Observant Jews in the Armed Forces will likely be facing renewed hardship as a result of the Pentagon’s recent decision to cancel the procurement of kosher field rations, commonly known as Meals Ready to Eat (MRE). In April 2013, a solicitation for bids was issued by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) for the production of kosher and halal MREs for 5 years. In early January the agency decided to amend the solicitation and eliminate the kosher part of the order.
Agudath Israel wrote to Major General Donald Rutherford, Chief Chaplain of the Army and Chairman of the Defense Department’s Armed Forces Chaplains Board (DOD/AFCB), to express “deep concern” over the decision.
“As things stand now, no kosher MREs are being produced and, as previous stock has become depleted, there is essentially nothing currently available for Jewish members of the Armed Forces who require rations that meet their religious dietary needs,” stated Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s V.P. for Federal Affairs and Washington Director. “How long this state of affairs will continue is unknown.”
In the “best case” scenario, the letter notes, issuing a new solicitation on an “expedited schedule” could take months to complete. In fact, the solicitation put out in April 2013 was eventually awarded in January 2014, and that covered only the halal part. Past experience is not encouraging. When the kosher/halal MRE program was cancelled in 1999, DLA stated its intention to re-solicit, the new solicitation was issued 14 years later, in April of last year. In the interim, kosher MREs were provided on an ad hoc contractual basis. No such arrangement is in effect at present.
“We are greatly dismayed by this decision,” observed Rabbi Cohen. “But as it comes at a time when the Pentagon is demonstrating greater interest in broadening religious accommodation in the military, we are confident that the Department will find a way to address the dietary needs of Jewish service personnel, now and in the future.”