|19 June 2004|
Mr Prime Minister:
A Benign View Of The Kosher Business
A benign view of the kosher-certification business imagines manufacturers voluntarily seeking kosher certification so as to expand their sales to kosher-observant Jews, and imagines manufacturers also free to renounce their kosher certification with no greater penalty than a loss of sales to kosher-observant Jews. As kosher-observant Jews constitute in the order of one-tenth of one percent of the Canadian population, the average manufacturer would seem to have weak inducement to acquire kosher certification, and weak deterrent keeping him from renouncing it once acquired.
If such a benign view were accurate, then there would be no cause for concern or complaint. However, several observations indicate that the benign view is inaccurate.
Kosher Certification Is Epidemic
If in the order of one-tenth of one percent of the Canadian population is kosher-observant, then a strong indication that kosher certification cannot be explained by religious observance is that an average non-kosher-observant household may contain a hundred different kosher-certified products. I base this estimate on my own first scan in December 1999 revealing that whereas I expected to find zero kosher-certified products in my house, I did in fact find 90, and over the next four months watched the count of different kosher-certified products passing through my house rise to 156:
That the religious needs of an infinitesimal proportion of the population should have such ubiquitous manifestation calls for explanation.
Exempt Products Are Kosher-Certified
A number of products which I observed to be kosher-certified were discovered on rabbinical lists of products that were exempt from kosher certification, as for example, in their pure forms the following: chocolate, coffee, corn starch, flour, ice cream, milk, oatmeal, olive oil, orange juice, pepper, salt, spices, sugar, tea, vinegar, vodka, and water:
The observation of manufacturers paying for something that religious authorities exempt them from needing, which is to say something that they are permitted to assume that they have gratis, also cries out for explanation.
Irrelevant Products Are Kosher-Certified
Some products are not included on kosher-exempt lists because the list writers were unable to foresee anybody attempting to apply kosher certification to them — as for example such inedible products as plastic baggies, food-wrap film, dishwashing detergent, scouring pads, and aluminum foil. Still more curious were kosher labels appearing on products which did not touch food and were not used in the kitchen or the dining room, such as laundry detergent, laundry bleach, and toilet-bowl cleaner. Most remarkable of all was Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz of Silver Spring, Md projecting annual revenues of US$700,000 for kosher-certifying steel:
Consideration of such extreme cases makes it indubitable that the kosher business has cut its moorings to religion, and has set off on a piratical quest to maximize revenue.
Kosher Certification Is Concealed
Kosher certification is concealed in two senses:
The symbols that are applied to kosher products are usually small and tucked into obscure corners of the packaging, and in any case are recognizable to almost nobody. If consumers were attracted to kosher products, as is claimed, then the symbols would be large and prominent, and they would include the word KOSHER and the Magen David hexagram, and would spell out the significance of any acronym, as for example the mysterious COR that graces so much Canadian packaging and which not one Canadian in a hundred recognizes as standing for "Council of Orthodox Rabbis."
Some manufacturers pay for kosher certification but then proceed to act as if they were ashamed of what they had done, acknowledging their having won certification neither on their product packaging, nor in their promotional brochures, nor on their web sites, nor on their bills, and on top of that refusing to respond to either email or surface mail queries on the question, as is the case with Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, and Canadian Springs drinking water.
The two observations above suggest that kosher certification is not consumer driven, and in fact has to be concealed from the consumer so as to avoid his aversion.
The Cost of Kosher Certification Is Secret, And Is Possibly High
Despite repeated requests to the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and to Jewish leaders and to manufacturers to disclose the magnitude of kosher-certification fees, no information has been forthcoming. Fees occasionally cited in the press take one's breath away — as the annual US$700,000 from the steel industry anticipated above by a single rabbi, which for some people constitutes the remuneration for a lifetime of labor. Or, Harold P. Gastwirt, on p. 9 of his book cited below, notes that in New York City in 1934, "$25 million were spent above the normal retail value because the product was believed to be kosher." Extrapolating $25 million from the small New York City population of 1934 to the larger Canadian population of 2004; and taking into consideration that a small number of all New York City foods were certified then, and a large number of Canadian supermarket products are certified today; and that kosher purchases then were made knowingly mainly by Jews whereas today they are made mainly unwittingly by everybody; and correcting for the lower value of the Canadian dollar; and correcting finally for the devaluation of currency over seventy years — then it is easy to imagine that annual kosher revenues in Canada today run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
The claim that so much wealth needs to be sucked out of the pockets of supermarket shoppers to meet the religious needs of one-tenth of one percent of the population is not credible and calls for scrutiny and public discussion.
