Can you be Jewish in the police service?

Yes, you can.

All UK Police Services have a fully inclusive equal opportunities policy. These policies don’t discriminate against people of any faith and actively encourage community representation.

The police service offers a hugely varied career, and the Jewish Police Association has members from most disciplines and across ranks from PC to Chief Superintendent. Some of our members across a number of forces are shomer shabbat, with either full time or part time flexible working agreements in place – if you are interested in learning more about the options available, read our pages about Joining the Police, and do consider getting in touch with us!

Applicants of the Jewish faith often ask about wearing the kippa (skull cap), and about taking time off for the Sabbath or Holy days such as Yom Kippur.

In fact, the kippa is an authorised piece of police dress. Local rosters and planning annual leave in advance mean where possible the police service meets absence requests.

In terms of keeping Kosher, individuals can bring their own food – and with notice kosher food can be arranged by forces where necessary.


The modern police service offers employees as much specific support as possible. This takes many forms, ranging from study groups during training through to mentoring programmes.

In addition, the Jewish Police Association (JPA) is able to offer confidential support and advice to both current and prospective Jewish staff.

Please contact the JPA on 07770 492 782 or by e-mail for more information.

Ask the Rabbi a Question

Here is a list of questions that have been posed to one of our Joint Chaplains, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, along with his answers. If you have a question about any aspect of Judaism that you would like answered, please send us an e-mail. We won't publish your name unless you specifically ask us to...

What is Shabbat?

Shabbat is the Hebrew word for Sabbath and literally means ‘to cease from work’. The idea of resting once every seven days may seem obvious today at a time when most people only work five days a week and have time-off for annual leave and bank holidays too, but when it was introduced in the Bible it was revolutionary. The Sabbath was given religious significance by being linked to the creation of the world, which was completed in six days according to the literal version of the Bible (or six stages/eras according to a more modern reading of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis). Having achieved the Creation, God then rested on the seventh day, and so we do in imitation of God and in remembrance of the wonder of the existence of the world. In the Biblical period, when clocks did not exist, time was measured by nature, the one sign that everyone could recognise. Thus each day started at sunset on the evening beforehand, and so the Sabbath starts on Friday evening and then lasts until nightfall on Saturday eve. During the Sabbath, the accent is on rest and personal refreshment – physical and spiritual – and so ordinary work is banned. This includes not only one’s normal job, but also any activity that was considered to count as work according to rabbinic interpretation, such as carrying in public or lighting a fire. This in turn led to prohibiting activities that came under extensions of those bans, such as turning on an electric switch or driving a car. Of course, there are different groups within Judaism and they differ in their approach to the Sabbath. According to the Orthodox, all the traditional bans still apply and must be observed today. According to the Reform, the definition of what constitutes work has changed over the centuries and modern conditions mean that activities which are not arduous in themselves – such as turning on an electric switch – can be permitted. All groups of Judaism would agree, though, that the Sabbath should be characterised by attending services at synagogues, having special ceremonies at home with family or friends, and spending the time in a way that leaves one relaxed and refreshed.

When Does the Jewish Sabbath Commence?

It starts at sunset. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the opening chapter of Genesis describes each day as “it was evening, it was morning, the first day” i.e. measuring time from the evening. Second, in the period before watches and clocks, the only way to mark time was by nature, and the setting of the sun was a universal sign that was recognisable to all. The Sabbath actually lasts for 25 hours – the reason being that extra time was artificially added by the rabbis at he beginning and the end, so that if one was in a rush or got confused and started or ended it a few minutes early, one would not be breaking the ‘real’ Sabbath, just the extra protective bit around it. It therefore does not go out at sunset on Saturday night, but slightly later, usually marked by the appearance of three stars.

What is Kosher?

