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Are You Interested in Becoming a US Military Chaplain?

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To Become a Military Chaplain, You Must Possess the Following Requirements:

  • Have a Bachelor’s degree with no less than 120 credits.
  • Have an accredited Master’s degree of no less than 72 credits. (In many cases, Semicha will provide a Master’s equivalence. Contact us for details.)
  • Obtain Endorsement from an Endorsing Agency (such as the Aleph Institute).
  • Be less than 47 years of age.*
  • Be mentally and physically fit.
  • Be a U.S. citizen. (Non-U.S. citizens with a green card are still eligible to join the Army Reserves,)
  • Be able to obtain a Secret Security Clearance.
  • Have a clean background check.

*can be waived

Salary Information:

To calculate the base pay that you will receive as a military chaplain, click here. Select O2 for your rank, unless you have significant rabbinic experience; in which case you should select O3.

In addition to base pay, there are many other wage increases available in specific circumstances, including: Separation pay, hazardous duty pay, housing allowances, and signing bonuses.

Benefits:

  • Medical and dental care for you and your family (TRICARE)
  • Up to $400,000 in low-cost life insurance
  • Earn military retirement benefits
  • Up to $80,000 Chaplain Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) to help pay off education loans
  • Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) and $350 MGIB-SR Kicker
  • Federal Tuition Assistance and Credentialing Assistance (Up to $4,000/year)
  • Free Academic Testing and Test Prep (SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, PRAXIS, OASC and CPST)
  • College Credit Equivalency Exams (CLEP and DSST)
  • Education Counseling Support
  • Discounted and tax-free grocery and shopping privileges at post exchanges and commissaries
  • Free military flights based on space availability
  • Access to recreational facilities on military installations

FAQs

What is a military chaplain?

A military chaplain is an officer with the following responsibilities:

  • Provide for religious accommodation and worship. This means that he directs worship of his own religion, and he gives direction and assists in the accommodation of those of other religions.
  • Provide confidential counseling to any service member or DoD civilian with whom his unit is associated.
  • Provide advice to command regarding issues of morality, spirituality, morale and religion.
  • Create programs to increase and uphold the morale of his unit.

What does "endorsement" mean?

“Endorsement” means that a religious body takes responsibility for your accreditation as a religious clergyman.

The Endorser is responsible to mentor and support his Endorsees throughout their careers. If an Endorsee ever finds himself in a difficult position, the Endorser has the ability to advocate for his Endorsees through the Chief of Chaplains office, and through other methods.

At the same time, should an endorsee ever do something egregiously at odds with the Endorser’s policies, the Endorser can pull an Endorsement, effectively ending the chaplain’s military career.

This system ensures that each religious body has a representative to communicate with the military to make sure the Endorsee never has to do anything against his religion, and ensures that the Endorsee must be upheld to the standards expected of him by his religion.

What are the qualifications to become a military chaplain endorsed by the Aleph Institute?

  • A military chaplain must be physically fit, and capable of passing his branch’s fitness test.
  • He must be a United States citizen. (Non-U.S. citizens with a green card are still eligible to join the Army Reserves.)
  • He must have a BA with a minimum of 120 credits and a MA with a minimum of 72 credits from accredited schools. (If his BA or MA are not from accredited schools, or if they are from foreign schools, he needs to get 3 wash letters from accredited schools that attest to the credibility of his documentation.) He needs transcripts from his studies as well.
  • He must have a reliable semicha. (In many cases, the semicha will serve as a Masters equivalent.)
  • He must have at least 2 years of rabbinical experience.
  • He must be commissioned by 42 years old (although age waivers may be available).
  • He must be capable of working amicably with Jews of any background, as well as those of other faiths.
  • He must not have a criminal record or have a disqualifying medical history.
  • The Aleph Institute only endorses Orthodox Jewish rabbis as chaplains.
  • The Aleph Institute only endorses married men for Active Duty positions.
  • He must agree to abide by the Aleph Chaplain’s Code of Conduct.

