The Jewish Daily Forward website reports today (May 1, 2012) that the population of religious Jews in prison has plenty of company when it comes to keeping kosher behind bars. A number of secular Jews, messianic Jews, Black Hebrew Israelites -- and, in many cases, people with no Jewish background at all -- eat a traditional Jewish diet.
Jews make up just one-sixth -- or about 4,000 -- of the 24,000 inmates who eat kosher food in American prisons. And since kosher food can cost more than twice as much as regular fare, it is costing taxpayers millions of extra dollars to feed all those who want it.
"We want them to be very careful about who they give kosher food to," said Menachem Katz, director of prison and military outreach at the Aleph Institute -- a Chabad-affiliated social services group. "We don't want them to give kosher food to every Tom, Dick, and Harry if they say they are Jewish."
Many prisons are now considering ending their Jewish dietary programs due to their high cost. "They want to throw the baby out with the bath water," Katz said. "Rather than get into the nitty-gritty, they say, 'Let's just destroy the whole thing.'"