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Michigan Prisons Reverse Ban on Hanukkah Candle Lighting

December 17, 1995

DETROIT (AP) _ Authorities have reversed a new ban on the lighting of Hanukkah candles in Michigan prisons after complaints that it violated inmates’ religious rights.

``It looks like the Grinch didn’t steal Hanukkah after all,″ said Rabbi Isaac Jaroslawicz of the Aleph Institute, an advocacy group for Jewish prisoners. He said the institute has not encountered such a ban in any other state.

Sundown on Sunday was the beginning of the eight-day festival of lights, which commemorates the victory of Jewish rebels over the Seleucid Greek empire in 165 B.C.

There are an estimated 45 Jews among the state’s more than 40,000 inmates. Some prisons have previously allowed inmates to light candles or observe group candle lightings.

``This is going on a few years already without a problem,″ said Rabbi Yosef Weingarten of Grand Rapids, who serves as a volunteer chaplain to about 10 inmates at two state prisons.

However, Deputy Corrections Director Dan Bolden banned real candles with open flames this year, said department spokeswoman Gail Light.

``The menorah (Hanukkah candle holder) must be for electric or battery-powered candles,″ Corrections Department program coordinator Dave I. Burnett said in a Dec. 6 memo.

According to Jewish law, a Hanukkah menorah must use a flame to fulfill the religious commandment to observe the holiday, Jaroslawicz said from his Surfside, Fla., office.

``Such a blanket policy forces observant Jewish inmates to violate a basic, mandated religious ritual,″ Jaroslawicz wrote to Corrections Director Kenneth McGinnis on Thursday.

On Friday, the Corrections Department reversed the ban, telling the state’s prison wardens that Jewish prisoners should be allowed to participate in candle-lighting ceremonies.

Burnett said the policy covers only Hanukkah candles, not those for Christian observance of Advent or blacks’ celebration of Kwanzaa.

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