Wanted: a chaplain for the armed forces

By Marcus Dysch, February 12, 2009
Colonel Martin Newman is committed to Jews in the services

Colonel Martin Newman is committed to Jews in the services

The Ministry of Defence is to appoint its first full-time Jewish chaplain to the armed forces.

He will be expected to advise on religious issues, organise services for Jewish personnel and arrange kosher rations.

Jewish servicemen and women are the last to receive a dedicated chaplain, with Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh padres already employed by the MoD.

Jonathan Woodhouse, MoD deputy chaplain-general, said the appointment was “essential”.

The number of Jewish personnel in the armed forces is thought to be in the low hundreds, but includes troops now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Martin Newman, of the Jewish Committee for HM Forces, believes the number of troops is “small but significant”, and growing.

“Because the [forces] community has become more active in recent years, people are coming out of the woodwork and changing their records to show they are Jewish,” he said.

The new chaplain will also assist families while servicemen and women are out of the country.

“He will be the equivalent of a shul minister. Some troops and families tie up with local communities, but a lot are out in the sticks,” said Mr Newman.

“If someone in the forces says they are Jewish then we need to be in a position to give them the best possible support we can.”

Lynette Nusbacher, senior lecturer in war studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, said: “For a very long time service personnel hid the fact they were Jewish. They are a bit less likely to do that now the MoD’s commitment to diversity has been demonstrated.

“For many years members of the services would take leave for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and go back to their family. So rather than be affiliated with a Jewish community in the armed forces, they were affiliated with their family synagogue.”

But with personnel now regularly serving in operational theatres of war around the world, Dr Nusbacher said, demands had changed.

“It has become much more intense, so ordinary members of the forces need more assistance. We need chaplains who can go to those theatres, make sure kosher rations are available and do whatever is necessary. The idea that there has not been a full-time chaplain is pathetic.”

Reverend Malcolm Weisman, who has worked as a voluntary part-time chaplain to the forces for more than 50 years, will now become an adviser to the new appointee.

The new role offers a salary of £31,650 and an appointment is likely to be made next month.

Last updated: 2:08pm, February 12 2009