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Are You Considering the Possibility of a Career in the US Military?

Are you wondering how you can get kosher food, keep Shabbat, wear a kippah, put on Tefillin, fulfill holiday obligations or fulfill other key Mitzvot while serving in the US Armed Forces?

We are here to help! Our team of military chaplains will work with you and your recruiters to make sure the proper religious accommodation requests are processed before you head to Basic or Officer Training.


Is it possible to be an observant Jew in the US military?

Yes, it is possible – but it is not easy. One needs to have strong internal conviction to be able to stand strong under the intense pressure of the military while keeping to Jewish religious standards. Understanding the system of religious accommodation – how it works, how you put in the request, what to request, etc., as well as understanding how to communicate with your chaplains and your command – are critical elements of being able to keep basic Judaism while serving our country in the Armed Forces.

We would suggest you read the articles at this link to get a better sense of how this is done.

How do I get permission from the military to keep Shabbos, observe Jewish holidays, eat only Kosher, put on Tefillin, and observe other religious precepts?

The Department of Defense issued an Instruction (DoDI 1300.17, Sep 1, 2020) stating that “the DoD Components will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs), which do not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, or health and safety…. providing that an expression of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) may not, in so far as practicable, be used as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”

This Instruction created a significant change regarding the military’s stance towards religious accommodation – now the military cannot deny a request without having a reason that proves that the request interferes with military necessity.

However, this requires the service member to begin a process that is called a “religious accommodation request”. This is a bureaucratic process, and as such, it typically takes time, and must therefore be started as soon as possible. Ideally, the process should begin prior to accession; but if it is not, the service member always retains the right to request religious accommodation. At the same time, the command can refuse a request if they determine that it interferes with a legitimate military need.

Are there differences in religious accommodation between the branches of the US military?

There are slight differences in both the process of the request, as well as the attitude towards religious accommodation, between the branches.

In general, the attitudinal differences are due to the needs of each branch. The Air Force and Army have more streamlined systems to allow religious accommodation. Given the limitations that exist aboard ships, the Navy and Coast Guard have much less room for allowances. And considering the unique intensity of the Marine Corps, our experience is that religious accommodation is granted more rarely in that branch.

To see the Army Regulation, click here.

To see the BUPERS Instruction (for the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps), click here.

To see the Department of the Air Force Instruction (for the Air Force and Space Force), click here.

Is there a difference in religious accommodation granted for enlisted service members as opposed to officers?

The unfortunate reality is that it is much easier for officers to receive their accommodation requests. This is partially due to the proximity that officers have with upper command, as well as the greater flexibility officers typically have in their responsibilities and in their work days. However, everything does depend on the specific job the service member is responsible for.

What is the process of creating a religious accommodation request?

The religious accommodation request must be made in writing. The request should include the following elements:

  • The religious textual sources mandating the requests.
  • Exact parameters of the request – spelled out as succinctly and clearly as possible.
  • Any flexibility possible within the request.

See this link for sample requests.

The service member will then be interviewed by a chaplain. It is very possible – and, in fact, probable – this chaplain will not be a Jewish chaplain. The service member’s sincerity is meant to be assessed by the chaplain. The chaplain will then submit his assessment of the request along with the request up the chain of command.

Certain requests are allowed to be accommodated at a lower level of the military, such as kosher food. Other requests need to go all the way up the chain of command, to be reviewed by General Officers. While this is meant to be done in a timely fashion, it often takes several months to complete the review.

The Aleph Institute would be delighted to assist you with this process.

If I put in a religious accommodation request, am I guaranteed that I will receive religious accommodation?

There is no guarantee whatsoever. The simpler the request, the more likely it will be granted. In addition, the better the soldier/sailor/airman etc., the more likely his command will entertain broader requests. However, a service member of every branch must understand that from command’s perspective, military needs always take precedence.

What happens if the request is denied?

If the request is denied and you are already in the military, you are legally required to abide by the military’s instructions to you. When requested to do so, the Aleph Institute will advocate for you through your chaplain and chain of command. If a service member feels that their request is being denied for no reason, they can make an IG complaint or consult a legal opinion through religious liberty organizations such as The Becket Fund.

The Aleph Institute will help you determine if the circumstances warrant further investigation, IG complaint, and will assist you to get in touch with religious liberty legal counsel.

Is there any way to join the military and be guaranteed permission to keep all of my religious standards?

There are more optimal circumstances (such as being an officer, a JAG or chaplain, etc. in the Air Force or Army) and less optimal circumstances (such as being enlisted, in infantry units, in the Navy or Marines, etc.). But there is no outright guarantee of anything.

That being said, volunteer auxiliary roles such as Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary or State Militia units are, because of their voluntary nature, more flexible.

Is it possible to be an observant Jew in Special Operations units?

Given the military needs within most SpecOps units and the intensity of the training, the difficulty of getting one’s religious needs accommodated – particularly during training – is so much as to be considered virtually impossible. Before embarking on such a career path, a proper assessment should be made, if possible with the awareness of the command.

What things do I need to be aware of before signing enlistment papers?

Firstly, it is very common that recruiters do not know the proper process of religious accommodation. Secondly, for your own sake, do not trust your recruiter blindly – make sure you have a copy of your religious accommodation request, and ensure that it has already been routed up the chain of command, and you receive *written* approval *before* you sign your enlistment papers. DO NOT accept a statement such as “You will deal with your request when you get to training.” That is a recipe for disaster.

Remember that most recruiters are more interested in you signing the enlistment papers as soon as possible than ensuring you have all your needs met.

What should I know prior to accepting a ship-out date to training?

  1. Try to make sure your initial schooling does not interfere with major holidays, such as Passover or the High Holidays. While there is a slight possibility there may be a Jewish chaplain available to conduct services, that is not guaranteed at all. Even if there is a Jewish chaplain, that chaplain may not be from the same Jewish movement as your own.
  2. Make sure Training Command is well aware of any of your needs. Get direct confirmation; do not rely on reassurances.
  3. Kosher and Kosher for Passover MREs can be acquired from DLA. They should be ordered well in advance of any training. Make sure your recruiter and reception chaplain are aware of the situation as well, and follow up consistently.

What is the best way to explain my religious needs to my recruiter or to my command?

The Aleph Institute has prepared a document that can be used to explain the basics of Judaism without getting lost in the finer points or confusing people too much. Please see this link.

You can also share our article, “5 Things We Wish Every Non-Jewish Chaplain Knew“, with your chaplains.

In addition, please see the video section of our site, where there are several Basics of Judaism videos narrated by Chaplains.

These videos can be found here.

I am considering joining ROTC. What religious issues might I find that I may need to contend with?

Much of the military training in ROTC units occurs on Shabbos. As a result, confirm with the unit their exact needs, and inquire about making up any training during the week.

The Aleph Institute can put you in touch with Orthodox Jews who have gone through the ROTC program and can give you advice based on their experiences.

Does antisemitism exist in the US military?

It is illegal for any US military personnel to bully, harass, or cause any discrimination of any kind. Antisemitism, should it be clearly expressed and proven, is enough to cause a service member to be counseled, given non-judicial punishment, or even discharged from the Armed Forces. If you feel that you have been the victim of antisemitism in the military, you may begin an IG complaint.