Kosher is a Hebrew word meaning ‘fit’ or ‘okay’ – in other words food that is suitable for Jews to eat. The basic laws stem from the Bible itself, but other regulations have been added by the rabbis. Essentially there are five stages to food being kosher:

1. it must come from the right sort of animal : mammals have to have cloven-hoofs and chew the cud (eg cow and sheep but not pig or rabbit); fish have to have fins and scales (ie cod and place but not eel or crab); birds have to be domestic one (ie chicken and duck but not swan)

2. it has to be slaughtered in a a special way that is as humane and quick as possible

3. it has to be cleaned in such a way that the blood is removed

4. it has to be cooked and served in such a way that meat and dairy products are not mixed together at any stage

The sum total is that it means Jews are reminded of their religious values not just at times of prayer but meal-times, so that the faith permeates one’s home and work life.

An observant Jew may only eat and drink foods that have been prepared under strict religious supervision. Unsupervised food products may contain ingredients from non-kosher sources and derivatives can be dairy or meat. Some E numbers, such as fats and preservatives, in milk products come from meat sources and similarly the other way round. Even though this may be only a trace, the product breaks one of the rules of ‘Kashrut’ (kosher).

What is the Significance of Kosher Food?

On one level, keeping kosher is a straight obedience of God’s command in the Bible to abstain from certain foods (Exodus 22.30, Leviticus 11. 44-45, Deuteronomy 14.21). The foods that are permitted generally conform to the following rule: meat has to be from animals that are both cloven-hooved and chew the cud (eg cow and sheep); fish have to have both fins and scales (eg cod, plaice); fowl have to been domestic birds (eg chicken and duck). The Bible itself does not given any reason for keeping kosher, but different rabbis have been advanced various justifications. One is the spiritual effect of learning self-discipline in an essential part of one’s life, eating. Another is the hygienic reason, that fish without fins and scales eat the refuse off the sea-bed and pick up diseases, while wild birds often eat dead animals and carry their diseases too. Another is to avoid the customs of pagans in Biblical times (eg boiling a kid in its own mother’s milk). Another is the daily identity value, in that keeping kosher means one’s faith is with you three times a day everyday, not just on formal occasions once a week.

We are Hoping to Visit a Local Rabbi Soon and Want to go Prepared so as Not to Offend Him – What Should I Know?

There is not really anything in particular you should consider taking with you. Non-Jews are not expected to cover their heads unless they are in synagogue, in which case they should do so. Be aware the rabbi will have no problem shaking hands with males, but will not wish to do so with females.

What do Jews do When Someone Dies?

There are different customs depending on whether one is an Orthodox or Reform Jew. The Orthodox have strict laws restricting other people from touching a dead body, and seek to have a burial within three days. They try to avoid autopsies unless required by law, as it is considered to be a desecration of the body. Reform Jews do not mind hospital staff doing an initial tidying up of the body in the usual way. They hold funerals as soon as possible but will delay it if relatives need to come from afar. They also permit cremations to take place.

Where Does the Jewish Cultural Appearance (Hair & Clothes) Come From?

This is a hard question to answer because while some aspects of Jewish life have a definite source (eg the rules from the Bible) thee is much that is due to tradition and a long evolutionary process, which is then further complicated by the fact that for the best part of 200O years (from the year 70 till today) Jews have been scattered across the world and therefore been subject to the influences of other countries and the different cultures and faiths in operation there. Thus the head-coverings worn by Jews in some Arab countries in the middle ages looked much more like turbans than those worn by Jews in Christian Europe. On top of this you have to add that even amongst Jews in one location today (eg England) there are different types of Jews (just as Christians are divided in Catholic and Baptist etc) and so traditions will differ depending on which grouping Jews in London or Manchester belong to. Some Jews, for instance, will only cover their heads when in prayer; others cover their heads at all times (either as a sign of Jewish identity, or because they feel they are constantly in the presence of God). Even those that do wear a permanent head-covering will have different types: some with a cloth head-covering, others wearing hats, and with great variations in style in both cases, reflecting a mixture of family tradition and modern fashions.

There is also a general rule – for men and women – that one should dress modestly and certainly not show bare skin (ultra-Orthodox women in particular will wear long skirts, and not go around sleeve-less or with low-cuts dresses). The tradition of men wearing black clothes is limited to a small circle of ultra-Orthodox Jews. It was originally done as a sign of modesty (ie not being flamboyant or showing off one’s wealth) but has now developed almost into the status of a group uniform.

