Jewish Prisoner Argues Texas Must Provide Kosher Food

By Reuters

Published October 01, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Lawyers for an imprisoned Jewish man argued in court on Monday that the state of Texas is violating his religious freedom by failing to provide him with kosher meals.

Max Moussazadeh, convicted of murder, has been in a Texas prison for 19 years after he served as a lookout during a robbery in which a partner shot and killed a man.

He filed a 2005 federal lawsuit accusing the prison system of failing to offer him kosher food, though it accommodated inmates with special dietary needs such as diabetics.

Moussazadeh’s case is based on a federal prison reform law enacted in 2000 which says that a prison must have a compelling reason to impinge upon the exercise of religious freedom.

After Moussazadeh filed his suit, the Texas prison system started a kosher food program at its Stringfellow prison and transferred all orthodox Jewish prisoners, including Moussazadeh, to that unit.

But after Moussazadeh, now 35, committed disciplinary infractions at the prison, the state transferred him to its higher-security Stiles unit, which does not provide kosher food free of charge to inmates, though it does offer prepackaged kosher meals for a fee.

A district court dismissed the case, saying Moussazadeh was “insincere” in his commitment to kosher food. The case is now before a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

“The record indicates that only about half the time did he go through the kosher kitchen line (at Stringfellow), the rest of the time he went through the regular line,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice lawyer Arthur D’Andrea at a hearing on Monday.

Judge Carolyn King questioned whether such behavior proves insincerity. Recalling a time when her own Catholic church prohibited its members from eating meat on Friday, she pointed out that some Catholics frequently violated the rule.

Following a kosher diet generally means consuming only food that has been harvested and prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law. Adherents abstain from pork, shell fish, and mixing meat and dairy products in a single meal.

Judge Rhesa Barksdale said Moussazadeh’s own behavior landed him in a higher-security unit without a kosher kitchen.

Federal prisons and the state prisons of 35 states currently provide kosher food to Jewish inmates, said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has assisted in Moussazadeh’s representation.

The Becket Fund is pursuing a similar case in Florida, and earlier this year a court ordered the Indiana Department of Corrections to provide kosher food for Jewish inmates.

The three-judge panel did not indicate when it would rule on the case, but such decisions typically takes months.

Moussazadeh is to remain in prison until December 2023.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.