Fewer Jews in Foxholes

Ever since my first year in Air Force ROTC I’ve been trying to figure out how many other Jews there are in the military. I guess it was probably so I could have an idea of the likelihood of me actually meeting other Jews, and being at bases with viable Jewish communities. When I was a freshman, I was able to find out the Air Force component on the Air Force Personnel Center website, but looking back at the site in subsequent years, I have no idea where I found it.

Within the last month (after Googling for years) I found 4 websites with some relevant information. The Jewish War Veterans (my late grandfather was a member, fought in WWII) website recently put out a “350th Year, Commemoration of Jews in the (Colonial/American) Military Guide,” which is a great read if you’re looking for a half-hour to kill at work and want to read something to make you proud to be a Jewish serviceman. The guide tells that “Jews have always had a higher percentage in the military than their percentage of the total population.”(p.35).

This was pretty inspiring, and I kept researching. What I found out on the other 3 sites was not as motivational. I’m not sure when the trend began, but for at the least the last few years, we’ve been well under being equal on a per capita basis.

According to one website, that names its source as the Department of Defense Manpower Data Center, but doesn’t give a date for the article, declared Jewish servicemembers are 1,413 Army, 1,027 Air Force, and 1,548 Navy/Marines. Based on the totals of that site, the data indicates our percentage of the military overall, as well as by DoD department, is a low 0.3%.

The third website I found cites the Armed Forces Chaplains Board of the DoD, and its info is current as of 31 Dec 02. This site gives numbers on only enlisted personnel, however. Here we get 823 Army, 1,226 Air Force, and 1,034 Navy/Marines. Our percentage there comes out at roughly 0.4%.

The last website I found again put up the figure of 0.3%; in other words 3 in every 1000 servicemembers declares Judaism as their religious preference. It also cites a 2000 Gallup Poll that puts the percentage of Jews in America at roughly 2%, which is the same as I’ve been told all my life. The bottom line is that our percentage of America’s fighting forces would have to increase nearly 7-fold to match our percentage of the population as a whole. I was floored to discover this. I tried to figure out how it could be that in past wars we’ve served our country in droves, and now it’s in trickles. Steve Sailer, a journalist for UPI, wrote the article on this last website, and he tries to offer an explanation:

At 0.3 percent, Jews make up less of the services than they do of the general population, where estimates of the proportion of Jews center around 2 percent.

There are several reasons for this. For example, American Jews tend to be older than the national average with a median age of 41, according to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, compared to 35 for Americans as a whole. So, fewer Jews are of military age.

Further, this study found that about half of all Jews have bachelor’s degrees, vs. 28 percent overall. While 95 percent of military officers have college degrees, only about 3 percent of enlistees do, and 85 percent of them have never been to college. Therefore, the percentage of Jews in the working class from which most enlistees are recruited is well below the national average.

Muslims, who make up about 1 percent of the population, [and also about 0.3% of the Armed Forces,] according to a Center for Immigration Studies report by Daniel Pipes and Khalid Durán, are somewhat more represented in the military on a per capita basis than Jews, but are less represented than Christians.

He brings in a lot of interesting facts (which I love), but he doesn’t address any Jewish societal influences, which I believe may also have a significant impact on the disheartening disproportion.

I went to a private Jewish day school in Philadelphia for High School, and I feel motivated to send their college counselor ROTC or other military recruitment/information packets. I know when I brought up ROTC to my counselor, she was shocked. Besides me, and one graduate a year above me (who went Navy ROTC), I’d never heard of anyone from my school going into the military. Beyond that, I’m not sure what we can do. I would think that considering the nature of our enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jews would be lining up around the corner at the recruiter’s office to join the fight, like they did in WWII, when another menace threated American and especially Jewish freedom.

I’d like to end this article with 2 questions:

1) Why do you think our percentage of the military has fallen off so drastically?

2) What can we do about it, if we should even be concerned?







