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These letters document the persistent attempts by Rabbi Asher Grunis to have kosher food supplied to Jews in prison. The sequence begins with a reply dated 3 March 5684 [1924] from the Beth Din, Court of the Chief Rabbi, “I am afraid that nothing can be done in regard to providing Kosher food, for prisoners, except on Passover.”
It appears Rabbi Grunis was not content with this and contacted the Home Office direct. A reply dated 21 May 1924 to Rabbi Asher Grunis from the Home Office states, “I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that instructions have been issued to the Governors of all local Prisons to the effect that where the number of Jews in custody justify it, Kosher meat may be issued to Jewish prisoners during the feast of Passover.”
Rabbi Grunis also contacted his MP, G C Gould. His Private Secretary advised on 18 July 1924 that the Home Secretary had been contacted and he had replied, “I have looked into the matter very carefully, but do not consider that there is any necessity to go beyond the arrangements already made, to which reference was made in the Home Office letter of the 21st May to the Rabbi.”

After reflecting, Rabbi Grunis wrote a letter to the Jewish Chronicle to report his request had been refused by Cardiff prison. Rather than publish his letter, the Jewish Chronicle passed it to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Their Secretary wrote to Rabbi Grunis on 13 January 1925. He did not know whether Rabbi Grunis was asking that duplicate cooking arrangements for Jews be provided in all prisons, or that friends should be allowed to send in kosher food. He sought clarification, “what was the exact nature of the request at Cardiff which was refused.” The Secretary also criticised him for not raising the matter direct with them: “May I point out that you have taken a rather extraordinary course in this matter.” Already communicating with them about another matter, he had written to the Jewish Chronicle “suggesting it is a matter for the Board” but had not contacted the Board direct. About the time that he was contacting his MP, the Board had sent a deputation to the Home Secretary, and “this matter could have been put forward forcibly and with the certainty of a mature consideration.”
Rabbi Grunis replied immediately. On 16 January the Secretary of the Board of Deputies of British Jews replied, “I have no recollection of being consulted by the “Beth Din”… your proper course of action would have been to communicate with me direct instead of through a newspaper. I have only heard indirectly that you have also been in communication with the United Synagogue who definitely interested themselves in this particular matter and I understood had an interview with the Authorities on the same. However, the matter will be looked at again.”
The editor of the Jewish Chronicle replied on 19 January confirming, “I have thought well to submit the whole matter to the Deputies and have heard from the Secretary that it will come before the Law and Parliamentary Committee.” Rabbi Grunis appears to have complained that the letter was not published. On 21 January the editor replied, “We know quite well from past experience that if a letter such as you had sent had been published, the Home Office would have refused to do anything...will you be guided by me and let the matter rest with the Deputies, as least for the time being.” He would take care to give Rabbi Grunis credit if these efforts were successful.

On 18 February 1925 the Board advised the Jewish Chronicle that they had been promised an appointment with Dr Myers of the Visitation Committee but he was away. On 23 March the Board were “still awaiting an interview with a representative of the Visitation Committee of the United Synagogue within whose province the question of food for prisoners seems to lie.” On 24 March, the Jewish Chronicle editor replied that the Board said the matter was being dealt with by the United Synagogue.

On 27 March the Secretary of the Board of Deputies of British Jews replied that the matter rests with the Visitation Committee who had been told by the Prison Commissioners “that no objection will be raised to friends of a prisoner supplying him with kosher meat in ordinary cases.” If there were any local objections to this, “perhaps you will ask the Prison Authorities to communicate with the Prison Commission.” Rabbi Grunis did this and received a reply on 3 April from the Governor of Cardiff Prison informing him that he had referred the matter to the Prison Commissioners.
Meanwhile the Board of Deputies of British Jews, on 6 April 1925, voiced their own and the Visitation Committee’s objection to any publicity.
On 20 April 1925 the Prison Commission wrote to the United Synagogue to advise that kosher meat could be provided only at Passover. That it should be available all the year round was a “misunderstanding” over the telephone. Thus we have a restatement of the original position!

