Daily Israel Report

US Army Permits Kippah and Beard for Soldiers

New US Department of Defense directives allow religious soldiers to request exemptions as long as approval doesn't hinder missions.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 1/23/2014, 9:24 PM

Israeli and American soldiers
Israeli and American soldiers
Flash 90

The US Department of Defense has loosened uniform regulations for religious garb, meaning Jewish soldiers in America will now be able to wear a kippah and grow a beard while serving in the army.

Aside from Jews, the change in policy allows Muslims, Sikhs and others to request exemptions to sport turbans and tattoos.

Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen told BBC requests will be judged individually to make sure they don't affect "mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline."

If beards or religious garb interfere with helmets, protective masks or the operation of weapons, the requests may be refused. This point brings to mind the case of Hasidic-religious NYPD police recruit Fishel Litzman, who last November won the right to grow a beard after being refused on similar grounds.

Under the new policy, which took effect Wednesday, each time a soldier is transferred to a new assignment they will need to request new exemptions.

"We don't know how many requests we will get," Christensen said. According to NBC News, the US military contains 3,700 Muslims, 6,300 Buddhists and 1,500 Wiccans.

The change was partially initiated after Sikh American soldiers were awarded accommodation for their religious directives to wear turbans and not cut their hair.

However, the new policy directive notes that "the importance of uniformity and adhering to standards, of putting unit before self, is more significant and needs to be carefully evaluated when considering each request for accommodation," adding "it is particularly important to consider the effect on unit cohesion."

In Israel in early January, the Israel Football Association briefly banned the wearing of a kippah during soccer games, a move it quickly backtracked on following public outcry.