Rabbi Dr. Sanford H. Shudnow: A Navy Chaplain Stationed Near Skokie
Updated: Mar 28
Rabbi Dr. Sanford H. Shudnow was born and raised in Chicago, IL. Coming from a long line of Chicagoans, Rabbi Shudnow’s start was on the West Side, growing up on the North Side, going to local public schools. At the end of the 1960’s, Rabbi Shudnow attended Northeastern Illinois University while simultaneously studying at HTC under Rabbis Paul Greenman and Eli Gottlieb. Rabbi Shudnow attended Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying at the University on the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels and at various yeshivot, including Jerusalem Torah College, Hartman - Israel Torah Research Institute (ITRI) and Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. Rabbi Shudnow holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, International Relations; a Master of Arts degree, Rabbinical Ordination and has the title Doctor of Divinity. In addition to his vast education, Rabbi Shudnow served in the US Navy as a chaplain from 1976-1998, including service at sea and ashore throughout the US, as well as overseas in Japan and Italy, serving as Assistant Fleet Chaplain of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.
Rabbi Shudnow is a well-known published journalist, writing on issues of religion and ethics. His inspirational Torah commentaries have been regularly featured in Jewish journals. He is the father of two and the grandfather of four grandsons and one granddaughter. He currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
For Rabbi Shudnow, it was no surprise that he ended up in the Navy. As a boy, Rabbi Shudnow was an active Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, Explorer, and Sea Explorer, each with its own uniform. Additionally, Rabbi Shudnow had uncles in the Navy, making the concept much less foreign to him. “Since I didn’t plan to be a rabbi of a shul,” he said, “I figured maybe I’ll try the military as a chaplain. I had a colleague and fellow student who had served in Vietnam in uniform as a Naval officer. One day, this classmate came to class in uniform with his medals since he was going to a function. That was it. I decided I was going to become a Navy chaplain.”
While he did not formally attend the Yeshiva for high school or college, Rabbi Shudnow’s connection to the Yeshiva has followed him throughout his Naval service and beyond. During the years that he was stationed in Skokie through the Navy, Rabbi Shudnow kept a close relationship with Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman, Rav Gedaliah Dov Schwartz, and many other HTC rebbeim. At one point, Rabbi Oscar Z. Fasman asked Rabbi Shudnow to deliver his weekly sermon while he was away visiting his daughter in California, something Rabbi Shudnow remembers as a great honor.
To keep up with the people and rebbeim from HTC, Rabbi Shudnow made a point of attending the annual HTC banquet each year he was stationed at Great Lakes and living in Skokie. “I would show up in uniform each time, which got a lot of attention,” he laughed. “One of those years, they were honoring Rabbi Moshe Tendler. I knew him from his work with us in the Navy, prior to entering the dining hall where he was to be was to be honored, I joined the large group of people who had gathered to shake his hand. Rabbi Tendler saw me standing as part of the entourage and he looked up and said, ‘oh, my chaver!’ and he stared right at me! It was really special for me.”
One person that Rabbi Shudnow regards fondly from his time at HTC is his loving teacher at HTC, Rabbi Eli Gottlieb. “Rabbi Gottlieb had written a book called The Inescapable Truth,” said Rabbi Shudnow, “and he gave me a copy with a beautiful handwritten note to me. It was really thoughtful and regarded me as a special student and asked me if I would write a book review. I’ve written many book reviews that have been published in all types of journals. I don’t know whether I told him I would or not, but I didn’t. I started reading it and it just didn’t seem like something I would want to write a book review for, so I sort of avoided it. One day, decades later, I was sitting in my synagogue in Sydney, Australia. They had a Bet Midrash in the synagogue with a library inside. I was sitting and I look up to my right across the way and I saw Rabbi Gottlieb’s book! When I saw it, it scared me! It was crying out to me saying ‘Sandy, you should have written the book review and published it!’ The next time I was in America (I would go back and forth between America and Australia) I took my copy off the shelf and decided I am writing this. I published my review in the Australian Journal of Jewish Studies and it was then published again in America. Rabbi Marc Angel published it in his journal as well. It’s one of those things that’s sort of part of me.”
“The Skokie Yeshiva was pivotal in what we now have in Chicago,” he said. “Its contribution to balanced and beautiful orthodoxy is incredible. Even though I didn’t graduate from the Yeshiva, my relationship with the special rabbis who have gone to the Yeshiva or taught at the Yeshiva has been fundamental to who I am and to who my family is. The Yeshiva has touched so many lives and to think we’re celebrating 100 years is mind-blowing. Just imagine how many hundreds of thousands of people have been touched by our Yeshiva.”