Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why Federal Inmates Who Ask are Required to Get Kosher Food

Tablet Magazine had a terrific piece by Peter Lance proving that Meir Kahane was killed by Al Qaida operatives.

It brought back memories, and reminded me of an interesting historical footnote about Rabbi Kahane and his impact in a very different sphere. In the 1970s, Kahane had been arrested by the US and was placed on probation. He was alleged to have violated the terms of his probation, and was sentenced to serve a year and a day. When Kahane was incarcerated by the US government, the Bureau of Prisons refused him kosher food. He sued, and the case came before Judge Jack B. Weinstein, the sentencing Judge. The issue was whether kosher was an essential part of Judaism.

Judge Weinstein, in his 1975 decision granting Kahane's request quoted from my late father’s Understanding Genesis (among other sources). My father had pointed out that following Jacob’s battle with the Angel, and from that day forth Jews do not eat from the sciatic nerve, and that this was the origin of the laws of Kashrut, a fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith (which was the main point being litigated).

From the decision:
"A theological concept central to Judaism, recognized
by Jewish and non-Jewish scholars alike, is that of a
"covenant" [*693] between God and man. The
covenantal theme -- that God loves his people and will
favor them in generations to come and lead them to a
promised land, and in return men shall walk in God's way
-- is repeated again and again in the [**14] Genesis
stories of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. See
N. Sarna, Understanding Genesis 120-133 (1967). The
covenant theme is the essence of stories of the exodus
and of Moses, and becomes the crucible of the messages
of the Prophets and essential to an understanding of the
relation between God and man. See, e. g., G. von Rad,
Old Testament Theology 129-135 (D. Stalker trans.
1962). Individual responsibility is not submerged in the
covenant with a people. As Sarna notes:
"this biblical 'doctrine of merit,' . . . has
profound consequences for man, for it
implies that the individual is of supreme
importance and that from his actions may
flow beneficial consequences for all
N. Sarna, supra, at 151."

The decision is fascinating and well worth reading.

The government appealed and lost.

Kosher meals were mandated top be provided by the BOP  to Jewish inmates pursuant to a ruling by the Second Circuit in 1975 in  527 F.2d 492 Meir Kahane, Plaintiff-Petitioner-Appellee, v. Norman Carlson, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, et al., Defendants-Respondents-Appellants (

Ever since that Appellate court ruling, the BOP has been required to provide kosher food for all Jewish inmates who request it.

(Hat tip to Melvin Weinberg, a partner at Trautman Sanders, who retrieved a copy of the decision for me).

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