Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff is a consultant on interfaith values and interreligious affairs, a retired Navy Chaplain (and line officer) , former Special Assistant for Values and Vision to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, and a former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for The American Jewish Commitee.   He  is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations,  and a former board member of organizations including The Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, and The Faith and Politics Institute.  He has served on numerous other military and advisory groups during his career,  including the Navy Chief of Chaplains Ethics Advisory Committee, and The Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor’s Rabbinic Cabinet.

Rabbi Resnicoff’s Navy career included early service as an enlisted reservist in a submarine unit while still in high school, and then — after graduation from Dartmouth NROTC — more than 28 years on active duty, including service as a line officer in the rivers of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, as part of “Operation Game Warden,” the effort to keep the rivers free of Viet Cong infiltrators.  During that assignment, then-Ensign Resnicoff was onboard USS Hunterdon County (LST-838) in May 1970, when it became the first U.S. commissioned vessel to enter the rivers of Cambodia.  He later served with Naval Intelligence in Europe before leaving active duty to attend rabbinical school at The Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York — a direct result of the encouragement he received from Chaplain Lester Westling, the Protestant “circuit riding chaplain” he had met in the rivers of Vietnam.  

Rabbi Resnicoff serving on the USS Hunterdon County in the rivers of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta as part of “Operation Game Warden.” (1969-70)
The USS Hunterdon County was the first ship into Cambodia on May 12, 1970.

Returning to the Navy following ordination as a rabbi,  his distinguished career culminated with his assignment as “top chaplain” for all U.S. military forces operating in Europe, most of Africa, and some of the Mid-East, serving as Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command.  In this position, he served as principal advisor to the EUCOM Commander, General Wesley K. Clark, on issues of religion, ethics, and morals; coordinated chaplain support for more than 100,000 U.S. personnel; and served as liaison to civilian and military religious organizations and leaders in an area including 89 countries and more than 13 million square miles.

Rabbi Resnicoff with General and Mrs. Wesley K. Clark, USEUCOM headquarters, Stuttgart, Germany
Rabbi Resnicoff visiting the Air Force Theater Hospital, Balad Air Base, Iraq (2005)

Following retirement from the Navy in 2001, he served as National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and — from 2006 to 2007 — as Special Assistant (for Values and Vision) to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force.  In this role, which carried with it the equivalent military rank of Air Force Brigadier General, Rabbi Resnicoff visited more than ten countries around the world, including Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, and virtually every major AF Base in the US, meeting with AF leaders in an effort to create a revitalized values-based vision for the AF based on the link between military core values, the oath of office, and the constitution of the United States.  While serving in that position, he was also part of the team that helped revise programs and policies of religious support at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and draft religious guidelines for all Air Force personnel.

The Honorable Michael Wynne, Secretary of the Air Force, presents Rabbi Resnicoff with the USAF Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the highest award the AF can give to a civilian (June 16, 2006)

Throughout his career, Rabbi Resnicoff has represented his country and his faith proudly in numerous ways.  One of a small number of Vietnam Veterans who worked to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington, DC, he delivered the closing prayer at its 1982 dedication — a prayer he repeated at the close of the 20th anniversary ceremony in November 2002 and the opening of the 25th anniversary ceremony in 2007. He also delivered the prayer at the memorial’s 40th anniversary.

Standing next to Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Rabbi Resnicoff delivers the closing prayer at the 20th anniversary Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Wall — the same closing prayer he delivered at the November 1982 dedication (November 11, 2002)
Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, Washington DC (From TCR article; © Rick Reinhard 2017,

He was the driving force behind the military’s decision to participate in the National Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust (DRVH), ultimately serving as the Navy representative to the Department of Defense (DoD) planning committee that created the DoD Guide to DRVH observances.

Rabbi Resnicoff delivering the benediction, at the Capitol Rotunda, for the 1987 Holocaust Days of Remembrance Ceremony (April 28, 1987) From the prayer: “If the time has not yet dawned when we can all proclaim our faith in God, then let us say at least, that we admit we are not gods ourselves. If we cannot yet see the face of God in others, then let us see, at least, a face as human as our own.”
Department of Defense Guide to observances for the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust (first edition)
Rabbi Resnicoff leading the first US Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust service on a US Navy ship (May 1984)

He led Yom Kippur services in Iceland during the historic Reagan-Gorbachev pre-summit talks.

Rabbi Resnicoff with his daughter Malka, who wears a souvenir of the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev talks in Iceland, where her father conducted Jewish High Holy Day services during the historic meetings

While attached to Commander, Sixth Fleet, helped establish the Haifa USO.   In 1983, with the special approval of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, he led the first interfaith service ever conducted at Jerusalem’s “Western Wall” (the “Kotel”), attended by U.S. military personnel from the Sixth Fleet.

