As young Jewish troops went off to serve in World War I, they received Tanachs from the Jewish Publication Society to take with them overseas. As World War II loomed, once again Jews in the military were supplied not only with their gear, but also the 1941 JPS translation of the Hebrew Bible.
Now, for the first time since the early 1940s, and just in time for the High Holidays, the Philadelphia-based publishing company, in partnership with the Jewish Welfare Board Chaplains Council, has printed 10,000 copies of the JPS Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures for Jewish Personnel in the Armed Forces of the United States.
According to a JPS press release, there are about 14,000 Jewish military personnel currently serving in all of the U.S. armed forces.
There had not been a Jewish Bible specifically geared for the military since World War II, noted Carol Hupping, chief operating officer and publishing director for JPS. Until this printing, when Jewish soldiers were asked if they wanted a bible, they would receive a standard Christian Bible like everyone else.
"Now they can pull this one from the shelf instead," said Hupping.
The new, 1,069-page military Tanach uses a translation completed in 1985 and contains the text of the Torah, Nevi'im ("Prophets") and Kethuvim ("Writings"), as well as prayers for starting out on a journey, for loved ones at home, during illness and after experiencing danger, along with blessings recited over meals. It replaces the version JPS issued in 1941, which used the 1917 JPS Bible translation.
The May 6, 1941, dedication by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was president and commander in chief when the last version was printed, still appears in the new troop Bible.
Though the idea to issue these Tanachs was first broached in 2006, JPS and the JWB waited until the military completed uniform updates so that the volume could be resized and the type reset, in order to produce something that would fit into the pocket of a standard-issue military uniform.
When it came time to design a cover, JPS wanted to go with a camouflage theme, explained Hupping, but the official military camouflage patterns have restricted usage and graphics were not available. However, JPS received a package containing four kipot with the distinctive camouflage utilized by the U.S. Armed Forces for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. She detailed how each kipah was carefully cut so it could be flattened out and its pattern scanned. The result was the cover image with these four branches represented, with a tan Star of David overlapping them.
The project, at a cost of about $55,000, was funded by the Everett Foundation, JPS and individual donors. Hupping added that the JWB Chaplains Council, which also partnered with JPS for the earlier versions, will oversee the distribution of the military Tanach to any Jewish serviceperson who wants one.