Back in 2005, the DOD relaxed it’s ordination requirements for Jewish chaplains that would allow for cantors to begin serving in those positions. Well, nearly seven years later, we are finally hearing about the first candidate for this expanded prorgam. 1LT David Frommer, now a chaplain of four years, is the U.S. Army’s first-ever cantor.
Frommer was recently featured in a DOD story about his path to the chaplaincy:
After a 15-month stint as an infantryman participating in security operations in the West Bank, Frommer arrived back in the United States to join the seminary. After several months of study, a fellow student introduced him to an opportunity that would strengthen his symbiotic bond with religion and the armed forces.
“At my seminary there was a student a few years ahead of me that was doing Air Force chaplaincy, and it opened my eyes to the idea of chaplaincy,” said Frommer.
So as Frommer had done four years earlier in Israel, he enlisted in the military; however, this time, as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.
“I felt like I had no compelling reason to stand by while other Americans went and served, and in some cases died, for a country that I felt privileged to live in,” said Frommer.
Clearly not the “standard” path to the chaplaincy. It’s great to see someone like this so anxious to serve, and serve in a position in such dire need. You can see a brief interview with Chaplain Frommer below.
When the policy was initially changed there was some hesitation by some concerning the qualifications of a cantor to serve as a chaplain. While leading services is an important part of being a chaplain, it is a small fraction of what they do on a daily basis. Much of a chaplain’s job is counselling and offering spiritual guidance to troops in his or her command. The argument was that a cantor is not as well equipped as an ordained rabbi to perform these tasks.
I had some inital hesitation along these same lines, but the more I learn about seminary and rabbis and cantors (through personal friends), the more I think this is not a significant issue. Ordained cantors go through a great deal of training of thier own and it seems like any lack of “counselling” training would be mostly made up during actual chaplain training. I can understand that some current (rabbi) chaplains might feel slighted by cantors holding the same title as them, but this is really only an issue of semantics. “Chaplain” is a title that many clergy hold. If cantors and rabbis earn this independent title, I think they can both wear it with pride.
In the end the expanded policy allows for greater support for military Jews, and isn’t that a winning solution for everyone?
Here’s the interview with Chaplain Frommer. He is the first story (at about 40sec in):