As for hair: for most Jews there is no definite Jewish style and they wear their head as they feel it suits them; for a small group, however, usually designated ‘ultra-Orthodox’ there is a tradition to grow very long a strand of their side hair between the head and the ears. This is because a verse in the Bible bans cutting that part of the hair excessively short (Leviticus 19.27) – possibly because that was a pagan rite at the time – and so some Jews chose to grow a strand of their side hair very long to make it abundantly clear that they are observing that ban. For women, there is a tradition in some circles that once they are married, they should cover their hair as a sign of modesty. Here, too, traditions differ: with some women considering a hat sufficient, others wearing a scarf, and others cutting their hair and wearing a wig, so that their natural hair is not visible It should be noted that this is a minority custom, but it will be observed in areas where ultra-Orthodox Jews live.

What is a Tallit?

A Tallit is a prayer shawl, which is rectangular in shape and has fringes attached to the four corners of the garment. This is based on a verse in the Bible (Numbers 15.37). It is worn at daytime services – whether conducted at home or in synagogue. It is obligatory for all males over the age of 13 years, but in Reform synagogues women have the option of wearing a tallit too. The texture and look of a tallit can vary according to the different traditions from which people come eg Ashkenazi Jews (originally from Eastern and Central Europe) often have a woollen tallit with black stripes on white background, while Sephardi Jews (originally from Spain and the Mediterranean) often have a silk tallit with blue stripes on a white background.

What is the Difference Between Torah and Talmud?

The Torah refers to the Five Books of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch), which for Jews is the core part of the Jewish faith and the source of the main laws and ethics. The Talmud is a record of the rabbinic debates in the 2nd-5th century on the teachings of the Torah, both trying to understand how they apply and seeking answers for the situations they themselves were encountering. An example of the former is “Thou shall not kill” – but how does this apply to suicide or self-defence or time of war? An example of the latter is : what does Jewish teaching say about going to a bath-house in which there is a Roman statue (does it count as an idol and mean Jews cannot go there ?). The Torah and Talmud together form the background of Judaism today, with the Biblical commands often being re-interpreted in the light of the Talmudic debates (eg ‘an eye for an eye’ does not mean literal physical retribution but financial compensation for the pain, public embarrassment, time off work, medical fees etc).

What is ‘Halakah’?

This is the whole of Jewish law, affecting both rituals and ethics, how one behaves in synagogue, at home and in society, one’s private and public life. It derives from the Bible, but has been evolved over the centuries by rabbinic interpretation as new circumstances arose.

What is the ‘Kabbalah’?

This is Jewish mysticism, which is not connected with magic or the dark arts, but a deeper level of understanding of Jewish tradition, and especially of spiritual matters. It has become popularised in recent decades, but until now has been reserved for those who were extremely learned scholars and well versed in Jewish law.

What is ‘Orthodox Zionism’?

The word Zionism a poetic term for Jerusalem. Originally Zionism meant the establishment of a Jewish national home, whereas now after 1948 it means the maintenance of the Jewish national home, the State of Israel. There are many different types of Zionists, Secular and Orthodox, which reflects their own level of religiosity, but the common factor, is either living in Israel or supporting the right of Israel to exist. Zionists may also vary across the political spectrum, from right to left and so not necessarily support the policies of the government of the day, even though they are still intensely patriotic to the country and people as a whole.

What is the Origin of the Shield of David?

The six-pointed star (above the JPA logo – Ed.) did not originate with David. It goes back to Bronze Age times and was used by a wide variety of civilisations – from Mesopotamia to Britain – and served either as an ornament or as a magical sign. It first appears in Jewish circles in the 7th century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) – and as David was in the 10th century B.C.E. it shows that the connection with David is fairly speculative and there is certainly no mention of it in the Bible as being linked with him or even existing in the first place. In some ancient synagogues from the Second Temple period (the first century before and after the change of the millennium) one finds the hexagram side by side with the pentagram (five-pointed star) and the swastika. (The Nazis would have been shocked if they realised the swastika was once in use as a synagogue decoration). The early Christians and Muslims also used the hexagram for their churches and mosques, many of which are still visible today.

