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EAT, PRAY, MURDER

Appeals Court: Murderer Sincere Enough to Merit Kosher Food

Lower Court said he purchased "nonkosher" food items including cookies, soft drinks, coffee, tuna, and candy.
Attorney for Max Moussazadeh in front of the Texas court house.

Attorney for Max Moussazadeh in front of the Texas court house.

Max Moussazadeh, a convicted murderer, has won the right to have kosher food provided to him.  The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling which found that Moussazadeh’s request for kosher food was “insincere,” and instead ruled that to deny him kosher food would constitute an infringement on his religious beliefs.

Moussazadeh was convicted and sentenced to 75 years in prison for his part in the fatal shooting of a Texas man in 1993.  The victim was shot to death by three of Moussazadeh’s accomplices, while he served as the lookout during a robbery in Houston.

Although Moussazadeh was incarcerated at a prison in Rosharon, Texas, which had a “kosher kitchen,” he was later transferred to another facility where kosher products were available for purchase, but which did not provide free kosher meals for its inmates.

In his original legal filing on July 15, 2005, Moussazadeh complained that he was “forced to eat non kosher foods” and asked that he be “allowed to receive kosher meals because it is part of [his] religious duty.” He claimed that he was born and raised Jewish, and that his family kept a kosher household.  He also claimed that his faith required him to “eat kosher foods,” and not being able to do so forced him to violate his religious beliefs, for which he believed “God would punish” him.

The lower court had rejected Moussazadeh’s request at least in part because it found that his religious beliefs were not sincere, but the Court of Appeals found that,

In addressing whether Moussazadeh’s religious beliefs were sincere, the district court looked to his words and actions but incorrectly concluded that those factors established insincerity ‘as a matter of law.  ‘ The court decided that Moussezadeh was insincere based on a combination of three findings.  First it found that he purchased “nonkosher” food items including cookies, soft drinks, coffee, tuna, and candy.

The Court rebuked the lower court for failing to understand that there is a difference between food certified as kosher and food that is not certified as such.  In its opinion, the Court of Appeals found that the lower court incorrectly “concluded that items that were not certified as kosher were per se not kosher, but, as Moussazadeh and amicus curaie relate, a certificate does not render food kosher or nonkosher.”  As a matter of American law, “Individuals may practice their religion in any way they see fit, and ‘it is not for the Court to say it is an unreasonable one.’”

Most state prisons and the federal government provide a kosher diet to all observant inmates, while Texas remains one of only 15 states that do not.  According to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which was co-counsel for this case with Latham & Watkins, “the cost of feeding all observant Jewish inmates in its prison system would be less than 0.02% of its annual food budget.”

“If thirty-five states and the federal government can provide kosher diets to all of their observant Jewish inmates, there is no reason Texas cannot do the same,” said Luke Goodrich,  Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund.

The case was sent back to the lower court to determine whether there was an alternative way of providing Moussazadeh with kosher food which was less expensive and addressed any security issues.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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17 Responses to “Appeals Court: Murderer Sincere Enough to Merit Kosher Food”

  1. Anonymous says:

    "a convicted murderer" asking for special food. Feed him chunks of pig.

  2. Shi Yuehan says:

    lucky he gets bread and water.

  3. Edward Lobel says:

    If a felon is Jewish, makes no difference if he is religious or not, he should be allowed to have kosher meals! Jewish felons do not have the right o have different.
    meals, but the same general type of meals as long as they are kosher. For example, if the general population has hot dogs, then the Jewish felons should have kosher hot daogs,

    BTW, I do believe in "creul and unusual punsihment" and depending on the crime bread and water would be good enough (of course for a Jewish felon, the bread needs to be kosher!) No TV, only AM radio etc.

  4. Rc Fowler says:

    How is this even news here?

    A man guilty of murder should be executed–not living on the public dole!

  5. Rc Fowler says:

    If he is indeed guilty of murder–he is not worthy of any food!

  6. Edward Lobel says:

    Rc, it's sort of like "you know who the mother is, but you are not always sure of who the father is (unless of course you have a dna check) If you oir anybody else did not actually see the murer take place then are you really sure the person onvicted really did it? There have bee enough times when the wrong person has been convicted only years later proven not to be the guilty party. If you executed the wrong person, do you just shrug it off and say oops? perhaps the people who sent the wrong person to be executed should in turn be executed? Keep someone in prison with no benefits no luxuries (as I described in my note about,) and if it is proven that he did not commit the murder, he can be let free and some sort of restitution can be made, Not so if he was executed!

