Observing Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur,
and Sukkot in the US Navy and Marine Corps
How can I obtain special kosher food items
specific to Rosh Hashanah while deployed?
Always check with your unit chaplain, as special food items such as fresh challah, honey cake, apples, honey, and similar goodies are typically shipped to him/her by Jewish organizations stateside. The chaplain may be able to direct you to the Jewish lay leader, who will also serve as a point of contact for obtaining these important items for the High Holy Days.
Will I be able to hear the Shofar while underway or deployed?
Make sure you plan at least three months ahead of time to ensure that necessary Jewish ecclesiastical items will be available for the High Holy Days. Your chaplain or Jewish lay leader can order a genuine shofar direct from Defense Logistics Agency (DLI), but leave room for shipping time. If no Jewish chaplain or lay leader is available at your command to blow the shofar, then learn to do it yourself. Be sure to fulfill this important mitzvah d’oraita (Torah Commandment)!
How do I ensure that I will be allowed time off
to attend the Rosh Hashanah services?
Again, the important principle here is plan ahead – inform your chain of command of your request to observe these important divine services, and complete the necessary paperwork to rout your request up the chain of command. Always keep your chaplain in the loop; he/she will help you fulfill your religious needs. Your command is aware that religious accommodation is both authorized and mandated per Navy instruction. Typically, a command or theater-wide notification will be promulgated informing the dates of the Jewish High Holy Days, and encouraging commands to enable their Jewish personnel to observe them, within the parameters of operational exigencies.
Will I be able to fast on Yom Kippur?
Put in your request chit for a 26 hour total fast (no food or water) on Yom Kippur well in advance of the date. Notify your chaplain of your request. Your chaplain is your friend, regardless of his/her denomination or faith group. Usually you will be able to fast and observe Yom Kippur as required. But be aware – military exigencies could get in the way. Plan ahead to help preclude your running a combat patrol on Yom Kippur.
Will I be able to wear non-leather footwear on Yom Kippur?
The ease or difficulty with which you will be able to uphold the prohibition on wearing leather footwear on Yom Kippur depends on your operational disposition. It is much less incongruous to wear canvas sneakers for a day, even in uniform, with a properly routed request chit, onboard a ship underway or in garrison than out in the moon fields of Afghanistan. Communicate with your command, and chaplain, about this well in advance. I and my group of Jewish Marines in Afghanistan did not wear our combat boots on Yom Kippur, and no one said a word. Build rapport and understanding about such matters with your chain of command.
Will I be able to read from a kosher Sefer Torah on High Holy Days?
Unfortunately, kosher sifrei Torah are few and far between in the Navy/Marine Corps units. You might get lucky, but don’t count on it. This is a place where a sacrifice might have to be made, and you must read from whatever source is available at the unit – a chumash, printed Torah scroll, or pasul (invalidated) sefer Torah. I brought along an old, pasul Torah Scroll on deployment as Command Chaplain onboard an LPD, which we used for High Holy Days. It was better than having nothing.
How will I obtain a Lulav and Etrog for the holiday of Sukkot?
A kosher set of Arba Minim (Lulav and Etrog) are seasonably stocked by DLI, and can be ordered by your command. The Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) also provides sets of Arba Minim to all who order in a timely fashion. Notification of deadline for orders will be promulgated to your command in a timely manner by JWB. Additionally, you may purchase a Lulav and Etrog from Aleph Institute in the same way.
Will I have access to a sukkah while underway or deployed?
You have several options here. Remember our principle – plan well ahead and work with your chaplain or Jewish lay leader. You might be able to convince your command, via its chaplain, to purchase a portable pre-fabricated sukkah from one of the commercial outlets. Or you can be creative, and build your own sukkah from materials available at your command. I once built a kosher sukkah from wooden target frames and palm leaves I found in Hong Kong. Be creative, and get a head start, always fostering positive rapport and understanding with your chain of command.
How do I break the fast of Yom Kippur with kosher food?
Request through your chaplain or chain of command kosher MREs with which to break the Yom Kippur fast. In fact, your chain of command typically will order kosher MREs upon request for us all year round.
How do I get out of the Crossing of the
Equator Ceremony if it falls on Rosh Hashanah?
Be politely adamant about your religious convictions, and respectfully insist on your obligation to observe Rosh Hashanah under such circumstances. ALWAYS be polite, respectful, and consistent. The policy of the Navy and Marine Corps is to accommodate religious needs within the confines of good order and discipline. And trust your chaplain to watch your back and provide efficacious support.
Rabbi Neal R. Kreisler, LT, USN, CHC