  • This is a nice article, thank you for contributing it! I think the decline may have something to do with where we are fighting. Last year Jason posted a poll about claiming Judaism on your dog tags. The point is that many are scared to be in the middle east with “Jew” on their dog tags, so they may just refuse to admit it.

  • Funny thing about the Jewish Culture, a culture that values education, laws, and open debates to an extensive degree. When settled securely (no one has tried to kill them yet) in a meritocrocy, the members of the Jewish Culture will thrive! Once the jewish families thrive, and they are two generations removed from being the immigrants in the ghetto, but are instead the bankers/lawyers/doctors/high class members of society, they feel like all the other high class members of society and no longer serve in the armed forces in great numbers. The United States military is mostly formed of middle and lower class citizens.

    When the first jewish president of the US is introduced by his mother, she’ll say, “This is my son… you know, the brother of the doctor.”


  • Intresting article. I have been in the army for almost nine years. Durring this time I have run into a fellow Jewish soldier from time to time. However when I went to 3ID stationed out of Savannah GA is when I started running into other Jewish Soldiers every time I turn around. Most of us are officers, however there are some enlisted running around as well.

  • The funny thing is that you often don’t know who is a Jew until something comes up in conversation or at some Jewish event. I lived on the same street as another Marine for several months and only found out he is Jewish after I changed duty stations!

    Joshua, I’d be curious to see what the ratio is of enlisted vs. officer Jews. The officers are usually more visible (lay leaders, etc.), but I’ve run into a significant number of enlisted Jews, both in person and via this site. I was prior enlisted, so I guess I count as both…

  • Rabbi Don Levy

    I think that Jews in the military are more under-counted than under-represented. I speak from 14 years enlisted service in the USN and now over 9 years as a chaplain in the USAF. Many Jews prefer to answer “no religious preference” when asked their religion for statistical purposes. There are a number of reasons for this. Some think that if they identify as Jews in this way, they will be forced to carry dog tags that identify themselves as a Jew. (Not so; you can put whatever religion you want – including none – on your dog tags, and many Jews have two sets, one with “Jewish” and one for when they’re in the Arab world with something else.) Others think that the information will be used on some level to harass or single them out for conversionary efforts by Christian chaplains. (I’ve never heard of this happening, although I do use the lists to keep identified Jews updated about what’s going on for them at the chapel.) The reasons Steve Sailer of the UPI gives for the Jewish military “under-representation” may be interesting reading and valid demographic points, but I honestly think he’s trying to explain a phantom phenomenon. Track down the hundreds of servicemembers at any base who are listed on the alpha roster as “no religious preference,” and you’ll meet far more than a smattering of Jews. Of course, these Jews will never show up in stats kept by the Dod Manpower Data Center or the Armed Forces Chaplains Board. I hope this is encouraging, and keep up the good work all you Jewish warriors out there!

  • I read a stat that stated that 50% of women in the Army are black. That would mean white America is under represented. It is also true that blacks and Hispanic Americans are very much over represented in the Army as far as males go.

    Bottom line, look no farther than socio economic reasons to be the main reasons Jews are under represented. There is no draft, and the Army offers a great place for discipline and gratis education.

  • Colonel (Ret.) Jeff Felder

    I believe there is another reason which is true for others faiths as well. That is, Jews tend to live in the major metropolitan areas of the East and West, which are also under-represented in the military. I doubt the data have been compiled, but my anecdotal experience is that uniformed service is proportionately greater among Jews from the Midwest and South, even among officers. I was something of an oddity in the late 60s in Philadelphia, but that was not the case for friends in those other parts of the country. On a more personal note, Vandebilt AEPi sends officers nearly every year, and it is a very small chapter.

  • The British Army is under-represented also and it is mainly to do with the parents wanting the “Lawyer/Doctor” thing. However, when im in Iraq, I am Christian, and i have the dog tags to prove it! I dont think its a denial of my faith, i think its pure common sense. Things are bad enough over there and i dont need to make it worse!

    Great article.

  • What is an “atheist jew”?