"Kosher certification may consist mainly of the selling of permission slips as to who may trade with whom — a way of making money that is certainly parasitical and possibly illegal." — Lubomyr Prytulak
27 March 2002
159, 2515-90th Ave SW
Calgary, AB T2V 0L8
As you are the Alliance candidate in Preston Manning's former riding of Calgary Southwest, and as you appear to have some chance of being elected to parliament, I wonder if you would not agree that Canadian voters have some right to know your position on issues which may concern them?
The issue that I have in mind at the moment is that of kosher certification, concerning which I might begin with the following five questions:
Do you support Canadian consumers having the right to know what kosher certification is costing them, or do you advocate their continuing to be kept in ignorance?
More than two years ago now, on 15-Mar-2000 to be exact, I put the question of cost to Moshe Ronen, then President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and I am still awaiting his reply. Perhaps you will be more forthcoming.
What is particularly wanted is an authoritative detailing of the gross annual income from kosher-certification fees for the leading kosher-certification agencies whose identifying symbols appear on products sold in Canada. As the COR label is the one most frequently found on Canadian products, the revenues of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis is of particular interest. I am not at all interested in secondary calculations, as of the fraction of a penny that kosher certification costs per item purchased. It is the gross revenue figures that will permit a comparison of how much of the consumer's income goes into the pockets of kosher agencies as against how much goes to health, education, transportation, housing, and so on.
The question of kosher costs is not a trivial one, as the sums which trade hands in kosher transactions are staggering. To take one peek at the tip of the iceberg, we may note that in New York City in 1934, "$25 million were spent above the normal retail value because the product was believed to be kosher" (Harold P. Gastwirt, Fraud, Corruption, and Holiness, 1974, p. 9). One can imagine how staggering this same figure would be
not for the small 1934 population of NYC, but for the much larger 2002 population of all of Canada, and
not when kosher products are knowingly purchased mostly by Jews as in 1934, but when they are mostly unknowingly purchased by the much larger number of non Jews as happens today, and
not in 1934 dollars but in our devalued 2002 dollars, and
not for the infinitesimal number of products that were kosher-certified in 1934, but for the vast number of products to which kosher certification has metastasized today — products such as sugar, salt, vinegar, coffee, corn starch, frozen orange juice, scouring pads, plastic baggies, food-wrap film, aluminum foil, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, and laundry bleach.
Of course a comprehensive report will take some time to prepare, and in the meantime your releasing any partial information that you currently have, or that may come to your notice, would be helpful.
Do you advocate that Canadian consumers be provided with meaningful product labels, or do you defend product labels continuing to convey coded messages to a small group, while leaving the majority of consumers in the dark?
If kosher labels included the word "KOSHER" together with the Magen David, then most Canadians would know what the labels meant. At the moment, however, almost no kosher labels contain such explanatory detail, and so almost no consumer knows what the kosher labels signify. Expansion of acronyms would be helpful as well — for example, perhaps we can look forward to the day when it is disclosed to Canadians that the COR that brands so many of their household products stands for Council of Orthodox Rabbis:
TODAY: Secrecy in Labelling
TOMORROW: Truth in Labelling
THE DAY AFTER: More Truth in Labelling
As kosher-accreditation agencies commonly claim that consumers prefer kosher products, they might be expected to support informative labelling for its giving consumers the information that they need in order to express their preference.
Do you advocate that Canadian consumers be informed when their meat originates from Jewish ritual slaughter, or are you for continuing the present practice of selling them ritual-slaughtered meat without telling them where it comes from?
Most of the meat that is produced by Jewish ritual slaughter is sold to non-Jews without its origin being disclosed. Some Canadian consumers might object to this practice for one or more of the following reasons:
they do not wish to support Jewish ritual slaughter because of its excessive cruelty;
they do not wish any portion of their food dollars going to the support of religion, particularly a religion of which they may not be members; and
they may fear that among the reasons for a ritual slaughterer rejecting meat for distribution to the kosher market, and sending it out unidentified into the non-kosher market, is that he suspected it of being contaminated or diseased.
Again, we have here a simple choice between informing Canadians or keeping them in the dark.
Do you agree that the kosher-certification industry should be investigated for violations of restraint of trade laws?
Specifically, each manufacturer may be told that kosher certification of his products 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; and told conversely that lack of kosher certification for his products will result in exclusion from trade with the growing number of manufacturers in the kosher camp.
Kosher certification, in short, may consist mainly of the selling of permission slips as to who may trade with whom — a way of making money that is certainly parasitical and possibly illegal.
What might you mean when you diagnose somebody as "anti-Semitic"?
The reason that I address all the above questions to you and not to any other aspiring parliamentarian is that you have already weighed in on the subject of kosher certification, and although your full position was not elaborated publicly, it was clear from what you did say that you would have answered all the above questions so as to defend the interests of the kosher industry against the interests of the consumer:
You would have answered that Canadian consumers have no right to know what kosher certification costs them, and that their even asking was an impertinence and a provocation.
You would have answered that kosher labels should remain esoteric, and Canadian consumers should be kept from learning what they signify.
You would have answered that Canadians have no right to know whether or not they are eating meat that has been rejected in the course of Jewish ritual slaughter, and no right to concern themselves with whether Jewish ritual slaughter is inhumane.
You would have answered that the kosher-certification industry should be immune from investigation for restraint of trade.
I infer that the above would be your answers from Melissa Radler reporting that you attempted to close down an open discussion of kosher labelling with the chilling diagnosis that the discussion was "close to anti-Semitism."
As anti-Semitism is an irrational and deep-seated hatred, it constitutes a psychiatric disorder, and so that applying the label "anti-Semitic" is the same as offering a psychiatric diagnosis, and so you see what concerns me is the sight of someone running for parliament when I have seen that same person dispense a psychiatric diagnosis in an attempt to close down what seemed to me to be an impartial discussion of an economic phenomenon.
And that is why you might take this opportunity to clarify your criteria for firing off your psychiatric diagnoses by answering the following questions:
Do you hold that someone enquiring about cost is behaving normally, whereas someone enquiring about kosher cost is diagnosable as suffering from the psychiatric affliction of anti-Semitism?
Do you hold that someone who advocates truth in labelling is behaving admirably, whereas someone who advocates truth in kosher labelling is driven by the psychiatric malady of anti-Semitism?
Do you hold that someone who opposes cruelty to animals is behaving commendably, whereas someone who opposes cruelty to animals during Jewish ritual slaughter is presenting a symptom of the psychiatric disorder of anti-Semitism?
Do you hold that someone who investigates restraint of trade performs a service to the community, whereas someone who investigates a restraint of trade that is engineered by Jewish groups must be driven by a pathological hatred of Jews?
If in our discussion of kosher certification you wish to keep open the parallel — though irrelevant — question of the sanity of the participants, then I would submit for your consideration the general hypothesis that in any calm and objective discussion of a subject, the participant who becomes agitated and proclaims "you're all crazy except me" is the one that is most likely to be nuts.
I would propose, further, that reliance on psychiatric diagnosis to derail discussions may be symptomatic not only of emotional deficit, but of intellectual deficit as well.
I would propose, finally, that the participant who finds himself on the side of suppressing the exercise of free speech, and whose emotional and intellectual resources are so limited that he is forced to do so by dispensing a psychiatric diagnosis, is unqualified to sit in parliament.