continue in effect as long as the affected Soldiers remain otherwise qualified for retention. However, Soldiers previously granted authority to wear unshorn hair, unshorn beard, or permanent religious jewelry prior to 1 January 1986 will not be assigned PCS [Permanent Change of Station] or TDY [Temporary Duty] out of CONUS [Continental United States] due to health and safety considerations.”

Paragraph 5-6i(1) provides, “Requests for religious accommodation of wear and appearance of the uniform, personal appearance, and personal grooming practices of AR 670–1 (emphasis added) may only be approved or disapproved by the Sec[retary of the] Army or the designee.” I am happy to hear that, b’siyatta diShmaya, Chaplain Goldstein and Chaplain Stern managed to seal their protective masks over their beards, but in the Army’s experience, the success of those two individuals has not generally been replicated. If sealing a protective mask over a beard were no problem, the Army would not be spending untold sums on the research and development of protective gear which can be worn over a beard.

As for whether the iconoclastic appearance of a bearded soldier in a military society that has been steeped in a clean-shaven tradition for more than 100 years (since World War I), and whether joining the Army and then suing it to overturn its regulations, are things which create a kiddush Hashem is an observation and opinion on which Chaplain Goldstein and I clearly differ.

I have now also read the letter of the well-known Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Wiener (12 Sivan 5777/June 6, 2017), regarding a 1985 case involving the limitation on the length of beards — not a “prohibition of beards,” as Rabbi Wiener wrote — in the New York State prison system in which he testified as an expert witness.

It is an interesting bit of legal history, but even Rabbi Wiener concedes, in an understatement, that the policies of the New York State prison system and the U.S. Army have but “a minimal level of alignment.” In fact, that case involved principles of legal analysis which are not the same as those which apply in the context of the enforceability of military regulations.

He also discusses the writings of the Chofetz Chaim in Machneh Yisrael on trimming a beard with scissors in the Czarist Russian army. As that sefer was published in 1881, one can only wonder — it would be improper to speculate — what the Chofetz Chaim would have said about a soldier using an electric shaver to comply with a military regulatory requirement to shave, as the electric shaver was not patented until nearly half a century later, in 1930.

Finally, I recognize that Chabad’s Aleph Institute has done great work in opening a new frontier in its shlichus mission by recruiting its Rabbis into the military chaplaincy. But the fact that, as Rabbi Wiener writes, Chabad “subscribe[s] to the view that beards are mandatory in Halachah,” does not change the fact that many halachic authorities do not hold that view; nor does it make it appropriate, in my opinion, to impose that view on the military services.

Jonathan J. Klein, Esq., Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve (Retired)