Monday, July 23, 2007

Holy books banned by the Feds?

It sounds like there's some exaggeration in this article. But, nonetheless, as a person of faith I am concerned -- I can't imagine any legitimate reason for the federal prison authorities to be limiting the Holy books of any faith tradition.
clipped from The Jewish Week

Fearing Muslim ‘radicalization’ in prisons,
feds limit number of religious books.
Jewish Inmates Say Torah Now Banned
Fearful that some religious books —
particularly those of Muslims — might promote “violence and
radicalization,” the federal Bureau of Prisons has removed all
but 150 books per religion from its prison chapels. As a
result, Jewish inmates who have long had access to hundreds of
Jewish books, complain that now even the Torah is denied to

blog it
UPDATE (7/25):

Apparently, as I predicted, there was some exageration in the article. Or at least that's what it seems from this letter the New York Board of Rabbis wrote to the editor of Jewish Week:

July, 24, 2007
The Jewish Week
1501 Broadway, Suite 505
New York, NY 10036
Attn: Gary Rosenblatt, Editor
Stewart Ain, Staff Writer
Dear Editor:
With regard to your recent article entitled “Jewish Inmates Say Torah Now Banned,” (07/20/07). The New York Board of Rabbis understands that the removal of Jewish books is part of a comprehensive review process of all religious materials of all faith constituencies, according to the Chief Chaplaincy Administrator of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Upon completion of this process, all such materials will be returned to the prison library. Furthermore, no limitation will be placed on the number of books available to inmates. The following two communications were received from Rev. Susan Van Baalen:

Dear Rabbi Potasnik, This is a follow up to our recent conversation regarding procedural and operational changes for chapel libraries Bureau-wide. Approximately one year ago we began a process of reviewing all library holdings with a view to discarding all materials that were discriminatory, or had the potential to incite violence or foster radicalization of inmates. In order to ensure that all libraries had some materials available, during the lengthy review process, we asked Subject Matter Experts (in the Jewish case, two Orthodox and one Conservative rabbi) to provide us with an initial list of up to 150 books, and 150 audio and video selections that were unquestionably suitable for prison libraries. After the publication of the initial list, we announce that additional items would be added to the lists after the SMEs had the opportunity to review additional materials. At no time was there a decision to limit the holdings to 150 per faith group.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We have informed all stakeholders and the media of the process, but it seems they prefer to print their own interpretation of the process. Both stakeholders and chaplains have been informed that the list of library holdings will be updated in October. Chaplains and stakeholders were asked to submit titles, authors, publishers and ISBN numbers of books and other materials they wished to have reviewed. To date we have received very few. As the materials are submitted to us, they are forwarded to the subject matter experts for review and likely inclusion in the October update, or a future update, if not received in sufficient time to review for October. Books will not be removed from the shelves; instead, additional books will be added to the original 150.
It is not true that the Torah is denied them – although Sefar Torahs are not items we can afford to purchase and protect in the prisons. In the few institutions where Sefar Torahs are accessible, there is still access. Sidurs and Tenach are available in every prison.
The Torah and Tenach are not considered library holdings. These are worship materials and stored and used as such. They do not circulate as library books.
With regard to the mistakes in the Jewish Week article – it is fraught with error. The number of Jews is approximately one-half the number cited by Aleph.
The library renewal project has not been delayed. There are benchmarks that have been met, and future benchmarks that will be met. This includes continued review of materials and continued updating of lists. Most importantly, to be sure you understand, I repeat what I have told all of our stockholders and those inmates who have inquired: This is an on-going process. The lists will be updated at least annually, adding books to the initial collection of approximately 150. Prayer and worship aids are not considered library materials – and no action has been taken with respect to worship aids. Thank you for your cooperation.

Please note that the NYBR is the endorsing and reviewing body of all Jewish chaplains in our City and State Correctional facilities. We also maintain communications with Federal officials and will monitor this latest development. Each Jewish inmate is entitled to access all religious materials in every institution, and we at the NYBR are determined to protect that right.
The NYBR is the largest interdenominational rabbinic body in the world representing all denominations within the Jewish community

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik
Executive Vice President
New York Board of Rabbis

Rabbi Stephen Roberts
Associate Executive Vice President &
Director of Jack Weiler Chaplaincy Program
New York Board of Rabbis

Rabbi Arthur Morgenstern
NYBR Liaison to Correctional Facilities

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