What are the qualities of a good chaplain?

All Aleph chaplains are expected to abide by our Code of Conduct. In addition to heeding to everything in that document, a good chaplain is sensitive to the needs of others, understands his role and does not stray from it, and works within his chain of command, always keeping them in the loop. He looks for opportunities to connect with military Jews and connect them with their heritage in a respectful and understanding manner. He works well with those of other faiths and is comfortable in largely non-Jewish environments. Additionally, he has tough skin and does not get ruffled when under pressure. He is capable of giving good counsel and advice, based on his understanding of the wisdom of Judaism. He is flexible, hard-working, and motivated.

What if I would like to become a military chaplain, but I do not have semicha yet?

You can join the military as a “Chaplain Candidate” while you get your semicha. In this program, you will come in with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant (or Ensign, in the Navy) and serve as a Reservist until you complete your studies successfully. You will be paid for your time in service. Afterwards, you will have no obligation to join the military; but if you do, you will be promoted to First Lieutenant (or Lieutenant Junior Grade in the Navy) and begin your career as a fully qualified chaplain.

For more on the chaplain candidate program, see here.

What is the difference between Active Duty, Traditional Reserves, Category B Reserves (IMA) and National Guard?

When a service member is in Active Duty, they are fully “owned” by the military. The military decides where they will live and when they will move. They have a full-time salary with full benefits. In a typical scenario, a AD service member will be moved to a new unit or station every 2-3 years.

In the Traditional Reserves, a service member “drills” with his unit one weekend a month, plus two weeks consecutively, typically during the summer.

The National Guard or Air National Guard works based on the same system as the Traditional Reserves, but you serve directly under the Governor of the State, unless the unit is “federalized.” In that case, you serve as a regular member of the US military. Besides for their Drill formations, Guardsmen are typically deployed in cases of state emergencies.

Category B Reservists, or Individual Mobilization Augmentees, are Reservists attached to Active Duty units. They serve for a minimum of 24 days a year; 12 of those consecutively. This is a more flexible option, and opportunities come up to serve other bases or units. The IMA program is associated with both the Air Force and the Army, but the Army does not allow brand new soldiers to serve in the IMA program.

How long does the process take? What does the process involve?

The process typically takes anywhere from 10 months upward, depending on many variables. The stages are:

  • Interviews with the Aleph Endorser, Rabbi Sanford Dresin, and his Assistant, Rabbi Elie Estrin.
  • You will work with a Recruiter and submit your paperwork to be screened and reviewed. This includes a background check, credit check and security clearance.
  • You will take a physical at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station).
  • You will process any religious accommodation requests (such as beard waivers, etc.).
  • After everything is cleared, your rank will be decided based on your previous experience, you will be assigned to a base and unit, and you will swear in.
  • At some point within the year, you will head to your initial training.

Do chaplains have military rank?

Yes. Chaplains are officers, and they serve within the unit as advisors to the command. Promotions are given based on schooling and the expected capability of the chaplain to fill the duties of the next rank. Promotion is not guaranteed; it must be earned.

The typical promotion schedule looks like this:

O1-O2: 2 years
O2-O3 – 1-2 years
O3-O4 – 8-10 years
O4-O5 – 4-6 years
O5-O6 – 4-6 years

There are only a handful of one star general chaplains, and the Chief of Chaplains of each branch is the only two star general chaplain.

Do chaplains go to Basic Training?

All new chaplains need to go to their branch Officer Training School and Chaplaincy School. The exact length of each school changes, but you can expect a total of 2-3 months away from home to complete your training. Family cannot come with you while you attend initial entry training.

Is military chaplaincy considered an official Chabad shlichus position?

Active Duty chaplains who affiliate with the Chabad movement can be accepted as Shluchim under Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch as long as they remain in Active Duty. Reservists and National Guardsmen are not.

How much do chaplains get paid?

