Posted 3 years ago
Sometimes an insignia design leaves me scratching my head, wondering “what were they thinking?” Here’s a relatively common pair of US Army Jewish Chaplains insignia, using ROMAN numerals to indicate the Ten Commandments. Now, I don’t happen to be Jewish, but I do remember from Sunday school that the Romans didn’t show up until a long time after Moses. When they did, they were an occupying army, and the Jews weren’t too happy about it. This insignia, which was adopted in WWI, remained the same until the Roman numerals were replaced by Hebrew letters in 1981.
This particular pair of insignia retains its original cardboard and plastic wrapper which at one time was folded over and sealed with a staple at the top. The insignia have post-WWII clutches. There are no markings on the backs of the insignia or the cardboard to indicate manufacturer or date. If someone recognizes the manufacturer or can narrow down the date of manufacture, please let me know.
The first official chaplain’s insignia dates to 1880, when the shepherd’s crook was adopted. The cross became the official insignia in 1898. During WWI, following a number of objections and a congressman getting involved, rabbis serving as chaplains were authorized not to wear the chaplain’s cross. After that, Jewish chaplains wore no insignia at all, which created some confusion.
Some wanted to continue to leave Jewish chaplains without any insignia. There was also debate about returning to the shepherd’s crook as a symbol acceptable to all faiths. Others wanted a Star of David for the insignia, but it was argued that the six point star looked too much like a general’s five point star from a distance. Finally in 1917 the above insignia was chosen. Over the next decades, there were proposals to get rid of the Roman numerals as offensive. Some Jewish authorities argued against Hebrew letters because some might perceive the use of them as making the insignia holy. Finally the decision to change the numerals to Hebrew letters was made “reflecting as it would a more significant and authentic representation of a heritage and faith eternally related to Hebrew as the language of the Old Testament and the prophets.”
Eventually Muslim and Buddhist insignia were also created. Last year the Army received its first Hindu Chaplain, and for a while there was a debate again about going back to the shepherd’s crook as a universal symbol for all chaplains. I understand that a new Hindu chaplain’s insignia, representing the “Om”, was created instead.