The Possible Restraint-Of-Trade Foundation of Kosher Certification
A manufacturer earns kosher certification by, among other things, demonstrating that all his ingredients are kosher-certified, as in the case of a baker such ingredients as flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, yeast, milk, butter, oil, eggs, preservatives, and so on. A single non-kosher ingredient disqualifies the whole.
On top of that, materials that are not ingredients and not even edible, but which directly or indirectly could come in contact with bakery products might need to be kosher-certified as well, such as the cellophane for wrapping donuts, the paper bags for bread, the dishwasher soap used in the kitchen, or the handwashing soap in the lavatory.
Thus, a baker applying for kosher certification may find himself either having to abandon those of his suppliers that are not kosher-certified, or else having to persuade them to seek kosher certification for themselves. However, for each such supplier of materials or ingredients to receive certification would require that his suppliers receive certification as well, and so on in a chain of indeterminate length. Thus, if a single candidate for kosher certification needed to persuade 20 suppliers to themselves become kosher, and each of these 20 then needed to persuade the 20 that supply him, then 400 are in need of persuasion (in addition to the original 20); and if these 400 each has to persuade 20 suppliers in turn, then 8,000 are going to need persuading (in addition to the earlier 420); and so on exponentially — all triggered by a single kosher-certification candidacy. Of course this is the worst-case scenario whose purpose is only to illustrate the mushrooming of numbers that comes with exponential growth; in reality, growth would be not nearly as rapid, because some suppliers would already be kosher-certified and because some chains would end, their product being manufactured without input from any supplier. Nevertheless, although the growth falls short of true exponential, it is still phenomenal.
Winning kosher certification, then, is winning membership in a cartel. Any new manufacturer will find his sales to the kosher cartel blocked until he joins the cartel, and to join the cartel he is obligated to buy only from the cartel, either switching to suppliers who are already cartel members, or else demanding that his existing suppliers also join the cartel. To lose, or to renounce, one's kosher certification carries not merely the insubstantial penalty of losing sales to kosher-observant Jews, it is to have sales blocked to a cartel which may provide the chief market for many products.
While the kosher cartel is still small, manufacturers gain little from joining it, and lose little from abandoning it, at which time the kosher certifier has no alternative but to charge low fees. Once the cartel expands to dominate segments of the economy, however, manufacturer survival becomes impossible without cartel membership, and so fees can be raised. In view of the secrecy surrounding certification fees, it is impossible to say whether the eventuality of high fees is being approached. The observation of mushrooming membership, however, may indicate that prospering outside the cartel has come to be recognized as difficult or impossible.
It is only such restraint-of-trade as is described above, and not religious observance, that is able to explain why kosher certification is epidemic, and why it has spread to products that enjoy exemption from certification, and as well even to inedible products such Mr Clean, and why the consumer is kept in the dark about it, and why its income is undisclosed.
The reason that the kosher business must be investigated immediately and in depth, then, and appropriate action taken, is that it may be approaching the stage where it is able to demand membership from all, able to raise certification fees to extortionate levels, and able to defend its position against challenge by reliance on its vast income.
Other Varieties of Kosher Fraud
The kosher business has historically travelled in partnership with chicanery, as is indicated by the two books that I possess on the subject each containing the word "fraud" in the title, and one of them adding the word "corruption":
Harold P. Gastwirt, Fraud, Corruption, and Holiness: The Controversy Over the Supervision of Jewish Dietary Practice in New York City 1881-1940, Kennikat Press, Port Washington NY and London, 1974.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts and Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970.
