Celebrating Hanukkah in the Palm Beach County Jail means sacrificing tradition for safety due to the jail's no-flame rule for inmates.
Candles, along with cigarettes and any open flames, are forbidden at Palm Beach County's jail facilities. That means Jewish inmates celebrating the eight-day Festival of Lights have to make do with the electronic candles that the jail allows at worship services.
That's not good enough, according to The Aleph Institute, a Jewish advocacy group located near Miami.
The institute specializes in providing religious programs for the incarcerated and has called on the jail to change its no-candles policy. An actual flame is key to the Jewish celebration and birthday-cake-sized candles don't pose a significant safety risk, according the institute.
The jail allowing candle burning would mean "keeping alive a tradition dating back hundreds of years," Rabbi Y. Weiss of the institute wrote to county officials.
Jail officials say they do everything they can to accommodate religious celebrations, but that lighting candles poses too great a fire hazard.
"We had to say, 'No,'" Chief Deputy Michael Gauger said. "We have rules. We have very strict guidelines. We don't want to place anybody in jeopardy."
The jail has Jewish chaplains and holds a Hanukkah service, but doesn't allow individual menorahs or any holiday decorations in cells and other living areas, Gauger said.
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