This is a lengthy one, but it is a question that was brought to us a while ago by an active member of the US military. We wanted to do all that we could to cover as much as possible to help make their journey with Yahweh as peaceful as possible while fulfilling their responsibilities and commitment to their job.
Becoming Torah observant and committing to following the Sabbaths and Feast days can be complicated in our modern age, especially for those who work outside of the home. Rearranging a job or business can be very complicated for some. One group who is particularly challenged are Yahweh’s followers who hold a military position. Certain schedules are required by regulation and immovable depending on rank or duty assignment. What can you do to make life easier for yourself, so that you can better follow Yahweh’s commandments, the Sabbaths, and especially the feast days?
To be honest, the first thing you should address is your personal belief on the subject of calendaring. Calendaring amongst Torah observant individuals is a seriously hot topic as many people have their own opinions and thoughts on the matter. Yet, what is right and just from the perspective of the Word?
Our first suggestion would be to have you read and study our free book on calendaring. No matter what calendar you are currently following, you may not know this perspective on the subject which addresses it from solely a biblical perspective. We cover exactly who has the right to decide which calendar to follow. This free e-book gives a different and clear scriptural perspective that others don’t often take into consideration.
At Shofar Productions (The main ministry) and Torah For Women we follow the Hebrew calendar. This decision was based on the information discovered during our studies before publishing our free ebook on calendars.
For those in the military, following the Hebrew calendar will likely have many blessings that you may not have thought of before. The dates for Holy Days will be the traditional ones used by most Torah Observant people, as well as businesses, and even school systems for the biblical holidays. The US Military uses this calendar as well to establish the Hebrew Holy Days which many of the Torah observant staff will follow.
For example, although your immediate supervisor and/or commander may not be willing or able to give you all the Feast days off, following the Hebrew calendar MAY make it easier for you to arrange for leave on at least SOME of the Feast days because they will coincide with the standard calendar dates used by your unit.
A plus is that since these will also likely be the same dates that other TO individuals on base will follow, you may find some common ground. You may find it easier to identify families with home assemblies or some on base religious services for Yom Teruah (Rosh HaShanah for Jews), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and for the beginning of Sukkot. You may also discover that with Sukkot, a space may be set up somewhere on base or at base housing where families are meeting in Sukkahs.
How difficult it is to actually get this time off, may depend upon whether your commander is willing to respect your individual religious views. It may also be dependent upon how many Torah observant people are in your unit, or in your job position. It may also be dependent upon how critical your job is. Security or law enforcment duties as well as medical may be critical positions which may not be easily replaced. Especially if you are new at your duty station. There may be others who will be given leave ahead of your request based on seniority. If leave is not an option, there may be a way to work some of your schedule around so that you have off on at least some of the Holy days.
What Do I Do If I HAVE To Be On Duty During High Holy Days?
You do the best you can to follow Yahweh’s commandments and the biblical teachings.
I have learned over the years that there are times when we make things more stressful for ourselves by believing that we have to make every Feast day and Shabbat absolutely perfect. It is still my dream (Or maybe my fantasy!!!) that we will one day enjoy just ONE YEAR where every single Feast Day goes HALF-perfect!!! There are times, though, when something like an ox in the mire just happens to pop up at the wrong time.
Our experiences have always been memorable, and many we look back on now and laugh. There was the year we put up the Sukkah only to receive a hurricane warning!!! Thank goodness it down graded to a tropical storm, but my poor husband was awake around 3 AM one night and heard strange sounds outside. He ended up chasing the Sukkah across the yard in horrible winds while trying to roll up the fabric sides, and trying to tie it back down again!!! There was the year it was stormy every night and bitter cold the whole week which prevented us from using the Sukkah at all. Then last year when we were in our new home, on the mountain, in the woods in a new state. When neighbors warned us of having seen a bear in the area, we just looked at each other asking, “Do we WANT to put up the Sukkah and eat every night with a bear????” We set up a make-shift Sukkah inside. . . .We have the same look on our faces this year as we learned that the copperheads come out in the evening and eat the cicadas and locusts between now and Sukkot!!!! If the two bugs are not gone by then, do we want to set up the Sukkah and run that risk of dining with venomous snakes???
Experiences like these have helped me to study deeper and become much more focused on the meaning of EACH Feast Day. And to also study what we can accomplish in the diaspora. You see, we can spend so much time trying to follow the Feast Days to perfection that we forget to understand the reasons for them, the meaning in them, and the lesson Yahweh would have us learn through them. We also run the risk of over-burdening ourselves to the point of not finding Shalom in these blessed times. Because of this, we might need to take a step back and relax for a bit. Then, to help with this, ask yourself, from the scriptures, “what exactly is required of me for EACH Feast, and what are those things that cannot be fulfilled because we do not have a Temple?”
Those things that are required that you CAN fulfill are the things that you should do your best to accomplish. Make your list and explore ways that you can accomplish these to the best of your ability while still working your duty position.
