Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: A Jewish Navy

May 5, 2015

A Jewish Navy

No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned. A man in a jail has more room, better food and commonly better company. -Samuel Johnson

There were gentlemen and there were seamen in the navy of Charles the Second. But the seamen were not gentlemen; and the gentlemen were not seamen. -Babington Macaulay

rudderless-shipMy son is a sailor. But he is a sailor in a Jewish navy. He entered the navy after two years of Yeshiva study. He wears a kippah on his head and tzitzit under his uniform. He prays three times a day, puts on Tfilin daily and is careful to eat Kosher food. He serves on a small ship with a big gun. They are twelve guys living in small quarters that go out to sea for three to four days at a time.

After years of patrol duty, his ship is now being dismantled by the crew as part of the maintenance cycle. They tear the ship apart on dry-dock, take apart the engine, the guns, the floor, the bulkhead and any other component that can be unscrewed, unbolted or ripped out. Then the crew puts it all back together again.

One of their active sister ships was down a crew member and my son was drawn as a replacement where he manned the critical radar system of which he’s become an expert. At the end of their 3-day patrol, at the mission debriefing, one of the sailors pointed out that the usual ship’s decoration of posters of unclad women had been taken down and put away out of respect for their guest, my son. This has not been an issue on my son’s home ship, due to the composition of its crew and history. However, the new ship is not atypical of the coarseness of sailors the world over. However, without my son having said a word, without even his knowledge, members of the crew understood that a person who would not be appreciative of the crude objectification of women was coming on board.

Now many sailors, no different than wide swaths of manhood around the planet, are comfortable with, happy with, and will actively surround themselves with images of women in various states of undress. For these particular sailors to have the sensitivity, awareness and willingness to demonstrate some respect on this issue is noteworthy.

I don’t know what a holy sailor would look like, but I think we’re getting some inklings…


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