The Letter: Using Holy Days To Get Leave of Absence From War!

R&I ~ Løki


The Letter: Using Holy Days To Get Leave of Absence From War!

Next year (2021) will mark the 160 years since the commanding General of the Confederate States Army wrote the reply to a letter from a Jewish Rabbi.  Declining the request to furlough Jewish soldiers so they could be home for the Jewish High Holiday or High Holy Days, known as the Yamim Noraim (Hebrew: ימים נוראים‎ “Days of Awe”) during the opening stages of what would become a bloody civil war.  The declining letter for request for furloughs was written during a tense period with the Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries in NC on August 28-29 1861, with a Union victory.

The Participants 

The Union army fought for the emancipation of slaves. 

The Confederate army was for retaining the slaves, as were its supporters the southern churches, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholics, as well as the Southern Jews. These religions at the time were ardent believers of slavery as told in their Bibles.

However, the southern Jews, when it came to religious holidays, they wanted their Jewish soldiers back home to celebrate the occasions.  

Richmond Virginia’s, German-born senior Rabbi—Maximilian J. Michelbacher wrote to the commanding general asking to grant furloughs to the Jewish soldiers, which, was denied. However, this was just after the Confederates battle with the Union in 1861. The First Battle of Bull Run (named by Union forces). Also known as the First Battle of Manassas (so-called by Confederate forces), was the first major battle of the American Civil War and was a Confederate victory.

The action of the Rabbi on receiving the letter of rejection was to show Jewish soldiers how they could get out of the war—to celebrate the Jewish holidays.  

The commanding General had unwittingly opened the gate, so to say.  By adding that they make their application to their regiment Commanders.  Which they duly did according to the information!

The Letter Declining the Furlough for Jewish Confederate Troops For The High Holidays! 

Hd Qrs; Valley Mt:

29 Aug 1861


Rabbi M. J. Michelbacher

Preacher Hebrew Congregation

“House of Love” Richmond Va;


Revd Sir


I have just recd your letter of the 23rd Inst; requesting that a furlough from the 2nd to the 15th Sept; be granted to the Soldiers of the Jewish persuasion in the C. S. Army, that they may participate in the approaching holy Services of the Synagogue. 

It would give me great pleasure to Comply with a request so earnestly urged by you; & which I know would be so highly appreciated by that Class of our Soldiers. But the necessities of War admit of no relaxation of the efforts requisite for its Success, nor can it be known on what day the presence of every man may not be required. I feel assured that neither you or any member of the Jewish Congregation would wish to jeopardize a Cause you have so much at heart by the withdrawal even for a Season of a portion of its defenders. I cannot therefore grant the general furlough you desire, but must leave to individuals to make their own application to their Several Commanders, in the hope that many will be able to enjoy the privilege you seek for them, & should any be deprived of the opportunity of offering up their prayers according to the rites of the Church, that their penitence may nevertheless be accepted by the Most High, & their petitions answered. That your prayers for the Success & welfare of our Cause may be granted by the great ruler of the Universe is my ardent wish.

I have the honor to be with high esteem


Your Obt Servt




Genl Commd.

I am not sure if any conflicts during WWII that anyone was given religious furloughs during periods of conflicts as serving armies nowadays have their chaplains.

By 1860, many of the 25,000 Jews who had made their homes in the South identified with “the southern way of life” and its “peculiar institution.” (Doesn’t the Talmud, after all, teach that “the law of the land is the law”?) So when the War came, Jewish Southerners fought just as their Gentile neighbors did to preserve that way of life – and, too, the pernicious enslavement and exploitation of other human beings.  

What do you say on any part of this post or all of it?

Keep safe!


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