HOME  DISINFORMATION  KOSHER TAX
Kevin Michael Grace: Is this kosher?
"It's likely that most of the packaged foods in your fridge have a kosher symbol go check!" Lubavitch BC
Some ways you could give editor-publisher Link Byfield of The Report Newsmagazine feedback on the material on this page:

EMAIL   [email protected]
PHONE   (780) 486-2277
FAX     (780) 486-1690
MAIL    17327 106A Avenue NW,  Edmonton, Alberta, Canada  T5S 1M7



The Report Newsmagazine
British Columbia Edition
08-May-2000

Is this kosher?

You probably don't know it,
but most of the food you eat
probably is


by KEVIN MICHAEL GRACE


"Kosher" means "fit" fit for Orthodox Jews to eat.  The number of Jews in Canada is about 300,000 and Orthodox Jews are a small fraction of that.  So why do so many food products sold in Canada bear kosher labels?

This is what Vancouverite Lubomyr Prytulak, a retired University of Western Ontario psychology professor, is asking.  On his Ukrainian Archive website (www.ukar.org), he reports, "Had someone asked me a few days before 14Dec99 how many products I had in my house that bore a kosher label, I would have said none.  At around that time, however, I learned something about kosher labelling and actually made a count and was astounded to discover that my count reached 90."  The count has since risen to 155.  It includes everything from food products to steel, and conveys only that a rabbi has declared them "fit."

A pamphlet, Kosher Fitness: What a Concept!, produced by Lubavitch BC explains, "Chances are, nine out of 10, that the cereal you ate this morning was kosher.  As many as 65% of the foods in your supermarket are already kosher.  It's likely that most of the packaged foods in your fridge have a kosher symbol go check!"

The pamphlet promoted last month's "Week of Kosher Awareness."  There were displays in several IGA supermarkets in Vancouver, including one at 41st and Dunbar.  Its manager (who refused to be identified) says his display followed the visit "of one of the rabbis in the neighbourhood, who said it would be useful because people don't know how many different kosher labels there are."  The manager referred further questions to the district manager of H.Y. Louie (which owns Vancouver's IGA stores), but calls to this woman and her assistant went unreturned.

Kosher Fitness claims, "If you're used to thinking of kosher as an antiquated health prescription, think again.  Kosher guidelines are part of a conscientious, in-tune lifestyle."  This trend was noted in 1970 by Seymour E. Freedman, whose The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Fact and Frauds, cites "the new image given Jewish foods by modern, aggressive advertising, which declares, 'You don't have to be Jewish to love Jewish foods.'"  "This may be true," Mr. Freedman admits.  "But Jewish cooking was traditionally prepared to excite the soul!".  He explains that Kashruth (the kosher state) is a mitzvah (commandment) contained in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and, like almost all mitzvahs, "is one of those commandments for whose observance no reason is given."

Kashruth forbids, among other things, the eating of pig, shellfish and scavenger animals, of meat from which the blood has not been drained, and the cooking of meat and dairy together.  Kosher meat comes from animals ritually slaughtered in a single motion with a razor-sharp, unblemished knife.

Kosher Fitness enthuses, "It comes as no surprise that what's good for the soul turns out to be good for the body."  This is not the majority view.  Orthodox Rabbi Shulem Rubin, head of the kosher inspection division of the New York State Department of Agriculture, said in 1987, "Kosher doesn't taste any better; kosher isn't healthier; kosher doesn't have less salmonella."

Kosher labels, which are arcane and various, are authorized by various Jewish organizations.  The costs to producers and consumers is largely secret, although a 1975 New York Times article cited by Mr. Prytulak claims that costs levied at that time ranged "from $250 for 'mom-and-pop' operations to $40,000 for a multi-plant corporation."  Given that non-Jews consume most kosher food, Mr. Prytulak characterizes kosher labelling as a "Jewish tax."  He adds, "I've got to admit that the kosher tax is unlike other taxes in more ways than one.  For example, if the government levies a tax, then at least the consumer knows how large it is and can pretty much see what the tax revenue is being spent on, whereas he knows neither of these in the case of the kosher tax."

Mr. Prytulak has written of his concerns, including whether the Canadian Jewish Congress profits from kosher labelling, to CJC president Moshe Ronen.  He has received no reply.  Mr. Ronen was unavailable for comment, but CJC executive vice-president Jack Silverstone is unaware of the correspondence.  He states that the CJC derives "no benefits" from kosher labelling and that labelling has "no effect" on products (except for those used in such religious observances as the Passover Seder).

