Torahs for the Battlefield

The United States is reporting a shortage of Torah scrolls in the U.S. military, particularly in war zones, where they are needed most.

Chana Ya'ar, | updated: 15:50

Israel news photo: Flash 90

As Jews around the world prepare to celebrate Yom Kippur, which begins this Friday evening -- the holiest and most solemn day of the year – the United States is reporting a shortage of Torah scrolls in the U.S. military.

The shortage is especially being felt overseas, where Jewish soldiers' hunger for words of Torah especially on the High Holy Days.

Five American military rabbis have been sent to bases and ships serving in war zones, but not even all of them are equipped with Torah scrolls, according to Rear Admiral Harold L. Robinson. A recently retired Navy chaplain, Robinson serves as director of the Jewish Welfare Board, the chaplaincy department of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America.

“Next year we want them all to have Torah scrolls,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an interview published Tuesday.

Special Torah scrolls are required for service in war zones, Robinson explained, because they need to be small enough to be easily portable. Each one costs $36,000. Of the 60 existing Torah scrolls in the U.S. military, 20 are installed at Veterans' Administration (VA) hospitals, leaving only 40 for service worldwide. Nearly all are too big to be carried into battle.

Those currently being used are also huge: the protective cases for each are more than four feet high. According to the admiral, they were designed for past wars, when Jews traveled in from the field to bases in Saigon or Paris for High Holy Day services.

“The chaplains have been telling us that they need more portable Torahs,” Robinson said. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the chaplains go out to the troops in order to minimize the risk to the soldiers from roadside bombs.

The Jewish Welfare Board has arranged for new, smaller Torah scrolls that will be able to fit into an airliner overhead compartment and which are to be written in Israel, according to the report. Torah scribe Zerach Greenfield, who has written a number of such scrolls for the IDF, has been commissioned to write such a scroll now for the U.S. Army.

For more information on the project, dubbed “Torahs for Our Troops,” click here.