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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
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Gentile Prisoners Suddenly Become Jewish for Kosher Food

Pennsylvania prisoners say they are Jewish simply because they want kosher food, which inflates the prison budget. Passover solve the problem when the inmates discover they can’t eat “kitniyot.”
Will there be a supply of matzoh at the seder table in Nepal this year?

Will there be a supply of matzoh at the seder table in Nepal this year?
Photo Credit: Orel Cohen/Flash90

The York, Pennsylvania prison has recorded a sudden upsurge in “Jewish” prisoners, along with a much higher food budget following their demands for kosher food.

The law requires serving kosher food to Jews who request it, but that does not cover the non-Jews. Kosher food has to be prepared outside the prison and costs up to four times the price of a non-kosher meal. Multiply the difference by the 140 “kosher” prisoners and the result is an additional $100,000 a month.

Acting York County Solicitor Donald Reihart said during a recent prison board meeting that the prisoners think kosher food is better, which may or may not be the case.

Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan of York’s Temple Beth Israel, York’s largest Jewish congregation, told York media, “It’s more expensive to prepare a kosher meal because of the processes that are involved with the slaughtering and the preparation of the food, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is any better.

“You could give someone two pieces of bread and a piece of cheese and that could be a kosher meal. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get some brisket or matzo ball soup. They could get a kosher meal that still tastes horrible.”

His congregation has approximately 600 people, one percent of whom keep kosher, he added. There is no orthodox Jewish synagogue in the city, so that leaves the question of how many “outsiders” in the prison are Jewish, which has a population of approximately 2,400. Nearly 1 percent claim they are Jewish, which means there are a whole lot of Jews from elsewhere, or more likely, there are a lot of fakes.

Prison officials are trying to figure out to solve the problem. Some of the Jewish wanabees give themselves away quickly, switching back and forth every so often from kosher to non-kosher meals. Apparently, they just can’t give up the bacon and eggs.

A “circumcision check” would not solve the problem because there are plenty of non-Jews who are circumcised. On the other hand, prison officials could tell those who are not circumcised and who claim they are Jewish that they must get a quick operation on you know where. That would probably work.

That the leaves the question of those who are circumcised but are not Jewish. Their birth certificates could be checked, but then there is the question of those who claim they converted.

Linda Seligson, the cultural director at York’s Jewish Community Center, has an even better idea to get rid of the phony Jews. Simply wait for Passover and see how many of the inmates can get along eating matzah for eight days and sticking to a diet of potatoes and more potatoes because of the Ashkenazi restriction on eating “kitniyot,” such as corn and other grains.

So much for the “food of freedom” for prisoners.

But what about the Sephardim, who do not hold by that custom?

York Daily Record columnist Mike Argento has a better solution. He reminds readers that being a Jew is not all matzo balls and gravy.

If the inmates stay Jewish long enough, they will encounter anti-Semitism, and then the prison budget will go back to where it was.

About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.


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One Response to “Gentile Prisoners Suddenly Become Jewish for Kosher Food”

  1. Moshe David says:

    as someone who was in jail and recieved the kosher diet, I have seen it. the perception among many of the inmates is that the meals served to the general population, and especially the meat, is below the quality found on the outside. many times I was approached to "trade" – occasionally I did, if they had a sealed packet of food that was kosher, usually from the commissary.

    as regarding the article: Mr. Gedalyahu, I do not like the tone of your article. you seem much more concerning with the verkakte prison budget than the prisoners. they are looking for genuine spiritual guidance inside, many having received none in their life, hence gangs, violence, and crime. it is an incredible opportunity to help individuals change their life for the better. to hell with the damn prison budget!

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