Rabbi Resnicoff leading the first interfaith service at Israel’s Western Wall (Kotel), Jerusalem (1983)

He also led the first official Martin Luther King, Jr., ceremony ever held in Israel — at the President’s residence.

In the U.S.,  he has been a frequent Guest Chaplain for the U.S. House and Senate, offering prayers that begin official sessions.

In 1980, he headed the Navy “Blue Ribbon Committee” that recommended that the chaplain insignia for Jewish Chaplains (tablets of the ten commandments underneath a small Jewish star) be changed from Roman Numerals to Jewish letters, a change officially made by the Navy in 1981, followed shortly thereafter by both the Army and Air Force.

The three oldest symbols of U.S. Military Chaplains — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish — on the arms of 3 Navy Chaplains Chaplains (left to right): George Ridgeway, Shai Noel, Arnold Resnicoff
In 1980, at the Naval Station, Norfolk, Virginia, Rabbi Resnicoff served on a Navy “Blue Ribbon Panel” that recommended Jewish Chaplain insignia be changed from Roman Numerals to Hebrew letters. The change was officially made in 1981 for the Navy, followed by Army and Air Force. The deadline for all Jewish chaplains to make the change was January 1, 1983.
Rabbi Resnicoff has the honor of “frocking” the Navy’s first Muslim Chaplain, Monje Malak Abd al-Muta Noel Jr, after coordinating a special two week training program for him at Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut (March 1996)
US Navy Rear Admiral Byron Holderby (USN Chief of Chaplains, second from right, next to Chaplain Resnicoff) plants a tree at Israel’s John F. Kennedy Memorial (August 1998)

US Military Chiefs of Chaplains visit Israel, 1998-1999.
As Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command, Chaplain Resnicoff hosted and coordinated the first official visits for the Army, Navy, and Air Force Chiefs of Chaplains to Israel, one of the nations within the USEUCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR).

Major General William Dendinger (USAF Chief of Chaplains, seated far left) and Major General Donald Shea (US Army Chief of Chaplains, seated second from right, next to Chaplain Resnicoff) at a dinner with Israeli religious leaders of different faiths (May 1999)

Present in Beirut, Lebanon, during the October 23, 1983 truck-bomb attack that took the lives of 241 American military personnel (220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers), his report, written at White House request, was read aloud by President Ronald Reagan to the 20,000 attendees of the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s “Baptist Fundamentalism 84” convention.  When this report, which included the story of the rabbi’s “camouflage kippa” — a temporary, make-shift headcovering that a Catholic Chaplain made by tearing off a piece of his uniform, to replace the kippa (skullcap) that Resnicoff had used to wipe dirt and blood off the face of a wounded Marine — was read into the Congressional Record, the historic “religious apparel amendment” (allowing Jewish military personnel to wear head coverings in uniform), was passed, after being defeated during the previous two years.  This amendment laid the groundwork for sweeping changes in policies on “religious accommodation” and “religious  free exercise” within the U.S. military — including changes in Public Law, and the creation of Department of Defense Directive 1300.17, “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services.”

Rabbi Resnicoff with the Marines in Beirut, providing Foxhole Counseling (1984)
President Reagan reading Rabbi Resnicoff’s report of the 1983 Beirut truck bomb attack as the keynote speech for Jerry Falwell’s convention, “Baptist Fundamentalism ’84” (April 1984)
The “Camouflage Kippa,” which replaced Rabbi Resnicoff’s skullcap after it became dirty and bloody following the 1983 Truck Bomb Attack in Beirut, Lebanon

Rabbi Resnicoff has lectured widely on pluralism, religious freedom, leadership, and values, at many civilian and military forums, including New York’s Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, the Northeastern Political Science Association, the Joint Service Commission on Professional Ethics (JSCOPE), the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI), and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.  His talk on religion and the military, presented at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), was broadcast a number of times on all C-SPAN stations.   In 1996 he crafted and led the first Conference on Ethics and Leadership for the Camp David staff, and has been a speaker at more than ten annual Naval War College conferences on Ethics and the Military, a conference he helped create while attending the NWC as a student.  At graduation, he received the President’s Honor Graduate Award from the NWC, and later taught the class, “Faith and Force: Religion, War, and Peace,” the first course taught by a chaplain at any U.S. military war college.

Rabbi Resnicoff has also taught civilian college courses on religion at Salve Regina (Newport, RI) and at the University of Maryland (in Yokosuka, Japan, overseas campus). In August 2000 he was the only military delegate to attend the UN Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders.  In November 2000, he was one of 100 religious leaders who participated in a White House discussion with President Clinton on the way religion might combat the violence in America’s schools and society. In March 2001, he was the only Rabbi to participate in the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama, recreating the civil rights march that crossed the bridge to Selma.  As Scholar-in-Residence, Rabbi Resnicoff has spoken at Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox synagogues across the country.

