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Fla. takes kosher off prison menu
Vegetarian and vegan diets remain, but aren't ideal for Jewish and Muslim inmates.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 24, 2007
MIAMI - Jewish inmates who follow strict religious diets at state prisons are no longer provided meals in line with their beliefs. Muslims must now eat vegan food to satisfy their religious requirements.
The Corrections Department has ended the Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program, which provided kosher meals to not only Jews, but to Muslims as well, because the state prison system does not offer halal food. Cost and fairness were cited as factors.
"We have 100 faiths represented by DOC inmates, so it would be impossible to satisfy everyone's preferences and unfair to do it for one group and not another," agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.
The department has suspended use of pork products in an attempt to appease religious adherents and will continue to serve vegetarian and vegan meals. It said many Jews and Muslims could choose the vegan option, which is free of any animal products, to adhere to their faiths.
But for the strict followers of kosher and halal diets, it is far from ideal.
Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel in Tallahassee noted that unless the vegan food is prepared separately from other meals, it would not satisfy kosher law. Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa said vegan food would meet the religious requirements of those who follow a halal diet, but would cause undue hardship, forcing inmates to be vegetarians.
Rules on halal and kosher foods are intricate, but at their core are similar in that both exclude pork and mandate a specific way in which an animal is killed. Kosher laws dictate the way food is cooked as well.
The Corrections Department halted new enrollment in the state's Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program in April - when it had 259 inmates enrolled and another 95 seeking inclusion - and commissioned a review. Last year, the department opened the kosher meal program to non-Jews, and officials have feared it would burgeon, along with the bill.
There are about 93,000 inmates in state prisons, with an estimated 3.7 percent Muslim and 2.2 percent Jewish.
The state already is the target of a still-unresolved lawsuit filed last year on behalf of Muslim inmates denied meals in accordance with their diets. Randall Berg, the Florida Justice Institute attorney who filed that suit, said he was considering amending the complaint to include Jewish inmates.