First Jewish Woman in Chaplaincy Program

While the Conservative movement debates the acceptability of women as rabbis, the chairman of its Rabbinical Assembly Delegation to the National Jewish Welfare Board’s Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy has endorsed the request of a woman Reconstructionist rabbinical student to participate in the U.S. Army’s seminarian program for future chaplains.

Although Jewish chaplains are still 100% male, rabbinical student Bonnie Koppell now holds the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserve. She has three more years of school but will go on reserve duty after a 45-day training program at the Army Chaplain School during the coming year. She says that part of the appeal is that “in the Army, you’re the boss. You make the final decisions, not a congregation where 300 congregants are boss.”

Rabbi Judah Nadich of New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue, chairman of the RA Delegation to the chaplaincy commission, accepted Koppell’s application since there are no Reconstructionist delegates on the commission. He pointed out that Koppell had requested approval only for the seminarian program, not endorsement as a woman rabbi seeking to become a chaplain. “Personally,” Nadich said, “without reference to the commission, I would vote in favor of a woman chaplain just as I would for a woman rabbi.”