While stationed in Europe, Rabbi Resnicoff coordinated and led three International Chiefs of Chaplains Conferences — in Luxembourg, Vienna, and Geneva — bringing together chaplains from Europe, North America, Africa, and the Far East.  In this role, he represented the group in meetings with Heads of State, Ambassadors, and military leaders.  In 2000, he led a one-week retreat on spirituality for all Canadian military chaplains, and served as keynote speaker at numerous other international conferences, including three Southern African Regional Military Chaplains Association (SARMCA) annual conferences — in Botswana, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.

Rabbi Resnicoff leading the International Chiefs of Chaplains Conference in Geneva (February 2000). Resnicoff also led the conferences in Luxembourg and Vienna.
Rabbi Resnicoff with Chiefs of Chaplains, MajGen Fiume Ggqiba, South Africa; and Sabelo Maseko, Swaziland (1998)

In support of military and humanitarian operations in the Balkans, Rabbi Resnicoff visited Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo, meeting with US and NATO troops, civilian relief workers, political and military leaders, religious representatives, and refugees. He represented the military in the first conference of Seminary students from throughout the Balkans — including Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia — attempting to create relationships that can support peace-building efforts among religious leaders of the next generation. He has been a pivotal force in raising awareness among military and civilian leaders regarding the role of religion in conflict — and its potential role in conflict resolution and reconciliation. He was a featured speaker on this subject at the 1999 meeting of the International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centers (IAPTC), held at the Pearson Peacekeeping Center, in Clementsport, Nova Scotia.  In 1998, he led a delegation representing the four official religions of Bosnia — Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish — on a visit to the Pentagon and the U.S. Army Chaplain School, to support their initiative to create a chaplaincy for military personnel, as a step toward communication and cooperation across ethnic and religious lines.  He also met with religious, political, and military leaders in Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States (NIS), including Georgia, Moldova, and the Czech Republic, on the issue of religion and human rights.  In 1998 he was the first Chaplain to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff and worldwide joint Combatant Command Commanders, addressing them on issues of core values and quality of life.

Rabbi Resnicoff at Camp Hope
Refugee Camp, Albania (1999)
A Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) for the United States Naval Academy. In 1989, Rabbi Resnicoff and Naval Academy chaplain Norman Auerbach traveled to Westminster Synagogue (United Kingdom) to pick up a rescued Holocaust Torah from Czechoslovakia for the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel. The scroll, protected by glass, is on display for all visitors.

In 1991, just two weeks after the Soviet Union took over a television station in Vilnius, Rabbi Resnicoff was part of the first civilian group (sponsored by Bnai Brith) to travel there to meet with the Prime Minister in a show of support, also traveling to Moscow, Riga, and Leningrad, working to help strengthen the Jewish community following the fall of the Iron Curtain.  In November 2002, Rabbi Resnicoff was the Jewish representative in a five-person/five faith team that visited the religious and political leaders of Macedonia, including the nation’s President, in an effort to help create an interreligious council.  In February 2003, he traveled to South Africa on behalf of the Faith and Politics Institute, to lay the groundwork for a May 2003 visit by U.S. religious and political leaders, to compare the links of faith and political leaders during the anti-apartheid struggle in S. Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States.

Rabbi Resnicoff was a highly decorated chaplain, with military awards including the Defense Superior Service Medal.  He has also received numerous civilian honors, including the 
1991 Moment Magazine International Community Service Award;  the Chapel of Four Chaplains Hall of Heroes Gold Medallion, for his work with the wounded and dying in Beirut; and the U.S. Air Force Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service — the highest award given to a civilian.   A 1990 book on Christian religious education dedicated in his honor recognized his work in interfaith affairs.   Rabbi Resnicoff’s articles include “Prayers That Hurt,” thoughts on public prayer in interfaith settings, that has had tremendous influence in both military and civilian settings.  Two of his own prayers — from the 1982 dedication of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the 1987 ceremony for The National Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, in the Capitol Rotunda, are included in “The Treasury of American Prayers,” published in 2008 by Doubleday.  His report  on the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing has been widely reprinted both in print and internet forums, including the book, “Modern Day Heroes: In Defense of America,”  and “The American Presidency Project” website.  In addition to rabbinic ordination, he has three masters degrees, in International Relations, Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs, and Rabbinics, and a doctorate (honoris causa) from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS).  In 1994, the Chaplain Arnold E. Resnicoff Scholarship Fund was established in his honor at JTS to help students planning to serve as military Chaplains.

The Treasury of American Prayer, Doubleday Press, 2008. Includes two of Rabbi Resnicoff’s prayers — the only rabbinic prayers included in the collection.

See also