  7. Grace Acosta says:

    Even a brutal mass murderer should be given kosher food if he is Jewish, even if he converts in jail. The gates of teshuvah are always open to everyone. If he keeps even one mitzvot, who are we to complain? A Jew wants to keep kosher? Baruch Hashem!

  8. Grace Acosta says:

    Even a brutal mass murderer should be given kosher food if he is Jewish, even if he converts in jail. The gates of teshuvah are always open to everyone. If he keeps even one mitzvot, who are we to complain? A Jew wants to keep kosher? Baruch Hashem!

  9. Grace Acosta says:

    Rc Fowler are you the Sanhedrin now? I suppose you would force Jewish inmates to work on Shabbos, too.

  10. Grace Acosta says:

    Guilty or not guilty, murderer or look out, it makes no difference. If he is Jewish, he should be allowed to have kosher food. I can't believe this is even up for discussion. Doesn't anyone read the Torah these days?

  11. Yehuda Lave says:

    Regardless of his crime, being in prison is suffering for any human being. One of our few connections to being human is food, and the person wants to connect to God by eating kosher. Many times he will eat some non-kosher just to eliminate boredom. He is no less sincere if he eats some non kosher items, just to get though the day. give the person some compassion, regardless of his crime.

  12. Yehuda Lave says:

    Regardless of his crime, being in prison is suffering for any human being. One of our few connections to being human is food, and the person wants to connect to God by eating kosher. Many times he will eat some non-kosher just to eliminate boredom. He is no less sincere if he eats some non kosher items, just to get though the day. give the person some compassion, regardless of his crime.

  13. Steve Lezak says:

    Grace, Yehudah and Edward are correct. G-D accepts teshuvah at any point in a person's life. The problem is the courts do not.
    What I find most interesting is the lower courts rendering of Jewish Law to the extent that it has decided what is and is not kosher.

    "First it found that he purchased “nonkosher” food items including cookies, soft drinks, coffee, tuna, and candy."

    I am sorry, but 90% of packaged soft drinks, coffees, tuna, cookies and candies actually DO HAVE kosher certification if you read the packages.

    The Aleph Instititue is a wonderful source of information, advocacy and is usually willing to help a Jewish Inmate if asked. They can work with the institution to provide the inmate with kosher meals at little or no extra cost to the facility and still provide the inmate with his needed meals that meet the laws of Kashruth(Kosher laws).

    Contact information for the Aleph Institute:

    Rabbi Menachem M. Katz
    Director of Prison & Military Outreach.

    Address:
    9540 Collins Avenue.
    Surfside
    Florida
    33154-7127
    United States

    E-mail: mmk@aleph-institute.org
    Telephone: (305) 864-5553 ext. 14
    Fax: (305) 864-5675.
    http://www.aleph-institute.org

    Information: Responsible for Programs & Packages for Military Personnel and Prisoners Contact Rabbi Katz if you: * Would like to volunteer on behalf of The Aleph Institute * Have Community Services hours you would like to complete at The Aleph Institute * Are going to prison, serving time in prison you are an active member or Veteran in the United States Armed Forces.

    As can be seen above, they also work with the military service men and women's religious needs as well.

  14. Charlie Hall says:

    ' I do believe in "creul and unusual punsihment" '

    You are un-American.

  15. Charlie Hall says:

    Cheaper to lock them up for life. Even with kosher food.

  16. Edward Lobel says:

    First of all Charlie, I may be a lot of things, but 'Un-American" is not one of them. If you looked at what I term "cruel and unusual" it is not quite what the constitution and the supreme court has said is cruel and unusual! No TV, AM radio only and no "luxuries" (whatever luxuries are) Gourmet meals are out, on the other hand, Jewish prisoners need not be religious to have kosher food as long as it is the same general food as he rest of the prison population gets (see my note on hot dogs) the same goes for muslims and their requirement for hallal food.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I am all for tshuva and I hope he is sincere as 20 years in jail give someone perspective. Of course the Torah also says murder is assur too. Although there is a concept of ain shliach ldvar aveirah. Since he didn't actually kill this guy he never would've been convicted in a bais din.

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