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Michigan's Jewish inmates fight to eat cheesecake on religious holiday after winning fights over a cheese cake fight in Michigan

Michigan's Jewish inmates fight to eat cheesecake on religious holiday after winning fights over a cheese cake fight in Michigan

Michigan inmates who practice Judaism will receive holiday cheesecake behind bars, according to a recent federal court ruling.

Gerald Ackerman and Mark Shaykin, both Jewish inmates, filed a lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of all inmate claims that the Michigan Department of Corrections prevented them from practicing their religion by not providing kosher meat and dairy during certain holidays.

According to the Oct. 12 opinion of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. Circuit Judge Baylor Nalbandian ordered his client to eat kosher meat and dairy on the Jewish Sabbath and four Jewish holidays. They also believe that they must eat cheesecake on Shavuot to properly commemorate the holiday.

Kosher is a term used to describe how food is in compliance with Jewish regulations interpreted from the Torah by rabbis. That, among other things, includes that meat comes from split-hooved mammals that chew cud or fish with removable scales, and that the source animals were slaughtered in accordance with certain practices in modern times.

The Michigan Department of Corrections has taken measures to satisfy the dietary requirements of various religions. According to MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz, during the month of Ramadan, when fasting Muslims cant eat or drink during daylight hours, prisoners are given special pre-dawn and dusk fasting bags."

After a one-day trial in 2019, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker sided with the Jewish inmates and ordered the MDOC to sign an agreement to provide prisoners with dairy products and kosher meat on certain days.

On Shavuot, Parker agreed that inmates should be allowed cheesecake, citing claims that it is part of the religious holidays celebration.

Dan Manville, who runs the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law and represented the plaintiffs, said that the settlement agreement has been in place for nearly two years, while the MDOC appeals the ruling.

We technically had everything, but the MDOC, being their usual sick self, is giving them a nondairy pudding with no Graham cracker crust, Manville added. Now, on Saturday, the Jewish inmates -- not the Muslims or anyone else like that -- they can't get their milk, but Jewish prisoners can. And at dinnertime, they will feed them chicken bologna.

Attorneys for the MDOC have questioned the validity of Jewish prisoners religious piety.

Ackerman and Shaykin may purchase meat and dairy products from the commissary, but have chosen to spend their money on things like hygiene products, popcorn, and coffee (used for bartering in violation of prison rules), the court wrote in its opinion. And their purchases have not been minor in comparison to their low wages and the price of meat and dairy products. Ackerman spends a good deal of money each month, despite having to spend over $40. Shaykin has made multiple purchases over $100.

The detainees claimed that the commissary items wouldnt fulfill their religious obligations since commissionary supplies aren't allowed in the cafeteria at meal times.

The appeals court ruling stated Jewish prisoners were given kosher meals with meat up until 2013, when the kosher option was restricted to vegan food. Kosher meat was withdrawn from the regular menu, but it was still available in the commissary, the prison store, in beef sticks or chicken sausages as well as in meat sticks and chicken soup.

On Saturdays, the Jewish sabbath, and four holidays, including Shavuot, which is a celebration of Jewish scripture, Torah, prisoners will be fed kosher meat, according to Gautz. During the holiday, the inmates will be served cheesecake for breakfast.

According to Gautz, when a group of people are given religious accommodations, such as cheesecake for the Jewish prisoners or pre-dawn lunch bags for Muslims, others will claim adherence to whichever religion they desire to take part in the mealtime perks.

There were prisoners who said they were fasting and also went to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just for extra food, Gautz said. Well have to deal with those things from time to time, but were going to stick to the ruling, he added.

Any inmate who wishes to be assigned the Jewish diet must follow a kosher meal plan for 60 days prior to the settlement agreement.

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