Mr. Prytulak would be happy with what he calls "truth in labelling": "I simply advocate that the presently meaningless kosher labels be accompanied by the word 'KOSHER' and the Magen David or six-pointed star.  Package labelling should inform all consumers, and not send a secret message to a small group."



Behind the Scenes

Below is an email interview conducted on 20-Apr-2000, with Kevin Michael Grace asking the questions, and Lubomyr Prytulak answering them.

Kevin Grace:

In case you haven't seen all my postings on the subject of kosher certification, they are at:

http://www.ukar.org/tax.html

I have answered your questions below.  If you have other questions, or want to re-phrase a question because I failed to address the issue you were interested in, please go ahead and send me some more.

Regards,
Lubomyr Prytulak

1.  Has Moshe Ronen answered your letter?

I've written Moshe Ronen nine letters asking about different aspects of kosher certification, and haven't received an answer to any of them.

2.  Do you have any evidence to suggest the CJC profits from kosher labelling?  If so, to what extent?

I only heard an unsubstantiated rumor that all Council of Orthodox Rabbis (COR) revenues go to the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), and saw no harm in asking Moshe Ronen if there was any truth in the allegation.  Mr. Ronen has had about a month now to answer that particular question.

3.  Do you have an estimate of what kosher labelling costs the consumer?  If a kosher can of soup costs $1, how much of that dollar is to make up the cost of labelling?

That's the sort of question I've been asking Moshe Ronen, and I'll be very interested to hear his answer.  Typically, the kosher surcharge per item might be very small, but with a large number of items sold, the revenues to the kosher-certification business can be large.  One might also keep in mind the possibilities that fees vary from product to product, might be negotiated without tying them to the number of items sold, and might escalate following initial kosher certification of a product.

4.  You refer to a "Jewish tax."  Why?

To call it a "tax" is only to follow common usage in the kosher literature.  To consider a single sentence from the book "Fraud, Corruption, and Holiness" (p. 163) not only do we see the author, Harold P. Gastwirt, himself employing the neutral term "tax," but also citing others who employed the more disparaging "racket" and "tribute": "The society apparently objected to the Kashruth Association as a mere 'racket' and was referring to its proposed monthly tax of six dollars as an annual tribute."

What words does English offer for that portion of a purchase price that goes toward defraying the manufacturer's kosher-certification fee?  Assessment, charge, duty, excise, fee, levy, surcharge, tariff, tax, toll, tribute?  Of all these, I can't do better than "tax" and "surcharge."  Anyone who consults his dictionary will see that a tax does not have to be levied by a legislature or by a government English words are blessed with that wonderful quality called polysemy, and "tax" can be applied to a diversity of situations.  However, if somebody comes up with a better word, I'll switch.

And is it a "Jewish" tax?  Well, if it can be said that the Boston Tea Party was provoked by a British tea tax, then we see the precedent of naming a tax by the recipients of its revenues, and as Jewish representatives receive the kosher-certification fees, I call it a "Jewish" tax.  If some or all of the COR revenues go to the CJC, then as the CJC disburses funds to support a range of Jewish causes, it may all the more be called a "Jewish" tax.  When we say that American taxes are lower than Canadian, as we so often do, aren't we following this well-worn precedent?  An alternative might be to call it a kosher tax, or a kosher surcharge, which however may prove to be inaccurate if it turns out that the tax has little to do with kosher observance, and much to do with raising money for the CJC.

I've got to admit that the kosher tax is unlike other taxes in more ways than one.  For example, if the government levies a tax, then at least the consumer knows how large it is, and can pretty much see what the tax revenue is being spent on, whereas he knows neither of these in the case of the kosher tax.

5.  Why do you see this as a Church and State issue?

I don't believe that I do.  It becomes a Church and State issue when the State is asked to supervise the kosher compliance of manufacturers carrying a kosher label, which happens in the U.S., and such State supervision has sometimes been ruled unconstitutional there, but I have not heard of Canadian governments supervising kosher compliance in Canada.

