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On the Menu at Florida Prisons? Kosher Food

Court says eligible inmates must get kosher meals—even if they’re not Jewish

Lily Wilf
January 21, 2014

Florida prisons will begin serving kosher food to any inmate who professes a “sincerely held” religious belief, the New York Times reports. This new court order dictates that kosher food must be made available to all eligible prisoners—many of whom are not Jewish—interested in eating the ostensibly fresher, cleaner kosher fare. This change will likely take a toll on Florida prison finances, with a kosher meal costing $7 a day to a non-kosher meal’s $1.54, and with 4,417 inmates putting in requests so far.

And even if it did cost $54.1 million, budget anxiety is not a compelling enough reason to deprive an inmate of a kosher meal, the courts have ruled.

When the meals are first offered in prisons, demand for them jumps and then begins to wane. For some, the choice is genuinely religious.

In a world of few choices, the meals are a novelty, a chance to break from the usual ritual of prison life. Others believe the kosher turkey cutlets and spaghetti and meatballs simply taste better. But some see it as a safer bet.

This culinary development raises the question of whether a stricter test might be necessary in order to determine someone’s “Jewishness”—or, rather, their “kashrutness.” After all, a sincerely held belief, as the Times points out, is a pretty lenient standard.

Furthermore, is prison kosher food really so healthy? Even the best homemade matzoh balls and challah seem like unlikely diet options. Perhaps the inmates should have requested a juice bar instead.

Lily Wilf is an editorial intern at Tablet.