Records of the National Jewish Welfare Board Military Chaplaincy
Scope and Content Note
This collection documents the evolution of CANRA-DRA-CJC and more broadly illustrates Jewish chaplaincy and Jewish participation in the U.S. military effort from WWII to the Vietnam War. The materials, which include minutes, reports, correspondence, speeches, sermons, autobiographical writings, photographs and printed materials, primarily derive from the office of the Executive Director of CANRA-DRA-CJC during the tenure of Aryeh Lev, 1946-1975, and his predecessor Philip S. Bernstein, 1942-1946. Also included is David de Sola Pool’s correspondence between 1940 and 1941 relating to the Sub-committee on Chaplains (later Committee on Religious Activities), the precursors to CANRA-DRA-CJC. Another substantial component of the collection are Aryeh Lev’s files from 1940 to 1945 while he was assistant to the Chief of Chaplains in the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, liaising with NJWB. Lev brought these files with him when he became Executive Director, and they were merged with his CANRA-DRA-CJC files. Much of this collection Lev used as resource material for his chaplaincy studies, reports, speeches, sermons and other writings. In the 1970s, in conjunction with the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy History Project, Lev contributed his private papers consisting of personal documents, awards, manuscripts and clippings (Series IX).
The collection is a rich resource for the examination of subjects such as Jewish identity in the armed forces; the establishment of Judaism as one of the major faiths in the U.S. military establishment; interfaith efforts in the military; patterns of observance among American Jews; efforts at setting and maintaining standards of Jewish religious practice under adverse conditions of war; the combating of religious anti-Semitism and proselytizing; and the relationship between NJWB and the Office of the Chief of Chaplains. Notable is the documentation of Jewish chaplains’ work on behalf of Jewish survivors in post-WWII Europe, including narratives of Nazi crimes and vivid depictions via correspondence and reports of persistent efforts by the chaplains to rehabilitate displaced persons (especially Series VI and Folder 106 in Series IV).
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Biographical and Historical Notes
Aryeh Lev, born June 6, 1912 in Jerusalem, arrived in the U.S. in 1917 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Lev received his BS from Columbia University in 1934 and his Masters in Hebrew Letters from the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1937, following which he held a post as rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Lebanon, Pennsylvania until 1939. In 1940, he briefly served as National Director of Young Judaea, until he was called up for active duty from the Army chaplain reserves. From November 1940 to November 1945, Lev served as assistant to the Chief of Chaplains for the Army in the War Department. In that position Lev specialized in planning, training and logistics; he also served as advisor on Jewish affairs and functioned as a liaison between the Office of the Chief of Chaplains and the National Jewish Welfare Board (NJWB). Following the war, Lev joined the NJWB's Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities, becoming Executive Director in 1946, a post he would hold until his death on May 2, 1975. Lev was in the Army Reserves in the rank of Colonel until his Army retirement in 1972, when he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service with the Office of the Chief of Chaplains. He received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1954. Lev was active in the Boy Scouts of America for decades and was the Jewish Chaplain-General of numerous National Boy Scout jamborees in the 1950s and 1960s. Lev married Hazel Bernard on March 1, 1936, and they had two daughters, Barbara and Deborah, and one son, Martin.
National Jewish Welfare Board Military Chaplaincy Agency
The below note is taken directly from Marek Web’s 1985 “Historical Resources on the American Jewish Chaplaincy in the Aryeh Lev Archives of the JWB Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy."
From the very beginning, i.e. from 1917, there existed within the JWB a Sub-committee on Chaplains which was attached to the JWB Army and Navy Committee. Both were chaired by Dr. Cyrus Adler who handled all chaplaincy matters virtually alone. After Dr. Adler’s death in April 1940, the sub-committee continued to work under Rabbi David de Sola Pool. Rabbis Alexander Basel, Leo Jung, Benjamin Tintner, and Col. Max R. Wainer as military advisor, were also members of the sub-committee. In November 1940, Rabbi Aryeh Lev, the newly appointed assistant to the Army Chief of Chaplains was asked to serve on the sub-committee which by then had been renamed Committee on Religious Activities. The entry of the United States into the war in December 1941 brought about an immediate widening of the committee’s responsibilities and necessitated a major and lasting change in its very nature. The day after the war was declared on Japan the JWB was asked by the Army Chief of Chaplains, William R. Arnold, to arrange for a larger number of rabbis to enter the chaplaincy service and a week later a call went out from the JWB to all congregations requesting them to permit their rabbis to join the chaplaincy. On January 14, 1942 the Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities, commonly known as CANRA, was reconstituted from the former chaplaincy committee.
