President Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.: Remarks on the Commissioning of Laynie Zell

What an honor it is to celebrate the commissioning of soon to be Cantor Laynie Zell as the first female cantorial military chaplain candidate!
Our tradition teaches us that there are shalosh Ketarim, three “crowns” or sources of authority upon which Jewish leadership depends.
The first two are well known to all clergy:

Keter Torah, the Crown of Torah, the authority to teach and interpret our sacred heritage from which the ordination ceremony itself derives. It is the legacy of Moses as law giver.

Keter Kehuna, the Crown of Priesthood, the authority to be the shaliach Tzibur, the spiritual servant of a congregation, who mediates and facilitates our community’s relationship with the Divine. It is the legacy of Aaron and his children.

And our tradition also teaches that there is a third source of authority meant to strengthen our community:

Keter Malchut, the crown of ruling, if you will, the authority vested in communal leaders to strengthen, serve and protect by ensuring the defense and flourishing of our people. It is the legacy of our great civic leaders, whether Dvora or David, Solomon or Esther.

Laynie, Cantor-to-be Zell, in accepting this commission you are simultaneously accepting the yoke of all three Ketarim—the authority as teacher, as religious leader, and as communal sustainer. For you are choosing to serve, and have been accepted to lead, in our armed forces, whose very job it is ensure the material conditions necessary for us all to live in safety and without fear.

And at this time of increasing popular antisemitism, your role as representative of our people could not be more important.
And what noble service you are now entering.

For each member of your community has chosen to put their own lives at risk for the sake of their nation.
They have chosen to put themselves on the front line to protect all of us who would be targeted for harm.
And in doing so, they will face risk and uncertainty, fear and anxiety, for which your teaching, your spiritual guidance, and your pastoral counsel will be necessary.

You will strengthen the courage and fortitude that define our United States Navy, courage and fortitude necessary for the protection of our great United States.

And of course, your choice to accept this commission puts you on the front line as well. Your choice speaks to your courage to your sense of service. And in doing so you honor your family and your nation and Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, representing the very best we can and should be.

So Laynie, Mazal Tov on this commission. May you go forth serving drawing on all three ketarim, all three sources of authority, as teacher of Torah, spiritual leader, and communal protector, with honor and dignity, holding individuals in times of sorrow, celebrating with them in times of joy, and through your service, elevating the very image and sense of what it means to be called for a higher purpose.