In the middle ages the hexagram became associated with magical powers, and was often used on amulets or to illustrate kabbalistic (mystical) texts. However, it is noticeable that it was often referred to as “the Seal of Solomon” – a name that alternated with the Shield of David in Christian and Muslim literature too – indicating both a big question-mark as to knowledge of its exact historicity and a desire to give it an authoritative source. It was only in the 17th century that the hexagram became commonly known as the Shield of David. The long time lapse until it was regarded as a specifically Jewish symbol is shown by the fact that it was not used on tombstones until the end of the 18th century. The reason why it only then began to become regarded as a Jewish sign was the emergence of Jews out of the ghettos and into European Christian society led to the desire for a Jewish equivalent of the cross. The Jews wanted to have a striking and simple sign that would symbolise Judaism in the same way that the cross represented Christianity. Thenceforth it became very common on synagogues, communal buildings, Jewish charity letterheads and ornaments. It even received theological treatment in Franz Rosenzweig’s “Star of Redemption” – written in 1921 – when he used it as a way of expressing his philosophical ideas about the meaning of Judaism and the inter-connections between God, people and the world. It was also adopted by the Zionist movement, becoming a symbol of new hopes and a new future for the Jewish people. The choice of the menorah as the emblem of the State of Israel reflects the fact that it is a much more authentic Jewish emblem, although the use of the Shield of David on the national flag indicates the symbolism it has acquired over the centuries, even if David himself never used it. It has certainly become the Jewish emblem, universally recognisable to Jews and non-Jews alike.

We Have a Tallit That Used to Belong to a Member of the Family Who Has Now Died. What Should we do With it?

There are a large number of options. One is (although this is no longer possible in this case, but would apply if the situation occurred again) to bury the tallit with the person. Traditionally it is the only item that accompanies the body in the coffin, apart from the shroud itself. (More recently the custom has grown of leaving certain objects with a body – varying from a wedding ring or a favourite possession or a letter from a mourner). In some circles it is usual to cut off one of the tzitizit/fringes of the tallit before it is placed in the coffin, so as to make clear that it is not for use anymore. A second possibility is to keep the tallit as a family heirloom. A third – especially if it is still in reasonable condition – might be to hand it on to a younger member of the family, perhaps a grandchild. A fourth option would be donating it to the synagogue as a spare tallit to be available for guests at services. A fifth might be to donate it to the local school’s Religious Education department to be used a a display resource when teaching about Judaism. A sixth – especially if it is a large one – might be to keep it to be used as a chuppah for future family weddings. A seventh is to bury the tallit but remove the fringes (which are considered the more special bits and which turn an ordinary piece of cloth into a tallit) and use them as bookmarks.

A Non-Jewish Family Member Died and the Funeral was on Yom Kippur. Should we Have Gone?

Clearly it was not a good time to hold a funeral, but presumably it was the most convenient date for others. You would obviously have had a very good reason for not going, but I think it would probably have been right to attend – because honouring the deceased and supporting mourners is such an important consideration (although the latter can also be done in the days, weeks and months afterwards, and is often needed more then when support tends to drop off and it is wrongly assumed that “everything is back to normal now”). However, if the funeral is nearby, you should still attend as much of the Yom Kippur service as possible both before and after the funeral, while it would not be necessary to go back to the mourner’s house afterwards, which can wait till another day. If the funeral was taking place far away, then you should find out where is the nearest synagogue so that you could attend services there for as much as possible. If no synagogue is nearby, then you should take your Mahzor (High Holy Day prayer book) with you so that you can at least read part of the service by yourself and be spiritually at one with the rest of the community by praying at the same time. Naturally the Yom Kippur ban on eating and drinking would still apply wherever you were.