CANRA differed from its predecessor not only because it assumed greater responsibilities in the face of national mobilization but also because it represented all three major branches of Judaism: the Reform, the Conservative, and the Orthodox. The principle rabbinical organizations in the U.S., the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of America, and the Rabbinical Council of America, agreed to carry out jointly the chaplaincy program and to find unified solutions to all religious questions which might occur in the time of national emergency.
The organizational make-up of CANRA reflected this decision: the membership was increased to twenty with five seats going to each organization, three for members-at-large (all rabbis), one for military advisor, and one for Jewish chaplains on the Chief of Chaplains’ staff. In November 1942, the number of representatives of each group was increased to six and later to seven. The leadership of CANRA included Rabbis David de Sola Pool (chairman), Barnett R. Brickner (administrative vice-chairman), Louis M. Levitsky, and Joseph H. Lookstein (vice-chairman). An Executive Committee was formed which consisted of the chairman, the three vice-chairmen, and the Executive Director. Louis Levitsky became chairman of the Executive Committee. In November 1942, Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein was called from his congregation in Rochester to assume the duties of the Executive Director. He occupied the post until his departure to Germany in February 1946, where he became advisor on Jewish affairs to the commanding general of the American forces. In November 1945, Aryeh Lev joined the staff of CANRA upon his discharge from active duty in the Army, and in 1946 he became the CANRA Executive Director. Aryeh Lev held this office until his death in 1975.
CANRA established a number of sub-committees to facilitate its control over chaplaincy matters. These included Committees on Responsa, Personal Visits, Evaluating Reports of Chaplains, Sifrei Torah, Program Services, and Weekly Religious Messages. CANRA was also represented on the JWB Joint Publications Committee. The three religious groups were equally represented in each sub-committee.
Within the JWB, CANRA remained part of the Army and Navy Division in charge of all religious activities. Its functions included: formulating policies with regard to religious work, maintaining contacts with the Chaplains’ Corps in all military branches and in the Veterans Administration, providing procurement, endorsement and supervision of Jewish chaplains, preparation of devotional literature, approval of religious supplies, setting of standards in religious practice, combating anti-Jewish attitudes and proselytizing tendencies, and maintaining relations with chaplains’ organizations of other denominations.
The recognition of ecclesiastical endorsing authority which the Federation government granted the NJWB back in WWI was extended to CANRA. CANRA’s right to supervise the religious work of Jewish chaplains stemmed from this recognition.
Although CANRA was initially intended by the three rabbinical groups to be a temporary operating agency to meet the exigencies of wartime, its underlying idea of a unified religious representation survived the end of the war. The sponsoring organizations resolved to study ways to maintain in peacetime an ecclesiastical agency of CANRA’s scope and characteristics. For this purpose, on March 5, 1947, CANRA appointed a Long Range Planning Committee. This committee was to address the basic question of whether CANRA should remain part of the JWB and function as one of its divisions or whether it should withdraw from the JWB and exist as an independent agency under the exclusive auspices of the rabbinical organizations. Meanwhile, in 1947 CANRA changed its name to Division of Religious Activities, or DRA. The new name underscored the change in status from that of a subcommittee to an autonomous division.
The Long Range Planning Committee issued its recommendations on April 8, 1948. These read as follows: “It is recognized that the Division of Religious Activities is not quite in the same position as the other Divisions of JWB which were created by the parent body to carry out its functions. We are a rabbinic agency created by other rabbinic bodies to carry out a specifically religious task through the JWB.
