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Chana Timoner

(1952 - 1998)

Rabbi Chana Timoner was the first female rabbi to hold an active duty chaplaincy in the U.S. Army.

Timoner (born 1952; died July 13, 1998) was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father was a railroad carpenter but her Russian-born maternal grandfather had been a rabbi in New Haven, and her mother had been so eager to fight the Nazis in World War II that she joined the Canadian Army in 1940, a year before the United States entered the war, and transfered to the newly organized Women's Army Corps.

Married at the age of 18 and with two children before having graduated from college, Timoner grew restless with the life of a homemaker and in 1984 she enrolled in the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York and spent the next five years making long, daily trips to New York City for classes. After her ordination in 1989, she spent two more commuting years studying for a doctorate at the New York Theological Seminary, completing the course work but deferring her dissertation.

Unlike most ordained women at the time, Timoner affiliated herself with Conservative Judaism, a more traditional branch than the liberal Reform movement in which the majority of female rabbis served.  She began her rabbinic career at the Beth El Synagogue in Wallingford, Connecticut, however, she was later forced to step down after refusing to perform a bar mitzvah for a youth who did had never had the required religious circumcision ritual.

After working for the National Council of Christians and Jews and as a hospital chaplain, Rabbi Timoner joined the Army Reserves and in 1993 became the first Jewish woman to serve as a full-time chaplain in the regular Army when she was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

As the only Jewish chaplain at Fort Bragg, Rabbi Timoner held regular Friday services for the few Jewish soldiers at the base, but spent most of her time counseling other soldiers in a helicopter battalion, many of them women. Rabbi Timoner also served in South Korea, where she worked as a chaplain for an aviation attack regiment near the demilitarized zone, and completed her Army service as a Captain, at Fort Benning in Georgia, where among other noteworthy acts she insisted on adding prayers for Catholic, gay and gypsy victims of the Nazi terror at a Holocaust service.

Chana Timoner died at age 46 in 1998, having received a medical discharge from the army that very year due to the Epstein–Barr virus. She was survived by her husband, Dr. Julian Timoner

Sources: Wikipedia; Orlando Sentinel; New York Times