Jews in Prison Denied Kosher Meals
Following is a post from guest blogger, Jackie Walker. Visit her Web site at www.religiontranscends.com. And watch for an upcoming post on her site from Rabbi Derek Leman.
Messianic Jews at the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio, are being denied the kosher meals they’ve requested.
The inmates say they’d like to avoid pork and shellfish as well as the mixing of meat and dairy products, according to The Columbus Dispatch. [link to http://www.columbusdispatch.com] Prisoners point to the Constitution and federal law which states that the government must allow freedom of religious practice, even for prisoners, unless there is compelling governmental interest that would allow for restrictions.
Though the prisoners’ complaints are being investigated, the Ohio government continues to argue that Messianic Jews should receive the same meals as everyone else. Officials cite three main reasons to deny the kosher meals.
Reason #1: Kosher meals are for Jews only
Messianic Jews may not have the exact same belief system as traditional Jews, but many still want to keep kosher. Some say that just because they believe Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah doesn’t mean they don’t want to keep some of the tenets and practices of the Jewish religion and lifestyle.
But the Ohio prison system doesn’t label Messianic Jews as Jews at all – it considers them to be Protestants. Protestantism is an umbrella term for all Christian denominations other than Catholics; Protestant churches include Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and so on. Because both Protestants and Messianic Jews believe Yeshua was the Christ (the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament of the Bible) and because they place their trust in and follow Yeshua and early Christian doctrine, they are considered to be the same. Yet by lumping the two religious groups into the same category, the prison system seems to ignore the fact that unlike Protestants, Messianic Jews follow many Jewish laws and customs – including kosher law.
Reason #2: Kosher meals aren’t necessary
Even if Messianic Jews could make officials understand they are not Protestants by definition or by practice, they would still need to prove that eating kosher meals is a necessary practice for their religion. And so far, Messianic Jewish rabbis who have been called upon by the Ohio government say eating kosher meals is not a law in Messianic Judaism. The courts, then, view the special meals as more of a tradition or a preference.
Reason #3: Kosher meals are, quite frankly, expensive
With tight budgets and a groaning economy, the Ohio prison system has sought, thus far, to keep costs down. And that includes the price of meals for prisoners. According to The Columbus Dispatch, non-kosher meals cost 95 cents, while kosher meals can cost between $5 and $6 each.
To keep from discriminating and denying rights, the Ohio government has allowed all Jews (regardless of belief) to receive kosher meals on Jewish holidays.
What do you think? Should the inmates be allowed to receive kosher meals, even if they aren’t considered necessary to their religious practice?
Jackie Walker is a freelance religion writer in Chicago, Illinois. She is a regular contributor to Relate magazine and has worked for a number of religion publishers in the past, including Guideposts, Relevant Media Group, and World Wisdom.
Religion Transcends is a Web site devoted to providing news about world religions – without prejudice. It includes commentary, reporting, and education to eliminate misconceptions about religions and to give context and meaning to stories in the news. Visit Religion Transcends today at www.religiontranscends.com.