Religion & Beliefs

Jewish Prison Chaplains Reach Out With Kosher Food

Getting kosher food in prison has been a pain in the ass for a while now. There’s the child-molester who wanted a yarmulke and some matzah ball soup in Georgia, and the former Neo-Nazi and statutory rapist in Missouri who … Read More

By / June 5, 2008

Getting kosher food in prison has been a pain in the ass for a while now. There’s the child-molester who wanted a yarmulke and some matzah ball soup in Georgia, and the former Neo-Nazi and statutory rapist in Missouri who was jonesin’ for some kugel. The obvious take home message here is that if you can’t do time in a facility that won’t provide you with kosher food, then you really shouldn’t do the crime. That said, both the child-molester and the statutory rapist won lawsuits suing for kosher food in prison. And in California, after a different child-molester took the state to court for not providing him with kosher meals in 2003, the state promised to make good faith efforts to get kosher food available to all California inmates by 2006. This article in the Forward explains some of the unexpected results of what’s called the Jewish Kosher Diet Plan.

As a direct result of the lawsuit, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been scrambling in recent years, in conjunction with the Northern and Southern California boards of rabbis, to install a Jewish chaplain at every prison in order to oversee the preparation of kosher food. …

The work extends far beyond merely vetting jailhouse kosher cuisine. According to one longtime Jewish chaplain, his niche is as close as a rabbi can come to performing missionary work. “We work with the underbelly of society, the spiritually void, the morally empty,” said Rabbi Lon Moskowitz, the Jewish chaplain at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. “It’s important to have chaplains so we can facilitate the Jewish Kosher Diet Plan statewide, but it’s a requirement so that the spiritual needs of incarcerated Jews are met.”

That’s all well and good, but to meet someone’s spiritual needs you need to get him to walk in the door, and it’s the kosher meat, more often than not, that does that job:

When the kosher diet plan was first introduced two years ago, [Rabbi Mendel] Slavin said, non-Jewish inmates began attending his services and claiming to be Jewish in order to get on the meal plan. “With the kosher diet, it became fashionable to be Jewish,” he said. He had worked to explain to the non-Jews that eating kosher was not a privilege, but rather a requirement for those who truly were observant Jews.

 

Isn’t it funny that kosher food is getting prisoners to explore their spiritual lives, and at the same time kosher food is getting a lot of Hasidic rabbis and businessmen in trouble as their shady meatpacking plant is turned inside out?

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