A new spike in food costs at the York County Prison has people stumped and looking closely at prisoners claiming to be Jewish. Currently around 140 prisoners say they are Jewish and are receiving three kosher meals a day. But according to Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan with Temple Beth Israel, only a small number of Jewish people actually follow a kosher diet. “My initial thought was, where are all these Jews when they are not in prison?” said Astrachan.
“I think it is high and I think we may have a problem,” said Vice President of the York County Commissioners Doug Hoke, who also serves as the President of the York County Prison Board.
“We got the January 2013 report of the first of the year and the warden noted that the cost for food operation for prison inmates had risen by almost a dollar per meal. The cost of feeding the prisoners absolutely has an effect on our budget and it affects the taxpayers of York county,” said Hoke.
Many believe the prisoners are claiming to be Jewish to get better food. The regular meals at the prison are prepared by staff, the kosher meals are pre-packaged.
Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan says the belief that the food is better is wrong. “I think the idea of kosher meals being of better quality is a misrepresentation. 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,” said Astrachan.
According to the laws of the Torah, the only types of meat that may be eaten are cattle and game that have “cloven hooves” and “chew the cud.” If an animal species fulfills only one of these conditions (for example the pig, which has split hooves but does not chew the cud, or the camel, which chews the cud, but does not have split hooves), then its meat may not be eaten. Examples of kosher animals in this category are bulls, cows, sheep, lambs, goats, and veal. According to the laws of the Torah, to be eaten, a kosher species must be slaughtered by a “Schochet,” a ritual slaughterer. Since Jewish Law prohibits causing any pain to animals, the slaughtering has to be effected in such a way that unconsciousness is instantaneous and death occurs almost instantaneously.
“Vegetables, fruits, would all be kosher so long as they don’t contain bugs or other matter that would have to be expected and removed,” said Astrachan. “If the grains were prepared in the right fashion then a bowl of spaghetti could be a kosher meal. A bowl of salad could be kosher.”
Staff at the prison will be looking into the issue and finding ways to put a stop to the problem. “My responsibility is to protect the constitution and the rights of the prison inmates but also protect the taxpayers. We are very vigilant about how much money we spend out at our prison and it concerns me if there is any shenanigans going on that are absolutely costing us more money,” said Commissioner Hoke. “Most prisoners when they are admitted have to state their religion when they come in. Now if they come in and state a religion and then change once they’re in prison we’re going to have to come up with procedures to verify that an actual Rabbi did the conversion process. I mean there is going to have to be some validity to their claims so we can prove it and verify it for the taxpayers.”