Messianic Jewish inmates claim discrimination
They want to eat kosher meals, avoiding pork and shellfish and not mixing meat and dairy products. But if they are inmates in Ohio prisons, they are out of luck. Kosher meals are a privilege afforded only to traditional Jews.
In Ohio prisons, Messianic Jews are labeled Protestants.
At least four prisoners at Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield have filed grievances, alleging discrimination by a Christian-led prison system.
They also contend that they’re denied a consistent place to worship on their Sabbath, which lasts from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.
“This grievance is all about discrimination of a religious sect, and the conspiracy for the deprivation of rights secured by the Constitution,” wrote Richland inmate Ronald Lutz, 64.
The prison argues that kosher meals aren’t a basic tenet of faith for Messianic Jews. And with a tight budget, the prison system is opting to feed them the cheaper non-kosher meals.
Federal law says the government cannot impede the religious exercise of a prisoner unless those restrictions support a compelling governmental interest. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that law in 2005 when it came under attack by Ohio prison officials.
Nobody is being discriminated against, said the Rev. Gary Sims, religious-services administrator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
He revoked kosher privileges for Messianic Jews in 2004 after consulting with Messianic Jewish rabbis, who told him the special meals weren’t essential.
Rabbi Howard Silverman of Beth Messiah Congregation in Gahanna, a Messianic congregation, acknowledges that although keeping kosher is an important tradition, it is not a law for Messianic Jews.
Do Messianic Jews keep kosher (kashrut)?
This is a subject of continuing debate in Messianic Judaism. Messianic Gentiles generally say that G-d cancelled the kosher food laws in the Book of Acts (Chapter 10) when–three times in a row–He commanded Shimon Kefa (Simon Peter) to eat “unclean” animals. Messianic Jews generally say that the passage is talking about fellowshipping with gentiles, not food.