And the chicanery has sometimes been accompanied by violence, as in the notorious case of Rabbi Avraham Cohen in 1848 Lviv (Lemberg), his example serving also as a reminder that it is not Jews collectively who impose the kosher surcharge or who share in its revenues, but rather that observant Jews may be among the leading victims of the surcharge, and that the beneficiaries may be only the handful of notables who implement it:
Cohen's most important initiative, according to Eshkoli, was his attempt to abolish the taxes on kosher meat and sabbath candles, which Lemberg Jews paid to [Austrian] authorities. These taxes were burdensome for poor Jews but were sources of income for many Orthodox notables. The method [of taxation] was as follows: A rich Jew for a certain lump sum obtained from the authorities the right to impose the tax on the Jews, from whom he took a much greater sum supposedly for his efforts. Five tax gatherers, all very pious, headed the opposition to Cohen. Their leader was Rabbi Hertz Berenstein, who came from a noted rabbinical family; the second was Rabbi Tzvi Orenstein, the son of the former Orthodox rabbi of Lemberg. [...] On September 6, 1848 [...] Avraham Bar-Pilpel, a Jewish assassin, successfully entered the rabbi's home unseen, went to the kitchen and put arsenic poison in the pot of soup that was cooking. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Cohen and his family ate the soup; Rabbi Cohen and his little daughter died. The Hassids and their leaders did not attend the funeral; they celebrated. No Orthodox rabbi, moreover, uttered one word of condemnation, neither of murderous incitement before the murder nor of the murder itself.
Falsely claiming kosher. The most common type of kosher fraud is selling goods as kosher that in fact do not meet kosher requirements www.ukar.org/ronen08.html.
Charging as well for decertification. In addition to selling kosher certification, it is also possible to sell the decertification of a rival, as for example selling Retailer X a package containing his kosher certification along with the decertification of competing Retailer Y, of which an instance is documented at www.ukar.org/ronen07.html.
Industrial espionage. Kosher certification is granted only upon full disclosure of ingredients and methods and suppliers, which may give the certifier access to trade secrets, which he then is in a position to use unethically www.ukar.org/ronen06.html.
The Criminal Conspiracy Provision Of The Competition Act
Much of the Competition Act appears to envision anticompetitive practices on the part of the parties involved — the buyers and sellers — and to have less anticipated the possibility of third parties who neither buy nor sell nor produce nor consume, but who merely charge fees for membership in exclusionary cartels. However, egregious third-party anticompetitive practice does appear to fall under the criminal conspiracy provision of the Competition Act at § 45(1)(b):
Every person who agrees or arranges with one or more persons, where those persons compete or could reasonably be expected to compete with each other, for the purpose of or where the agreement or arrangement has or is likely to have the effect of, [...] allocating customers or markets or portions of markets for the supply of a product, [...] is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine in the discretion of the court or to both.
READY-TO-COOK KOSHER CHICKEN MANUFACTURED IN PLANT NUMBER 24 CARRIES THE COR SYMBOL REPRESENTING THE CANADIAN JEWISH CONGRESS OF TORONTO.
Camp George's kashruth supervision is handled by the Canadian Jewish Congress' Council of Orthodox Rabbis (COR)
In Canada, the two main bodies which provide such certification are; they Congress Orthodox Rabbis ("COR") which is given by the Canadian Jewish Congress in Toronto, and the Kashrut Council of Montreal ("MK").
It has not gone unnoticed as the elections approach that Steven Rambam once boasted of passing along his hate propaganda materials directly into the hands of then Canadian Jewish Congress representative Irwin Cotler who today sits in your cabinet as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada:
25-Mar-2004 Paul Martin: Irwin Cotler collaboration with Steven Rambam www.ukar.org/martin/martin05.html
A Hypothesis Which Demands Action
The central hypothesis that emerges is that the unprincipled and reckless Canadian Jewish Congress runs its Council of Orthodox Rabbis as a criminal conspiracy in violation of the Competition Act, and disburses the proceeds to incite religious and ethnic hatred, and to promote Canadian instability and disunity.
That the Canadian Jewish Congress be investigated is imperative not only for the sake of freeing the economy of anticompetitive shackles, but also for the sake of defending Canadian security and tranquility.
That you sever your ties with the Canadian Jewish congress by removing CJC enthusiasts Irwin Cotler and Anne McLellan from your cabinet is imperative for the sake of Liberal party performance at the polls in the federal elections on 28-Jun-2004.
Hon. Irwin COTLER, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, 284 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
Mary M GUSELLA, Chief Commissioner, CHRC, 344 Slater Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 1E1
Hon. Anne MCLELLAN, Hill Office, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Sheridan SCOTT, Commissioner of Competition, 50 Victoria Street, Gatineau, QC K1A 0C9