Generals Speak at Religious Military Conference

In order to help “Jewish men and women in the US armed forces maintain their religious connection,” the Aleph Insitute hosted a Military Shabbaton and Training Conference in Florida.  The event brought

together more than 300 service personnel, lay leaders and congregants for presentations by military leaders.

Key military speakers included Fort Bliss commander Maj Gen Howard Bromberg; Rear Adm Robert Burt, Navy Chief of Chaplains; and Maj Gen Douglas Carver, Chief of Chaplains for the Army.

The Aleph Institute noted the importance of the Chaplaincy in the military:

According to Rabbi Sanford Dresin, Aleph’s director of military programs, military chaplaincy has its roots in the First Amendment and its guarantees of religious freedom for all citizens.

At the same time, the institute seemed to misunderstand the role of Chaplaincy.  For example, the article notes that 

an Army Captain in Baghdad who was the lone Jew on his base [had] his repeated requests for materials such as prayer books and Shabbat candles…ignored by the chain of command.

A chaplain in Kuwait referred the officer to…the Aleph Institute, who put him in contact with other Jewish soldiers in the area and shipped out a package containing Shabbat candles, tefillin, a Kiddush cup and prayer books.

The problem with that anecdote is that the Chaplain, not the chain of command, is responsible for meeting the Soldier’s request for religious materials.  While it is possible that the Soldier had no access to any Chaplains in Baghdad, the Chaplain he contacted in Kuwait should still have arranged to provide for his spiritual needs, rather than simply passing him off to a civilian support organization.

The Aleph Institute also says

Because of all the red tape involved, the lone soldier stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan has almost no chance of getting these things through the regular channels.

which, quite honestly, is a misrepresentation.  “Red tape” is a reference to a bureaucratic road block, and there is no indication that there are any institutional barriers to any Soldier’s religious exercise in the combat theatre.  In fact, the opposite is true, with Chaplains going out of their way to ensure the institutional support of Soldiers’ religious freedoms.  In addition, any “red tape” faced by a Jewish Soldier would be no different than that faced by a Soldier of any other faith.

While there are many remote outposts with limited access, the Aleph Institute paints an inaccurate picture of the religious support provided by the military.  Contrary to their implications, Chaplains in Iraq and Afghanistan stand both ready and willing to provide for the needs of US military members regardless of their faith.  Chaplains even make efforts to serve those in extremely remote locations, FOB-hopping in helicopters and convoys to serve the spiritual needs of every US military member.

The Aleph Institute has provided valuable resources for US military members around the world.  It is an official endorsing agency for Jewish US military Chaplains, and given the presence of the service head Chaplains, appears to be have a close and positive relationship with the military Chaplaincy.  It is disappointing to see it apparently speak inaccurately and poorly of efforts by the US military to support religious free exercise.