November 30, 2009

How Kosher Must a Prisoner be to Receive Kosher Foods

New York….After a string of court decisions upholding a prisoner’s rights to kosher foods, a federal judge upheld the right of a New Hampshire State Prison to deny kosher food to an Orthodox prisoner because he ostensibly ate non-kosher foods. Kuperman's lawyers said that the prison’s withdrawal of kosher foods from Kuperman violated his First Amendment right to practice religion. A federal magistrate in 2007 ordered the State’s prisons to provide kosher food to prisoners that request them. While not wishing to pass judgment on Kuperman, several rabbis reached by KosherToday said they could see the prison’s point of denying kosher food to someone who also eats non-kosher. One rabbi familiar with the prison system said that many states he knows never even ask whether the prisoner also eats non-kosher food. He said that he is familiar with Jewish prisoners who ask for the kosher fare on occasion, such as on Shabbat and holidays. The rabbi also said that some prisoners will eat non-kosher fare deducing that it is “only fish or vegetables.” The debate seems moot at the moment since the prison has changed its policy.