“The three rabbinic bodies further recognize that the interests of Judaism in general and the chaplaincy in particular might be best served if the Jewish chaplaincy were to be directed by an independent agency under the complete and exclusive jurisdiction of the United American Rabbinate… It is recognized that such a plan cannot be considered for immediate implementation. There are many practical considerations which stand in the way for the present.
The Long Range Planning Committee therefore recommends that a twofold program cooperation be followed during the next few years:
1. A continued relationship with the JWB, with the understanding that a maximum degree of autonomy shall be enjoyed by the Division, and
2. An annual review of this relationship…” [DRA 1948 Annual Report to the JWB. See Series I.]
This recommendation and with it also a chart of “Rules and Regulations Governing the DRA” were formally adopted the same year [DRA 1948 Annual Report]. The organization of the Division was the same as CANRA. Proportional representation remained the basis for DRA membership. The functional committees included: Budget, Publications, Annual Re-evaluation of Rules and Regulations of DRA, Liturgy, Responsa, and Visiting and Procurement. Aryeh Lev carried on the functions of the Executive Director.
The decision about annual re-evaluation of the DRA may have mirrored some apprehension in the JWB and in the participating rabbinical organizations about the wisdom of discharging their responsibility towards the chaplaincy through a JWB division rather than an independent body (as is the case in other denominations). However, the system worked and successfully met major challenges of the time. One more change of name occurred in 1953, when it was decided to replace the Division of Religious Activities with the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy (CJC). This change, however, was made only in order to reflect more accurately the task of this agency. The CJC authorized several new committees in addition to the existing ones and the full list of standing committees included: Budget, Kashruth, Procurement, Religious Education, Responsa, Torah Convocations, and Visiting. No major changes have been made in the CJC organization over the years. Also, there was no significant change in the functions performed by the CJC; it remains today  the only religious authority over the Jewish military chaplaincy in the United States. This stability of organization and integrity of purpose which was already achieved in 1942 attests to the ability of the three branches of Judaism to work together on grounds which are common to all. A great number of rabbis, many of them chaplains themselves, served at various times on the CANRA-DRA-CJC. Quite a few names are repeated year after year on the membership roster. Long association with this agency by so many of its members tells something about the recognition of its importance among the American rabbis.
The following have served as chairmen of CANRA-DRA-CJC from 1942 to present : David de Sola Pool and Barnett R. Brickner, 1942-1947; Solomon B. Freehof, 1947-1950; Max D. Davidson, 1950-1953; Joseph H. Lookstein, 1953-1956; Morris Lieberman, 1956-1959; Aaron H. Blumenthal, 1959-1962; Israel Miller, 1962-1965; Selvyn Ruslander, 1965-1968; Edward T. Sandrow, 1968-1971; Emanuel Rackman, 1972-1975; Eric Friedlander, 1975-1977; Judah Nadich, 1977-1980; Herschel Schacter, 1980-1983; Barry Hewitt Greene 1983-.
24.5 Linear Feet (49 manuscript boxes, 1 oversized folder [OS2F], 2 microfilm reels)
Language of Materials
The National Jewish Welfare Board Military Chaplaincy Records document the evolution and activities of NJWB’s military chaplaincy agency, which was known as the Commission on Army and Navy Religious Activities (CANRA) from 1942 to 1947, as the Division of Religious Activities (DRA) from 1947 to 1953, and then as the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy (CJC) after 1953, during the Executive Directorship of Aryeh Lev (1946-1975) and Philip Bernstein (1942-1946). The collection also consists of Aryeh Lev’s records during his service as assistant to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains of the Army (1940-1945), as well as Lev’s personal papers. Most broadly, the collection chronicles the role of Jewish chaplaincy and Jewish participation in the U.S. military effort from WWII to the Vietnam War. Subjects addressed include the establishment of Judaism as one of the major faiths in the U.S. military, patterns of observance among service members, and post-WWII relief work by Jewish chaplains on behalf of displaced persons. Materials include minutes, reports, correspondence, speeches, sermons, autobiographical writings, photographs, questionnaires and printed materials.
During the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy History Project, Aryeh Lev directed that this collection be arranged by subject in order to facilitate research. Therefore the current arrangement of the collection does not cleanly reflect the administrative structure of CANRA-DRA-CJC or the original filing system(s) in place when the records were created. Marek Web established the below 11 series and addendum, and Rachel Miller created the subseries.
