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Scottish Prisoners Ask for Kosher Food

They may have gotten the idea from ‘Orange is the New Black.’ Read More

By / July 5, 2017

Stop us if this sounds familiar: A prisoner learns that Jewish inmates are entitled to kosher meals, more expensive to the state, prepared separately, and, perhaps, better than the food produced in far greater bulk. So they claim they’re Jewish, and since the state can’t impugn on their religious freedom, get the kosher meal. And then, word spreads, and soon, a large number of crypto-Jews comes out of the woodwork, frustrating a prison system that doesn’t like spending more than the bare minimum.

This may be familiar for a couple of reasons. The first, is that it was a plot-line on Orange is the New Black, a couple of seasons ago. And now, prisoners in Scotland are following suit, and over 100 inmates in an institution in Edinburgh are claiming to be Jewish, racking up a food bill of an additional £242,000 ($313,000). Authorities are beginning an investigation to disentangle the delicate mess of not infringing on religious freedoms, but not let nonbelievers game the system. (On Orange is the New Black, for what it’s worth, they brought in a rabbi to quiz the inmates and then filter them, and one eventually underwent a sincere conversion.)

There are about 6,500 Jews living in Scotland, and with about nine of them incarcerated throughout the entire country (about 2 in the Edinburgh prison in question) before this trend began. That makes them very roughly equally represented (slightly underrepresented) in the general Scottish prison population.

But here’s the second reason this story may have been familiar: This has happened before. Last year, a prison in Clackmannanshire (say it five times fast) reported a similar number of prisoners claiming to be Jewish (for a smaller prison population overall, so a higher percentage of inmates), in addition to smaller numbers of other prisoners throughout the U.K. It looks like the problem, once it faded from the news, has slowly been spreading, now reaching a boiling point where it’s in the spotlight once again.

The story hits on everything from religious liberties, to prison reform, to arguing over the use of public funds. But the biggest issue of all is the irony that non-Jews are scrambling for access to kosher food, assuming that it’s better. Talk to most secular Jewish New Yorkers about buying good pizza and they’ll tell you to avoid the kosher stuff at all costs.

I’d say that kosher business should adapt a new business model of selling to prison commissaries, but after the Bernie Madoff prison hot chocolate racket, we probably don’t need to risk the anti-Semitic backlash.

Screenshot from Orange is the New Black via Previously.tv