This is a striking story which the Reverend Doctor Korn has to tell; and it is safe to say that no student of the Civil War period will fail to be astonished by its scope, color and importance. The Jewish community when the war began was not numerically large -- only about 150,000 people. It did not, as Dr. Korn points out, possess any great, dominant leader, such as English Jewry had in Sir Moses Montefiore, hero of the successful movement to gain British Jews full civil and political rights. But circumstances repeatedly made the American Jews the focal point of a significant and far-reaching struggle to establish principles of exact justice and equality and make them triumph over ignorance, prejudice and intolerance.
It is this struggle which gives Dr. Korn's scholarly and interesting book, with its wealth of new detail, its chief importance. He has not permitted himself to become immersed in local or special topics -- in the history, for example, of the two Jewish companies which were raised for the Union armies in Chicago and Syracuse, and the two Jewish companies mustered for Confederate service in Georgia, or in the record of Jewish war activities in Cincinnati, New York and other centers. Such matters are not neglected, but they are not emphasized, for he is concerned primarily with the Jewish community as a whole-which, of course, was chiefly a Northern community. And in the record of this community what interests him most is the effort to lift human rights above restrictions based on race or religion; to make sure that in a war for enlarging the boundaries of freedom, minority groups which were doing their full share to gain victory would have their full share of liberty and respect. There are thus inspiring episodes in the story which he tells.
It was a battle for a great principle that Rabbi Fischel of New York led in urging that Jewish clergymen should have their due place in the corps of chaplains. The Congressional Act of July 22, 1861, which provided that all chaplains must be regularly ordained Christian ministers, was perhaps rather an expression of heedlessness than of bigotry; most Americans never thought of the Jews, a tiny group until the immigration of the 1850s. But Rabbi Fischel and his followers, rebuffed by Secretary Cameron, had to fight hard before they obtained the virtual repeal of the discriminatory and oppressive rule. With the detachment of a true historian, Dr. Korn shows that Fischel's brave and self-sacrificing effort . . .