- Series I: Minutes, 1940-1980
- Series II: Annual Reports, 1943-1969
- Series III: Correspondence, 1927-1932, 1940-1974
- Series IV: Relations with Chaplains, 1918, 1936-1972
- Subseries 1: Subjects, 1918, 1936-1972
- Subseries 2: Conferences, Evaluations and Trips, 1941-1958
- Series V: Religious Services and Practices, 1940-1974
- Series VI: Relief Work for Displaced Persons, 1943-1951
- Series VII: Publications, , 1920-1929, 1937-1971
- Series VIII: Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy History Project, 1917-1977
- Series IX: Aryeh Lev Papers, 1936-1976
- Subseries 1: General, 1937-1976
- Subseries 2: Organizations, 1936-1976
- Subseries 3: Sermons, Speeches and Writings, 1939-1974
- Subseries 4: Photographs, 1940-1976
- Series X: Register of Jewish Chaplains in the United States Armed Forces, 1941-1983
- Series XI: Printed Matter, 1918, 1937-1979
- Addendum: Office of the Chief of Chaplains Correspondence, 1924-1950
The National Jewish Welfare Board donated these records to AJHS in 1986.
The trip binders (Series IV, Subseries 2, folders 104-106) and photographs in (Series IX, Subseries 4, folders 263 and 265) from Aryeh Lev's European tours as well as the the papers found in Series VI: Relief Work for Displaced Persons have been digitized with funding from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. The materials in these folders were digitized in their entirety.
Box 41, Folder 312.2 has been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.
In the 1970s this collection was first surveyed and described by Seymour Pomrenze and Sidney Hoenig as part of the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy History Project. Pomrenze and Hoenig’s descriptions can be found in the National Jewish Welfare Board Records (I-337): Subgroup I: Governance, Series C: Central Records Center, Subseries 1: Archives and Records, Box 114, Folders 2-3. In 1985, Marek Web completed a general guide to the collection, then known as the Aryeh Lev Papers. That guide, published by the Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy as a booklet titled, “Historical Resources on the American Jewish Chaplaincy in the Aryeh Lev Archives of the JWB Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy” (available in the YIVO Library and in the National Jewish Welfare Board Records (I-337): Subgroup I: Governance, Series C: Central Records Center, Subseries 5: JWB Administrative Files, Box 242, Folders 17-18), has been adapted into and used for the present finding aid. In 1985, Web also wrote a detailed file-by-file inventory, which has since been lost. Because the folders themselves were only labeled with folder numbers and no titles, no evidence remains of the folder titles which Web had assigned in the inventory. In 2012, Rachel Miller assigned folder titles based as much on terms and CANRA-DRA-CJC subject codes that Aryeh Lev, Philip Bernstein and others assigned at the top of the documents as possible. While some materials have been intellectually rearranged within series for purposes of alphabetization, Marek Web’s physical arrangement has been maintained. All folder numbers remain the same, but because the collection reduced in size during rehousing, box numbers have changed. For old box numbers see this chart.
- Annual reports
- Bernstein, Philip S. (Philip Sydney), 1901-
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- International relief
- Jewish soldiers
- Korean War, 1950-1953
- Lev, Aryeh
- Military chaplains -- United States
- Minutes (administrative records)
- National Jewish Welfare Board. Commission on Jewish Chaplaincy
- National Jewish Welfare Board. Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities
- National Jewish Welfare Board. Division of Religious Activities
- New York (N.Y.)
- Pool, David de Sola, 1885-1970
- Sandrow, Edward T. (Edward Theodore), 1905-1975
- Speeches (documents)
- United States
- United States Army chaplaincy
- Vietnam War, 1961-1975
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Refugees
- Guide to the Records of the National Jewish Welfare Board Military Chaplaincy, 1917-1983 (bulk 1940-1974)
- Processed by Marek Web in 1985. Additional processing in 2012 by Rachel Miller
- © 2012
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed as part of the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative, made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.
- December 2016: Added dao links by Eric Fritzler.
- February 2021: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.