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Judge Rules for Second Time That Jewish Prisoners Have Constitutional Right to Kosher Food

August 18, 1975
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Federal Judge Jack B. Weinstein of Brooklyn has ruled for a second time that Jewish inmates in federal prisons, specifically Jewish Defense League founder Rabbi Meir Kahane, have a constitutional right to kosher food. Judge Weinstein, who sentenced Kahane to a year’s imprisonment for violation of parole, also ordered last Thursday that Kahane, an Orthodox Jew, be provided kosher food when he was assigned to a federal minimum security prison in Allenwood Pa.

When federal prison officials notified Judge Weinstein they would not provide Kahane with kosher food, the judge ordered that he be detained at a half-way house in Manhattan and permitted time out to attend religious services and kosher restaurants. Last week government attorneys charged Kahane was abusing his release privileges and asked for his immediate transfer to the Allenwood prison. Kahane’s attorney charged the government with violating Judge Weinstein’s orders and obtained a habeas corpus writ under which government and defense attorneys and Kahane appeared yesterday in Judge Weinstein’s Brooklyn court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit asked Judge Weinstein, at the government’s request, to reconsider the constitutional issue of the right of an Orthodox Jewish prisoner to kosher food and also to rule on a technical issue involving jurisdiction. Judge Weinstein, noting that Kahane was in his court and that he therefore had jurisdiction, reaffirmed his original order for kosher food for Kahane.

The second Weinstein ruling cleared the way for the federal appeals court to rule on the constitutional question if the federal government appeals. Whether it will or not is uncertain, according to officials of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA).


However, COLPA is proceeding with a lawsuit filed by Nathan Lewin, a COLPA vice-president, in district court in Washington last Wednesday, which asks for a declaratory judgment that the defendants provide kosher food to another Orthodox Jewish prisoner. The lawsuit named as defendants Attorney General Edward Levi, Norman Carlson, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Jay Flamm, warden of the Youth Correctional Facility at Ashland, Ky.

The suit was filed on August 13 on behalf of Jeffrey Smilow, 20, who, with Richard Huss, 19, was sentenced here to a year at the Ashland facility for refusing to testify in the trial of two other members of the JDL, Stuart Cohen and Sheldon Davis, in the January, 1972, fire-bombing of the Manhattan offices of Sol Hurok and Columbia Artists Management.

Federal Judge Thomas Griesa, who sentenced Huss and Smilow, denied their request for kosher food at Ashland. That denial was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, which dismissed the appeal on what COLPA called narrow, technical grounds. Lewin said the lawsuit was filed in response to the Circuit court dismissal.

The declaratory judgment asks that the Washington court order the defendants to provide Smilow with pre-packaged frozen kosher meals for the six-months remainder of his prison term. The lawsuit also asks for a preliminary injunction to require provision of kosher foods pending outcome of the lawsuit. It also asked the court to order Carlson to amend current federal prison regulations to include provision of kosher food for Orthodox inmates of federal prisons and $100,000 in damages which the suit claimed Smilow had suffered by denial of kosher food to him in prison.

Lewin said he expected the federal court in Washington would announce shortly a hearing on the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction.

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