Prisoner Gets Court Ok for Kosher Food His Way

A federal judge, in what was described as the first case of its kind, has ordered the federal Bureau of Prisons to provide a Jewish inmate with food certified by a Hasidic rabbinic agency, Howard Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, reported today.

The ruling by Judge John Larkins, Jr. of the federal district court for the eastern district of North Carolina, was handed down in Trenton, N.C. Judge Larkins ruled that the prisoner, whose name was withheld and who is believed to be from Montreal, was entitled to provisions certified as kosher by the Central Rabbinical Congress (CRC) of the U.S.A. and Canada, the umbrella agency for all Satmar Hasidic groups. The CRC has an extensive kosher product certification program.

The ruling was in response to a suit filed on behalf of the inmate at the federal Correctional Institution at Butner, N.C., which challenged the bureau’s policy of providing only kosher products certified by the Kashruth Division of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, designated by the O-U symbol.

COLPA AIDED CASE

COLPA had assisted the inmate’s attorney and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. The COLPA brief was drafted by David Butler, a Washington lawyer and member of COLPA’s Washington chapter.

Butler said the issue was the meaning of rules relating to observance of Jewish dietary laws in federal prisons. In 1975, COLPA assisted the Bureau of Prisons in drafting regulations to provide a kosher diet for federal prisoners asking for such a diet. The regulations provide that all kashruth-observing Jewish inmates shall be provided food “certified or deemed acceptable by the Kashruth Division” of the Orthodox Union “or any other Jewish agency deemed acceptable by the inmates.”

Butner prison officials said they could satisfy those regulations by providing O-U certified food but the inmate claimed that his traditions required him to eat only CRC-approved foods. In his brief, Butler argued that the Hasidic inmate had the right — based on the regulations and the First Amendment of the constitution — to insist on getting food acceptable to his religious beliefs.

O-U LISTED IN REGULATIONS

Butler cited the text of the regulations, which recognize that “some Jewish inmates may require food that is approved by an organization other than the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.”

Butler also argued that, under the First Amendment, which protects the right to the free exercise of religion, an individual cannot be required to sacrifice his religious beliefs to maintain his health.

Dennis Rapps, COLPA executive director, said that the Orthodox Union is specifically named in the regulations because it is a non-profit organization whose certification trademark is the most widely recognized symbol of kashruth.

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