Chaplains get paid in accordance with their rank, time in grade, and the amount of time they are in uniform. Active Duty chaplains are paid a full-time salary, including housing and benefits, while Reservists and Guardsmen are paid for the time they serve, including benefits. There is no difference in pay between the branches.

See here for the pay range of each rank.

What are the job benefits?

There are extensive benefits for military members – including healthcare, VA loans, the GI Bill, and much more. For more information, click here.

For chaplains, is there any difference between military branches?

The basic responsibilities are the same, but each branch has a different style of using their chaplains:

Army Chaplains:

With few exceptions, the Army assigns its chaplains to units (Battalions, Brigades etc.). At all echelons, Army Chaplains report directly to their immediate unit commander, while providing their specific religious support via a supervisory chaplain.

Navy Chaplains:

Navy chaplains spread their careers across shore installations and operational units in the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy also provides chaplains to the Coast Guard and have one billet with the Merchant Marines.  The chaplain is required to have direct access to the unit commander, but organizationally will fall under the Executive Officer or Chief of Staff, unless there is a senior chaplain in that unit.

Air Force Chaplains:

With a few exceptions, the Air Force attaches its chaplains to a base-wide chapel unit, which is part of the wing staff. The Wing Chaplain is the director of the chapel organization, and he reports to the wing commander. The wing chaplain typically has a deputy wing chaplain and a Senior Enlisted Member of the Chapel on his/her staff,  and the entire chapel team reports to them. Air Force Chaplains also serve in Space Force units. Occasionally, individual chaplains will be freed from the Chapel unit to work directly for a specific unit.

Do chaplains get combat training?

Chaplains are non-combatants, in accordance with the Geneva Convention. They are therefore not trained in combat and do not fire weapons.

How long would I be required to stay in the military?

While generally speaking your original commission will be for four years, if the military really isn’t working for you, you can request to be moved into the “Standby Reserve”. In that status, you would only be called on to complete your obligation in a complete emergency.

Do chaplains get deployed?

In general, Active Duty and Traditional Reserve and Guard chaplains will deploy with their units. Air Force IMA (Category B Reserves) chaplains are not typically deployed, but are expected to maintain their deployability at all times. In addition, Jewish Reserve chaplains are often called upon to provide holiday services in locations where there is no Jewish chaplain and the Jewish service members do not have access to Jewish communities. Aleph chaplains are expected to volunteer for holiday deployments a minimum of once every three years.

Are military chaplains able to keep Kosher, Shabbos, and holidays properly?

The short answer is yes. However, all Jews in the military need to work within the regulatory systems of their branch in order to get permission for certain religious needs (e.g. Shabbos observance). Some flexibility regarding one’s personal hiddurim may be required in unique circumstances such as training or deployments, but the basics of Halacha are always able to be adhered to.

Are Jewish chaplains expected to fill non-Jewish religious roles?

A Jewish chaplain will never be responsible for filling the role of non-Jewish worship. If a request for non-Jewish worship comes up, he would guide the requestor to someone who can fulfill those needs.

I don’t want to be moved all over the world. Is there a position that would fit my needs?

Reserve and Guard positions generally allow a service member to stay in the same base or unit for long periods of time.

But if you want to serve in the military but want absolute flexibility, you may want to consider either the Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary or State Militia programs. Those are purely voluntary organizations, so there are no wages or benefits. You will, however, be given a rank and the uniform of the parent branch.

Another option is in rare circumstances, bases will hire a “Contract Rabbi”. The Contract Rabbi will serve as a civilian, with a pre-determined amount of services that he will provide for the Jews on the base. A Contract Rabbi is not a member of the military, will not receive benefits, but will receive pay commensurate with the amount of time he provides services to the base. This pay will be determined in the original contract.

Is there training specific for Jewish chaplains?

Yes. Chaplains are expected to attend their Endorser’s conference every year. For information on the Aleph Institute’s Annual Military Symposium, click here.

Where can I get more information on this subject?

Besides for speaking to currently-serving chaplains, we would highly suggest you read the articles at this link.

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