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DOD Instruction 1300.17

Religious Liberty in the Military

The US Department of Defense has confirmed the right of every military service member to be granted religious accommodation to serve G-d in accordance with their sincere belief. The PDF below contains the current updated iteration of a military member’s rights to religious accommodation.

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

Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17 (Sep 1, 2020) establishes policy that “all 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.“

So the short answer is: 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.

How do I get Kosher and Kosher for Passover MREs for schooling or field exercises?

Kosher and Kosher for Passover MREs can be acquired from DLA. They should be ordered well in advance of any training through your unit’s supply officer. Make sure your chaplain is aware of the situation as well, and make sure to follow up.

In situations that the MREs were not ordered in time, you can order them yourself from several companies: LaBriute, XMRE, My Own Meals, and Meal Mart.

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?

You need to put in a Religious Accommodation Request. The first step of the process is to speak to your unit’s Chaplain, and describe the needs. After the interview process, you write a formal request to your command with the specific request outlined clearly, along with the source text to your request. Your Command should respond to your request in a timely fashion.

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 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?

While there should be no difference, the 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 depends 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.

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.

To see sample Accommodation Requests, click here. The Aleph Institute would be delighted to assist you with this process.

What happens if the request is denied?

If the request is denied, you are legally required to abide by the military’s instructions to you. The Aleph Institute will assist anyone who has had a legitimate religious request denied. Contact us with the details.

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. 

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, the more likely his command will entertain broader requests. However, military needs always take precedence for the military.

Are there differences made regarding religious accommodation during training, deployments or in regular circumstances?

Yes. Command is often less flexible regarding religious accommodation in training and deployment situations. The best way to avoid any problems is to communicate clearly and well in advance, and to follow up respectfully and consistently.

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

In general, work with your chaplains to explain your needs to command. Be sure not to overwhelm them with too much information – stick to the basics.

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. This document can be accessed at 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.

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, with the awareness of the command.

Can I keep kosher aboard Naval, Coast Guard, or Merchant Marine vessels?

Aleph and the Orthodox Union researched this issue with the assistance of the Navy, and created a framework from which to create religious accommodations for kosher, depending on the size of the ship. Religious accommodation must be requested well in advance in order to work through those hurdles, and we would be delight to assist you with that by providing you with the final report and our suggested COAs. Please contact us for assistance in this matter.