Why prisoners love kosher food

Max Moussazadeh won his battle this week to ensure that he is served kosher food in his Texas Jail. Max, who is serving a life sentence of 75 years for a fatal shooting in 1993, was initially denied this privilege and had filed a law suit to have this changed in 2005. The 35 year old murderer was very concerned that if he didn’t adhere to a kosher diet he would be punished by G-d. His first attempt at suing for kosher food had been rejected, as the court felt that his reasoning for requesting the food was insincere but he has now had the decision reversed and will be able to eat kosher meals.

Another Jewish inmate who has recently made headlines with regards to eating kosher food in jail is a Rabbi from Brooklyn. Baruch Lebovitz, of the Satmar community, who is serving jail time for sexually molesting a 16 year old boy, has been receiving what the public consider to be “very special” meals. Not only does the Rabbi receive kosher food but he is refusing to eat the current kosher food in his jail and is being provided with deluxe kosher meals from outside the jail including foods like Steak and barbecued chicken wings. Baruch’s daily diet also includes a box of matzo and four ounces of grape juice. The public are enraged that this sexual pervert who will be in jail for 32 years receives such good privileges.

The irony of these cases is that the majority of inmates who receive kosher food in the United States are not religious Jews. There are the Messianic Jews, secular Jews, Black Hebrew Israelites and in most cases non Jews, who also receive this privilege. In fact Jews make up only one sixth of inmates who eat kosher food in American jails. The non Jewish inmates prefer to eat the kosher food as it apparently tastes better than the non kosher food and is considered to be safer than the standard meals. Another reason why the food is so desirable is that it comes pre packaged which makes it easier to trade inside the jail for money.

Kosher food in jails currently costs tax payers millions of dollars. The average kosher meal costs over $2 in contrast to the non kosher meals that cost under $1. The non Jewish inmates will go to great lengths to get this privilege and in some cases will have to actively practice Judaism for 6 months before being allowed to apply for the kosher diet. The main issue seems to be that all the different states in America disagree about what constitutes valid religious grounds for receiving kosher food.

The state of Florida is currently being sued by the US government over the lack of kosher food that it is providing to inmates. Hundreds of prisoners in Florida are currently being denied their right to kosher food due to a lack of funding for food. The issue that the government has with Florida is that whilst only a dozen or so prisoners are getting kosher food, other specialty diets are still being given out, including vegetarian, liquid and pureed meals. Even these meals however have restrictions on them and are only available to inmates who are aged 59 or older.

Due to the complexities involved in who should be allowed to have a kosher meal, even a non Jew can potentially receive damages for not getting kosher food. In 1991, Michael Fegans was sentenced to jail time in Arkansas for robbery. Michael who was a Baptist when he arrived at the jail converted to a sect called the Assemblies of Yahweh which abides by Old Testament law. This sect insists that its members must eat Kosher food on days such as Passover and Yom Kippur!. In 2003, Michael was awarded $1500 compensation for being served non kosher food.

The kosher food for inmates is produced in an Orthodox Union center in New York and is packaged by inmates. The inmates who work at the OU center mostly don’t keep kosher but they are there to learn the food industry so that they can pursue a career when their jail time has finished. The working environment is considered to be far from ideal. The inmates spend 10 hours a day in a 38-40 degree refrigerated room and the supervisors have a very difficult time watching over such an unpredictable staff. The initiative overall is getting a lot of praise from the prisons themselves who are delighted that their inmates are learning a trade and they now want to offer their inmates additional kosher food such as salads and cold food.

Tune in next time to find out the many other benefits of being Jewish in jail.


About the Author
David Z Bernstein was raised in Britain and educated at Clifton College before attending Birmingham University where he studied English and Drama. David made aliyah several years ago and studied at the Ohr Sameyach Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Refuah institute in Jerusalem where he received a Diploma in social work. Currently David is a freelancer specializing in affiliate marketing