BSO: Jewish inmates not allowed to light menorah candles during Chanukah

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Chanukah begins on Sunday evening, but Jewish inmates in Broward County will not be allowed to light a menorah with a real flame.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony told Local 10 News on Thursday that the restriction comes from the county’s fire marshal.

“It’s a restriction placed on by the fire marshal and codes in Pompano and Fort Lauderdale, so we can’t make that concession,” Tony said.

While officials say that lighting a menorah in jail is considered a fire hazard, rabbis who have gathered outside the Broward Main Jail said that surrounding counties allow this practice.

Although Tony said that people of Jewish faith cannot light a menorah with a real flame, the sheriff has said he will allow electric bulbs.

Rabbi Piny Andrusier told Local 10 News’ Rosh Lowe that inmates only being allowed to use electric bulbs violates Jewish law.

“An electric bulb does not fulfill the commandment of the holiday, so please allow the menorah to be kindled,” Andrusier said.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been trying to find a solution but says that authorities have not come to an agreement.

“Unfortunately, Sheriff Tony and the fire marshal who I have not had a chance to talk to have been unwilling to work out a compromise,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Tony says he can’t change the current policy and put inmates at risk.

“What we can’t do is to modify policy and put in danger over 3,500 inmates that I’m responsible for,” he said.

While Wasserman Schultz understands the risk, she also says that inmates in other counties are able to light a menorah for the holidays.

“Our counties to the south and north, and others around the state are able to have their inmates light a menorah,” she said.

The rabbis say this is not just about Chanukah, it is about the right of everyone, including inmates, to observe their religion in the proper way.

“If we can work together, we can do a lot for the inmates,” said Rabbi Sholom Holzkenner.

Rabbi Pinny said that the sheriff doesn’t seem to care about the matter.

“This is not a priority for him, (Tony) he seems not to care at all,” he said.

In response to this story, Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department released the following statement to Local 10 News:

“Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department maintains the safety and security of our staff and inmate population as a high priority. During Hanukkah festivities, MDCR does allow our inmates of jewish faith to light live candle menorahs in tradition with Orthodox Judaism. A staff member is present at all times with fire extinguishing equipment and control of the main open flame, to ensure safety precautions are being followed. MDCR is committed to ensuring all members of our inmate population practice their respective religious beliefs during the holiday season.”

About the Authors:

Reporter Rosh Lowe has been covering news for nearly two decades in South Florida. He joined Local 10 in 2021.

Ryan Mackey is our newest digital journalist at WPLG. He is New York born and South Florida raised.