The biggest detail for Feast days is that there are times when we are commanded not to work. Then there are a couple where we are to do “no servile work". Examples of the differences would be that on the Day of Atonement, for example, we are not supposed to work at all. Yet the First and Eighth days of Sukkot are Sabbaths on which we are allowed to cook.
If you end up having to work/be on duty during High Holy Days, you will just do the best that you can to honor those dates.
The first thing to do would be to pray for those times to be quiet times at work. Next, here are some Ideas to remove as much work as possible from your Shabbat and Feast routines:
-- prepare for foods early for these blessed dates. If you have a place to keep canned or prepackaged meals, grab foods that you can keep easily for the 24 hour Holy Day. If you normally eat at a cafeteria, grab foods that you can store easily for the amount of time you will have for the Holy days. Remember, there may be a couple of them coming up that go right from Holy Day into weekly Shabbat - so for these you may need to stock up for two full days!
If you have a refrigerator that you can use, whether in your dorm or in the duty station, this is a BIG plus and will help with meals. You can easily put pre-made sandwiches into the refrigerator for you Sabbaths, or even “plates” for reheating throughout the holy times.
-- Shine boots, prep uniforms, wash laundry, do everything that you can in advance of Sundown on the Holy day. Weekly Shabbat is a great time to practice this and get yourself into the habit so that you don’t do unnecessary work during the Feast times. The more preparation done in advance, the more free time you have with Yahweh during that day. If you have to work, you may find an extra 30 minutes or more in the morning to read, study or pray before reporting for work.
-- Include as much prayer and study time as you can on those days. Do you have a small set of scriptures for your pocket? Or an APP on your phone that has the scriptures? How about a small pocket notebook and pen or pencil? Set aside a small section of this notebook, pick a subject that has to do with your becoming closer to Yahweh, something you have been meaning to study for a long time, or that is directly related to the particular Feast Day, study that and take notes in your notebook.
-- Prayer time doesn’t need to be in a closet, or on your knees if that is impossible. Have dead time while on duty? Close your eyes, focus on something prayerful, and spend that time with Yahweh. If someone asks, just explain to them you are doing the best, while on duty, to honor your religious Holy Day of (Whatever day it is). This might surprise you - they may ask for more information.
Remember that little notebook you brought with you? Before you leave your quarters, why not write down a list of people you know are in need of prayer that day? Social media, online groups, your home assembly all will have people who are in need of prayer warriors. This quiet time would be a great time to bring out your little book and pray for those on your list.
-- Try not to shop, or visit any businesses for personal things on those days. Make sure you did everything humanly possible prior to the Shabbat or Feast day by running errands, shopping, banking, etc before the day is upon you. You may run into that rare occasion where the officer in charge at work wants you to run to the store for something. Is it a real necessity? Is there a way they can ask someone else? For this one, you may find yourself in a personal dilemma - you don’t want someone else to break the Sabbath or Holy Day, but you know you don’t want to either. Weigh your options and do everything you can to avoid having anyone run the errand that day.
-- When working, do your job the best you can and think of it this way: preservation of life is key. Is your career field one that is required for the preservation of life? Security forces, law enforcement, doctors, nurses, EMTs, Fire, they aren’t exempt from honoring the High Holy Days, but often on a High Holy Day do have to fulfill the need of preservation of life. This tends to fall into the “ox in the mire” category. If you feel impressed after working, kneel before Yahweh and ask him to forgive you for anything that you may have done that He might find offensive, and ask him to guide you to ideas to make it better next Sabbath or Feast Day.
Some military personnel who have written to us and others we have read have stated that they tend to use some of the following as guidelines in their decision making as well:
Mission critical - you may not be able to have off or to honor the day because you and your unit may have a specific mission. Especially in cases of deployment. In this case, explore ways that you can do the best you can in that situation.
The Greater Good - remember that your responsibility is for the greater good. Think of times in the scriptures where Yahweh’s people needed to be protected. Were there soldiers positioned at key points to ensure that protection? Did they take “time off”? One example to study out would be 2 Kings 11:5-9.
You are protecting the nation AND family - part of the responsibility of the military forces is to be there to protect and defend against enemies foreign and domestic. You are honoring your contract and obligation to do this.
-- I often wonder if, while being in the military, eating clean may be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish if you are required to eat at the (cafeteria) or other on-base facilities. You may be able to see that some items served are obviously unclean. Bacon, pork chops and such are clearly not clean, but what is hidden in the ingredients may not be as obvious. You will need to do your best to follow your biblical diet by avoiding those products.
In the end, are there some who decide that getting out of the military is their only option? Yes, some have chosen to do this. It is a personal decision based on your conviction and conscience. Something that you will need to weigh after careful study and prayer on the matter. If you choose to continue to serve, you at least have ideas and options to explore to help you keep your Holy days, while also fulfilling your duty.
From Torah For Women, we wish you well, and may Yahweh bless you with the safety and protection you need to continue to serve. Our prayers are with you. Blessings and shalom.
Do you have more ideas that you would add to these? Message us and let us know!
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Torah Observance in the Military
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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