Jews serving in the Swiss army or on civil protection and civil service duty generally meet with understanding in matters of religious practice, dietary needs, Sabbath and religious holidays. Questions of dispensation or other allowances should be clarified actively and well in advance with those responsible.
As a rule, officers responsible in army, civil protection or civil service units show a lot of understanding for special requests from Jewish service men and women. These are, in most cases, allowed to observe their religious obligations during the time of service.
Regulations at various levels
Civil protection service is regulated at federal and at cantonal level. There are therefore no nationally binding regulations, only those issued by the cantons. Civil service for its part is organised by the corresponding federal agency (Bundesamt für Zivildienst), but it, too, is not subject to any nationally binding regulations. The following information therefore applies primarily for members of the army, but can also provide orientation for those in civil protection or civil service.
The Swiss army service regulations specify that the army and all those serving in it shall respect the faith of each individual. This is the guiding principle that allows the right of religious practice to be taken into account during military training or service. However, the functioning of army operations takes priority over the needs of individual army members:
95 Freedom of belief and conscience
1 Freedom of belief and conscience is guaranteed. Such practice does not, however, release army members from their service duties and must not impair army operations. Members of the army may not offend the beliefs or convictions of other army members or any third parties. They may not disrupt the peace in connection with religious or ideological convictions.
(Dienstreglement der Armee 510.107.0, status as of 1 Januray 2022) (These and the following citations are unofficial English translations of the official German version)
This legal and regulatory foundation gives army superiors the possibility of taking the religious practice of individual army members into account in decisions made based on the situation at hand. Army members with specific religious requirements are advised to communicate transparently and in good time with their commanding officer. The army’s pastoral care unit can help in finding solutions, as it is responsible for lending pastoral care to all members of the army. If army chaplains from this unit perform an ecumenical service for the troops, those belonging to a non-Christian faith are entitled to participate in a religious service outside the army. At various army locations there are, moreover, rooms of silence available. Associated information can be obtained from troop command centres or the pastoral care unit.
Troop caterers are unable to take kosher dietary requirements into consideration. Catering for these requirements is basically handled in analogy the vegetarian requirements. This is laid down in the article of the regulations on catering in the army, under the section on special dietary forms:
4 Meatless diets
Vegetarians face no lack of nutrients due to their renouncement of meat products. As a rule, stationary army locations provide for ovo-lacto-vegetarian alternatives to meat dishes.
5 Religion-based diets
Dietary requirements for religious reasons are handled in analogy to meatless diets. If possible, such factors are taken into account in the selection of meat for main dishes during field operations.
(Verpflegung in der Armee 60.001, 1.2.2 Besondere Kostformen, status as of 1 May 2019)
Army members are advised to report their dietary requirements directly to their command centre or the officers responsible in good time before commencement of their service.
The regulations on the organisation of military training «Organisation der Ausbildungsdienstes 51.024» (status as of 31 March 2021) defines general weekend leave as running from Saturday, 8 am to Sunday midnight. Special arrangements may be made for those wanting to observe the Sabbath for religious reasons:
4 The commanding officer may allow appropriate special arrangements regarding general leave for individual army members on a case-by-case basis. Any service time lost must be made up.
(Organisation der Ausbildungsdienstes 51.024, 1.6.1 Urlaub / Allgemeiner Teil, status as of 31 March 2021)
For example, leave may be granted from Friday afternoon onwards. This is to be compensated by service on Saturday evening and Sunday. The contact person for such cases is the troop commander.
A leave request for special religious holidays may be granted provided this does not impair operations. The request procedure is the same as for other personal holiday requests and is defined in the army’s service regulations:
55a Procedure and effect of personal holidays
1 Army members called up for service who require a personal holiday are obliged to submit a written and signed request to their unit’s commanding officer before commencement of their service. Reasons for the request must be stated and associated evidence provided. In unforeseen cases, such a request may be submitted during the service period.
2 The commanding officer shall approve the request if the applicant’s military performance and operational needs allow this, and if the applicant’s personal interest in this holiday supersedes the public interest in his/her service during the time in question.
(Dienstreglement der Armee 510.107.0, status as of 1 January 2022)
In addition, recruits may be granted two leave of 24 hours each during their basic training («Rekrutenschule») under the «Frei wählbarer Urlaub» (freely selectable leave) clause:
55b Freely selectable leave
1 The freely selectable leave may be taken in the form of separate or consecutive days.
2 Requests for such leave are to be submitted to the commanding officer in writing.
3 No reason for the request needs to be given.
4 The commanding officer shall approve the request if operations allow this.
5 Discharge and return are to take place within the defined hours of leave.
(Dienstreglement der Armee 510.107.0, status as of 1 January 2022)
Since religious holiday dates are known in advance, army members are required to submit their written leave request, including reasons, for such a holiday to the troop’s command centre in good time before commencement of their service.
Questions and conflicts
In the case of questions or conflicts, the commanding officers responsible or the army’s pastoral care unit may be contacted. The SIG is also available insofar as its possibilities and expertise in the matter concerned allow.