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Jews in Federal Prisons to Get Kosher Food

June 9, 1976
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jewish inmates of federal prisons throughout the United States are now entitled to receive full kosher meals, including meat, poultry and fish, according to Sidney Kwestel, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) which helped negotiate the kosher food arrangement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The statement setting this as formal policy is the first in the 46-year history of the bureau, Kwestel said, adding that it was effective as of May 25. Kwestel said that a series of lawsuits on the issue in federal courts had clarified in general terms the right of Jewish prisoners to a nutritious kosher diet but had not resolved the questions of the precise components of such a diet. He said that heretofore the federal government had consistently refused to provide such Jewish inmates with kosher meat or poultry.

A draft statement setting forth the new policy, applicable to any Jewish inmate who asks for a kosher diet, was prepared by COLPA attorneys in cooperation with representatives of the National Council of Young Israel, an association of Orthodox synagogues, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, which sponsors a kosher certification program, and the Rabbinical Council of America, an association of Orthodox rabbis.


Kwestel said the new policy statement spelled out the right to kosher food and stated that the inmate’s diet must contain “as great a variety of foods as possible, including meat and poultry.” Eligibility is open to “any Jewish committed offender who wishes to observe the dietary laws” and remains in force for the inmate “as long as non-kosher food is not consumed.” Such a breach of kashruth observance “may” result in loss of the inmate’s “entitlement.” The statement also provides that removal of the kosher food privileges may be challenged by the inmate through the usual prison grievance procedures.

According to the policy statement, all kosher foods provided to Jewish inmates “shall be properly certified or deemed acceptable by the kashruth division” of the Orthodox Union “symbolized by the OU on the container or packaging, or by any other Orthodox agency deemed acceptable by the inmate.”

The new arrangements recognize that kosher food may become non-kosher if brought into contact with non-kosher food or utensils used to prepare non-kosher food. Jewish inmates are therefore provided with “access to a hot plate, or some other means to heat their food; at least two pots and pans–one for preparation of meat dishes and one for preparation of dairy dishes–or at least two dishes, bowls and cups–one each for meat meals and one each for dairy meals–and two sets of eating and serving utensils.”


The preparation and serving utensils must be new, with the exception of the hot plate. Inmates also will be provided with “a special storage area in which to place their eating utensils and cooking equipment to preclude their accidental use in connection with non-kosher food.”

Approval of the policy statement followed action by the Bureau of Prisons, during the Passover period last spring, to permit Jewish inmates to receive greater amounts of Kosher-for-Passover foods, including TV dinners, than ever before, Kwestel said. Harold Jacobs, UOJCA president, and Herman Rosenbaum, Young Israel president, hailed the approval of the statement as an important development and praised the spirit of cooperation of the Bureau of Prisons.

Paul Epstein, of the COLPA Washington Branch, was legal counsel to the negotiating team which included Stanley Schlessel, director of the Young Israel University Kosher Dining Division; Rabbis David Cohen, UOJCA director, and Elkanah Schwartz, UOJCA public affairs representative, and Robert Tersky, a Newark attorney.

The Passover program was coordinated by Epstein and Schlessel, with the meals provided by the Young Israel Kosher Dining Division, Kwestel said. It was understood that the prison bureau would absorb the additional cost of the kosher meat, poultry, and fish in the program.

A COLPA spokesman said the kosher food problem was much less complicated in state and local prisons, where visitors are permitted to bring parcels of food, a practice banned in federal prisons.

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