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Moshe Ronen  Letter 08  28Mar00  Kosher status misrepresentation
"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?'" Seymour E. Freedman

March 28, 2000
Moshe Ronen
National President
Canadian Jewish Congress
100 Sparks Street, Suite 650
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5B7

Telephone: (613) 233-8703
Fax:       (613) 233-8748


Moshe Ronen:

Misrepresentation of kosher status can be of two types:

(1) Misrepresentation of kosher
as non-kosher

(a) Refusing to identify most Jewish-ritual-slaughtered meat.

In my letter to you Is Jewish ritual slaughter inhumane? of 22Mar2000, I have already noted that the non-kosher public consumes the bulk of Jewish-ritual-slaughtered meat without being aware of it, as most such meat is not identified.

(b) Removing kosher labels.

Sometimes a similar betrayal of the non-kosher consumer is achieved by a last-minute removal of kosher labels from products that had been intended for the kosher market:

Although kosher meat usually demanded a higher price than nonkosher meat of the same quality, there were occasions when the opposite was true.  At certain times of the year, especially during those festivals when the Jews consumed more poultry than beef, the kosher meat market was much weaker than the nonkosher.  Dealers who had over-stocked often would remove the kosher label from the meat and sell it on the nonkosher market in order to receive a better price.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, p. 31.

(c) Keeping the public in the dark concerning the meaning of existing kosher labels.

To take my own case as an example, had someone asked me around 14Dec99 how many kosher-certified products I had in my house, I would have answered none.  However, once I learned a little about kosher certification and began to read product labels, my count eventually reached 141 revealing that my initial estimate of zero had been somewhat low.

The reason for my previous lack of awareness, obviously, is that the kosher-certification business keeps the consumer in the dark.  How? By keeping kosher labels esoteric, giving no indication of what they represent.  Thus, in my collection of 141 kosher labels, only one employed the word "kosher," and not a single one showed the Magen David.  Also, I have never in my life encountered an advertisement advocating the purchase of kosher products, or revealing the meaning of kosher labels, either on television, or over the radio, or in a magazine or newspaper, or on a billboard, or on a public-transportation placard.  Newspaper or magazine articles on kosher are extremely rare, and inadequate to overcome the general ignorance.  Of course the Jewish press comments on kosher certification more frequently, but it is little read by the general public, and thus does next to nothing to overcome the prevailing ignorance.

For these reasons, I find it reasonable to hypothesize that something in the order of 9 out of 10 consumers, or perhaps even as many as 99 out of 100, are oblivious to the fact that they are purchasing products that bear esoteric kosher-certification labels.

(2) Misrepresentation of non-kosher
as kosher

This type of misrepresentation consists in explicitly labelling products as kosher that are not kosher, and is by far the most frequently discussed and most thoroughly documented and most aggressively prosecuted category of kosher misrepresentation.  Selecting from countless examples, I offer one which is noteworthy for its creativity:

Many butchers would display Hebrew signs reading Basar Basar (meat meat) instead of Basar Kasher (kosher meat).  It was difficult to distinguish between the two signs because the Hebrew letters were almost identical.  When accused of selling terefah meat, the butchers claimed that they never advertised their meat as kosher.
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 N.Y. and London, 1974, pp. 134-135.

Law enforcement appears to never involve protecting the non-kosher consumer from inadvertently consuming kosher; it always involves protecting the kosher consumer from inadvertently consuming non-kosher, as for example:

Kosher Law
Enforcement Unit

The following are listings of all penalty demand letters issued in kosher cases by the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

[...]

Penalty Demand Letters Sent
May 22, 1992
[...]

Waldbaum's 134 Inc., 66-26 Metropolitan Ave., Queens, NY.  (LB Number 38,384).  Offering for sale food products as kosher for Passover which were opened from their original containers and repackaged on the premises causing them to lose their kosher for Passover status.  $19,500.  Date of alleged violation 3/24/92.

Harry M. Stevens Inc., Shea Stadium Ballpark, 126th St. & Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, NY.  (LB Number 38,386).  Offering for sale, as a concessionaire in Shea Stadium, non-kosher food as kosher style.  $3,300.  Date of alleged violation 4/14/92.

[...]
The Jewish Press, 10Jul92, p. 53.

For the seven violations listed in the above Jewish Press report, the "LB Number" is consecutive, except that LB Number 38,385 is missing between the two violations shown above.  The LB Number then, might be taken to reflect the total number of violations as of 22May1992, though we have no idea over what interval of time.  In any case, whatever the time interval involved, we see that the number of violations has been large, giving us some idea of the vast amount of misrepresentation of non-kosher products as kosher that is detected, and thus giving us some inkling of the even vaster amount of such misrepresentation that must be taking place.

