When food costs at the York County Prison spiked by more than 50 percent last month, county officials suspected something wasn't kosher.

It turns out, they say, the problem was too much kosher -- food, that is.

Kosher food is food that meets the strict standards of Jewish dietary law. The law prohibits adherents from eating certain types of animals, directs how some animals are slaughtered and prescribes how some foods should be prepared and consumed.

Is kosher food better-tasting?

Some York County Prison inmates apparently think so -- at least they find it more appealing than the non-kosher menu on certain days.

Prison officials say they're suspicious of an increase in the number of inmates requesting kosher meals, especially because some of those prisoners specified a different religious affiliation when they entered the prison.

The big tip-off, they say, are the "flip-floppers." Those are the "converts" who suddenly aren't so Jewish on days when the regular meals are more to their liking.

Certified kosher meals, which are pre-packaged and delivered to the prison, are nearly four times the cost of meals made in house, and prison officials say they can't afford anyone gaming the system.

From now on, prisoners who are being served kosher meals and ask to return to non-kosher will be permitted, but those who later ask to return to kosher meals will be denied.


It's a logical reaction, but in practice it will likely be dicey determining who's scamming a meal and who, perhaps, is simply not as devout as others of the Jewish faith.

After all, everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs and the prison is obliged to accommodate them. Who are prison officials to judge what's in an inmate's heart and whether he or she is entitled to accommodations?

Prisoners denied kosher meals can file a complaint and request a hearing, at which time they'll be asked to provide proof of their religious affiliation, such as a statement from a rabbi.

But suppose one of them can't. That doesn't mean they aren't Jewish and don't try to follow kosher rules. It just means they can't prove it to the satisfaction of prison officials.

And will inmates of other faiths have to prove their affiliation before they receive any accommodations?

County officials are wading into very murky waters with this one.

They might be better off trying to find ways to bring down the costs of kosher meals, such as preparing them in house, and make sure they're on par with the non-kosher offerings.

That's better than unjustly denying anyone the right to practice his or her religion.