In Canada, I see two major issues: (1) that the consumer who objects to cruelty to animals is denied information concerning whether the meat he is eating originates from humane or inhumane slaughter this because most Jewish-ritual-slaughtered meat is sold to the non-kosher consumer without being identified; and (2) that the consumer pays a surcharge to kosher certification agencies practically every time he goes to the supermarket, and is unaware that he is paying it, and if he becomes aware still does not know how large his payment is, and ultimately is not told what goals that surcharge is spent to promote.

6.  How important do you believe kosher labelling to be to Jewish consumers?

It may be the case that the proportion of Jews who observe kosher dietary laws has been declining over the years, which would suggest that the motivation behind today's explosion of kosher-certification is not religious, but mercenary.  And if there has been a decline in kosher observance, one reason might be the fraud and corruption which have historically tainted the kosher-certification business, as summed up by Kashruth scholar Seymour E. Freedman:

The knowledge that so much corruption exists in the Kashruth industry has been wielded like a two-edged sword against observance of the commandment.  Those who wanted to rid themselves of Jewish rituals generally pointed to the abuses going on in Kashruth, the gangsterism that had become a part of it, saying, "Could this be what God wants ... a Jewish Mafia?"  And those who wanted to extol it so that their children would accept it as a part of their Jewishness found it extremely difficult to do so when the corruption was known and ridiculed so openly.  The result has been a loss of adherents to Kashruth over the years.  This unfortunate condition was documented recently in a study by Dr. Marshall Sklare, the eminent sociologist, in his work entitled Lakeville Jews.  He notes that the mitzvah of Kashruth, once held so dear by the older generation, has been rejected by a large number of younger Jews.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, pp. 167-168.


7.  Do you have any evidence to suggest that manufacturers are coerced into kosher labelling?  Could not kosher labelling be a market decision?

I think that acquiring kosher certification is mainly a market decision a manufacturer hopes that kosher certification will increase sales to some small number of consumers who recognize the kosher label on the packaging, and the manufacturer hopes at the same time that the meaninglessness of the kosher label to the vast majority of consumers will prevent a decrease of sales to them.  The manufacturer may also hope that kosher certification will increase his sales to other manufacturers who in order to keep their own kosher certification are required to buy only kosher ingredients or materials.  Can it be called "economic coercion" to be made to fear being shut out of the circle of kosher-certified manufacturers who are permitted to buy only from each other?

8.  At an IGA store (41st and Dunbar) two weeks ago, I came across a large display of kosher foodstuffs.  Next to the display was a box containing pamphlets entitled "Kosher Fitness.  What a concept!"  The pamphlet was produced by Lubavitch BC. Do you know of this campaign?  Do you know of any other stores or chains that have similar campaigns?

I haven't seen this pamphlet, and am not aware of any other campaigns.  However, if the suggestion implicit in the word "fitness" is that kosher-certified foods are purer or more hygienic or more nutritious, then I would point out that most Kashruth authorities flatly deny that this is either intended or achieved, as in the following three quotations:

Kosher doesn't taste any better; kosher isn't healthier; kosher doesn't have less salmonella.  Religion is not based on logic.  You can eat a Holly Farm chicken and not know the difference.  But a Holly Farm chicken sells for 39 cents a pound on sale.  Kosher chicken, especially right before the holidays, can sell for $1.69 a pound.  There's a lot of money to be made.
Orthodox Rabbi Shulem Rubin, head of the kosher inspection division of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, quoted in the Washington Post of 02Nov87, p. A3

There's one misconception I would like to clear up.  There's a perception that the Jewish dietary laws are steeped in health considerations.  That's not so at all.  It is a commitment to a strict adherence to a tradition, a thread from one generation to another.  I'm not kosher because it's healthier I'm kosher because my parents were kosher and my grandparents were kosher.  It's a commitment!
Rabbi Irving Silverman, The Sun-Sentinel (Chicago), 20Mar87.

The purpose and the goal of the Kosher laws is holiness, yet the most common misconception regarding Kashrut is that it is an ancient health measure.
The New York Beef Industry Council, Inc., online at www.nybic.org/kosher.htm.


9.  Briefly explain your truth-in-labelling request and why you think it is important.

I simply advocate that the presently meaningless kosher labels be accompanied by the word "KOSHER" and the Magen David, or six-pointed star.  Package labelling should inform all consumers, and not send a secret message to a small group.  Consumers should be provided with information which will enable them to pay rabbinical surcharges on their grocery purchases if they so choose, or not to.



HOME  DISINFORMATION  KOSHER TAX