Summary statements portray the kosher business as pervaded by corruption, referring to all forms of corruption, but intending mainly the corruption of offering non-kosher products as kosher:

For reasons of naïvete, people do not imagine the Kosher-foods businessman in the same light as they behold and evaluate other businessmen.  After all, he is involved in selling a product that has been hallowed by Jewish tradition.  The Kosher foods purveyors, however, see themselves as no different from their colleagues who have invested their money, their abilities, and their hopes for success in a business venture.  The Kashruth business is strictly business, and must return the highest measure of financial, not spiritual, success to the one who has undertaken it.  To achieve this end, the unscrupulous Kosher-foods businessman is willing to cut the proverbial corners.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, p. 153

This devil-may-care attitude, which prevailed in the meat industry generally over the many decades until the enactment of the Clean-Meat Bill, has plagued the Kosher foods industry specifically, and remains to be cleaned up.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, p. 164.

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.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, pp. 167-168.

Numerous other incidents of Kashruth violations became evident to me as I visited a cross section of hotels and resorts advertised as Kosher.  Except for variations in kind, a large number function with basically the same purpose, which is to deceive the unsuspecting, naïve public.  The common method of deception is the establishment of an acceptable Kosher-front.  And the tragic truth is that all Kashruth violations are not so secreted that the trained Kashruth inspector, who has even a minimal amount of practical experience in this matter, could not easily recognize the fraud that is being perpetrated.  Why are these abuses permitted to continue?  Perhaps those in authority have taken the path of least disturbance "No one has raised the question, so we will permit things to go along as they are!"  What is equally possible is that some of the financial gains that have blinded the eyes of the rabbis and mashgichim at the hotels and resorts have worked with greater success upon the secular authorities.

This unfortunate-for-Judaism attitude of laissez-faire regarding matters of Kashruth reaches across the country.
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, p. 185.

Kashruth, like motherhood, is an aspect of traditional Judaism which everyone accepts and no one attempts to delve into until illegitimate forces enter it and endanger the sacred institution.  Now that the foregoing lines have been written to testify to the deep corruption which has infected Kashruth, perhaps some courageous voices will find the chutzpa to raise some serious questions and insist upon the answers to them.  The result will inevitably be that the deceptions will end, or at least become greatly limited, and, hopefully a new era of Kashruth observance will arise within the Jewish community!
Seymour E. Freedman, The Book of Kashruth: A Treasury of Kosher Facts & Frauds, Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1970, p. 190.


Who is well served by the kosher certification business?

The non-kosher consumer is poorly served because he is frequently misled into believing that he consumes products that do not originate from kosher supervision

We have seen above that the non-kosher consumer is poorly served, as he is not informed when he eats Jewish-ritual-slaughtered meat, or may be sold meat as non-kosher that has just had its kosher label removed.  In this way, the price of his meat is inflated, and he is deprived of the ability to choose meat that originates from humane slaughter.

On top of that, the non-kosher consumer is almost invariably unaware of the secret meaning of kosher labels that proliferate over the products that he buys, and thus unaware that he is paying a surcharge which will be applied to purposes that he might disapprove of.

Thus, the Council of Orthodox Rabbis would be taking steps toward serving the non-kosher consumer better by: (1) identifying meat that originates from Jewish ritual slaughter (as I have already advocated in my letter to you of 22Mar2000), and (2) adding the word KOSHER, and the Magen David, to its kosher-certification label (as I have already advocated in my letter to you of 15Mar2000).

The kosher consumer is also poorly served because he is frequently misled into believing that the kosher-certified products he consumes are really kosher

We have also seen above that the kosher consumer is similarly poorly served, as the products that he purchases as kosher are often in fact not kosher.  (At least in his case, though, he is likely to be aware that a surcharge has been added to his purchase, and is likely to understand that by means of this surcharge, certain goals that he is cognizant of will be advanced by his purchase, neither of which is true of the non-kosher consumer.)

Thus, the Council of Orthodox Rabbis would be taking a step toward serving the kosher consumer better by energetically suing for breaches of its kosher-certification contract, or by energetically urging the government to prosecute for misrepresentation or false advertising.  An examination of historical precedent teaches us to expect that such breaches and violations occur on a sweeping scale, and so that if suits or prosecutions occur on only a small scale today, or are totally absent, then this would suggest that Council of Orthodox Rabbis monitoring is lax, and that anywhere from many to most products bearing the COR certification are in fact not kosher.

Only two groups are well served

(1) Consumers who are indifferent to whether a product is genuinely kosher, but who support the imposition of the Jewish tax, are well served.  (2) Those who receive the revenues from the Jewish tax are well served.



Lubomyr Prytulak


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