Rabbi Grunis wrote to Lloyd George on 8 May 1925, with a reminder on 18 May. Lloyd George’s office replied on 25 May advising, “As the matter already appears to have been dealt with by the Home Secretary, he fears he can do no more.” Rabbi Grunis then made a personal visit to the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who was out, but wrote on 18 June, “I am more than sorry I had not the pleasure of seeing you.” He restated that “it was not a matter which it was desirable should be discussed in our columns” and that the Board of Deputies had dealt with the subject.

Rabbi Grunis here appears to have sought the help of Rabbi Dr Samuel Daiches, presumably the Rabbinic scholar ( He contacted the Board of Deputies of British Jews. We have their reply to him dated 20 July 1925 confirming “that nothing further can be done.” “There is one hopeful side of the question. If Jewish offenders get to know that in addition to the ordinary punishment they will not be provided with Kosher Food it may have a deterrent effect, at any rate in the case of those to whom the dietary laws mean anything.”
Rabbi Grunis wrote to the Home Office on 24 September 1925. They replied on 29 September, “I am directed by the Secretary of State to say that he can find no grounds for going beyond the arrangements already made for the supply of Kosher food to Jewish prisoners of which you were informed on 21st May, 1924.”

There is nothing in the archive for over a year. On 21 December 1926 Rabbi Grunis had a letter from a member of the Law and Parliamentary and General Purposes Committee of the Board of Deputies who confirmed that the Board had re-examined the matter “at the request of Mr. Bertram Jacobs” and decided, as the Visitation Committee held that “the present arrangements were the best that could be obtained under present circumstances,” there was nothing further that could be done.

Included here is an acknowledgement from the office of Lloyd George dated 10 July 1930 which may relate to this matter.

Rabbi Grunis wrote again the Home Office, Sir Herbert Samuel on 16 August 1932. We have an undated manuscript draft which may be this letter. It is the only letter in this sequence written by Rabbi Grunis and shows why this issue was so important to him. He describes the matter of kosher food for Cardiff Gaol is of “utmost importance”. He explains that the matter is important not only from a religious point of view but also because “a prison is not only a place of punishment for crime but also an endeavour to rise the moral character of the prisoner by contemplation and meditation — and that is possible only by giving him the opportunity of conforming to his religion and freedom of conscience.” [In his 1923 Appeal for Kashrus, he had written that non-kosher food “not only enters and injures the body, but destroys completely the Jewish intellect.”]
The Home Secretary’s office replied on 4 October that arrangements had been made for the Feast of Passover, “where there are enough Jewish prisoners to justify special arrangements”, and for the Feast of the Day of Atonement. Allowing friends to supply Kosher food to Cardiff prisoners “would not be practicable”.

Thus Rabbi Grunis’ efforts (with the exception of the reference to the Feast of the Day of Atonement) resulted in no change of policy.

Rabbi Asher Grunis stated that he was born in Pietrokov (now Piotrków Trybunalski, although other sources mention Czarnocin/Ksarloshin), in Poland in 1877. He married Hannah Baila in 1896 and they had seven sons and one daughter. In 1902 he was appointed Rabbi of Wilczyn in Poland. In 1921 he was appointed the first communal Rav of Cardiff, overseeing the correct application of Jewish religious dietary laws. Five of the sons and one daughter came with their parents to Cardiff and one son, Hirsch, was a minister to the Bangor and Bettws-y-Coed communities before the war. Rabbi Grunis successfully campaigned to permit Jewish children to leave school early in winter on the Sabbath, and prevent Jewish students being forced to take examinations on Saturdays and Jewish Holy days. He also unsuccessfully tried to have kosher food available to Cardiff prisoners throughout the year. He died in July 1937 and he and his wife are buried in Highfields Jewish cemetery. His major work, a commentary titled P’ri Asher (Fruits of Asher), was published posthumously. [Sources: Page 43 of Bimah issue 18 (Pesach 5759 - 1999) and Introduction to the Fruits of Asher by Rabbi Asher Grunis and his son Iyeleg Grunis]

From the private papers of Rabbi Asher Grunis, which are to be deposited in the Israel State Archives.

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