SCANDALS IN THE KOSHER MARKET
A tragic fact of life is that there will always be those who cheat, lie, and steal. In the kosher world, fraud exists. Even the big nationals have had their fair share of scandals. The difference between the big boys and the locals or the single supervisors is that the big boys pay huge sums of money for damage control. They are quick to leap onto the mistakes of others, and point attention away from themselves.
A certain company made a pareve éclair. Or so the certifying agency said. Their registered trade mark was proudly displayed on the product. In order to make the product pareve, the company had to use a pareve artificial sweetener. There was just one problem; the pareve sweetener was more expensive than a dairy-based one. Every night, the supervising rabbi would slip out for afternoon and evening prayers. During the time he was gone, the company would use a sweetener that contained sodium caseinate, a dairy-based sweetener. The supervising rabbi never had a clue. The company got caught by the New York State Kosher Law Enforcement Agency.
No one who keeps kosher will ever forget the horrible AgriProcessors debacle over improper slaughter. To any rational person, the PETA videos taken at the plant were a nightmare. It was abundantly clear that the shechita(ritual slaughter) was not done properly. Experts in Israel commented in the Jerusalem Post that the video showed that the shechita cut was not complete.
There was also the issue of tzaar baalei chaim– the prohibition of cruelty to animals.
Additionally, we saw photos of meat that was being shipped out of the processing plant that still had cheilev (forbidden fat which is always removed at the slaughter house) attached. Rabbi Harry Cohen, of the OKS kosher supervision service, fought with all the large agencies to get them to declare that the meat was not kosher! They ignored him. Not one national agency took a stance against AgriProcessors.
Finally, Agri shipped meat that had not been properly deveined. All glatt meat is deveined at the processing plant.
The very right-wing religious rabbis declared that all the accusations amounted to an attack against glatt kosher meat and the fervently religious community.
That was not the case. All the debacle proved was that the OU got it entirely wrong when it said the only way to be sure that your meat was kosher was to buy glatt.
The ultimate irony of the whole Agri affair was, as several rabbis noted, the only truly kosher meat available in the US was the non-glatt meat sold under the supervision of the Triangle K. Their standards for kosher meat were, and continue to be, stellar.
In truth, the Triangle K had their problems. Amongst the smug cognoscenti, the word on the street was the TK supervision was not reliable. Back in the day, they had experienced some problems with their supervision. The nationals were quick to jump on them and claim that their supervision was no good.
The OU had the tuna fish scandal, the Shelat chicken scandal, the oil tanker scandal, the really dairy but marked pareve cake scandal, and more. We have a copy of a letter that was sent to us by mistake by a mid-western certifier wherein they gave permission to a company to continue to put their kosher mark on their product for a year without payment. The company could not afford the payment, so the agency told them that they could still use the mark, but that they would not, therefore, visit the plant. Whoa! That is a biggie.
THE GLATT YACHT AND OTHER EXAMPLES OF OVER REACHING
Many years back, a company offered a wonderful dining opportunity. Called the Glatt Yacht, the prix fixe dinner came with wine, and there was wonderful live music. The Glatt Yacht could not make enough money attracting only Orthodox Jews, so they reached out to the greater Jewish community. For a reasonable fee, people were offered a beautiful cruise around Manhattan along with dinner, wine, and dancing.
And that was when it all fell apart. The kosher agency that supervised said a very loud, “No” to mixed dancing. Non-Orthodox Jews, and probably no small number of modern Orthodox as well, voted with their feet as they canceled reservations in droves. Putting it simply, the company could not survive on Orthodox Jews only. The kosher agency, essentially, put them out of business.
A restaurant opened in lower Manhattan. It was called Jezebel. Why that name? Who knows? Jezebel was a most unsavory character in ancient Jewish life, so using her name was a tad unusual. The certifying agency told the restaurant to either change the name or lose the supervision. Another restaurant that quickly went out of business.
Kosher restaurants and caterers have been threatened by kosher agencies that they would lose their certification were they to offer a New Year’s Eve party.
Plain and simple, what is it any of their business? What business is it of the kosher supervision agency if the place offers mixed dancing or even has TV’s in kosher sports bars?
Again, some years back, the rabbi in charge of the Vaad Hakashrut on Staten Island threatened caterers who catered Sweet Sixteen parties in the kosher kitchens of other shuls. Those Sweet Sixteen parties were from his own congregation. The rabbi could not stop them from having their parties, so he threatened the caterers under his supervision.
The rabbi phoned and asked us not to allow those parties. Our response was simple. Even though the caterer came with a mashgiach, we oversaw everything- except for what transpired on the dance floor.
The demands by kosher agencies have grown onerous. No one has appointed the kosher supervision agencies to be God’s stand in. Just guarantee that the food is kosher- that is your job.
New York City does not filter its water. Blessed with some of the purest municipal water, all the City does is chlorinate its water. Someone discovered that there were microscopic organisms in the water called copepods. They are not kosher. They also are not visible to the naked eye. Aside from the fact that halacha says that if you cannot see them, they are not there, the kosher agencies went wild. All of sudden, New York City water was treife. Kosher food businesses were required to buy expensive filtration systems. Home owners were urged in the strongest terms to install whole house water filters.
Did you need a filter only for hot water? Did you need one for only cold water? Did you need one for both? When scientists proved that copepods could not survive in water lower than 65 degrees, and therefore there was no need for a filter (if any need ever existed) in cold weather they were ignored. A popular magazine about kosher matters, which sees the apocalypse in everything, insisted that the scientists were wrong. Don’t bother me with the facts! Has anybody seen Galileo?