Issues impeding kashrut

Orthodox Judaism preaches the right message about kashrut. Keeping kosher is a combination of ethics, a way of life, and a commitment to a 3000 year old tradition. Unfortunately, some Orthodox Jewish groups, who control kosher meat producers, have unintentionally damaged our community’s ability to economically sell kosher meat, under moral conditions. How has this happened?

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(A) Orthodox Judaism in North America has removed nearly all non-glatt kosher meat from the marketplace. Marc Shapiro writes in the Forward:

“Much of the blame – or praise, depending on your outlook – falls on the Orthodox Union, which is considered the gold standard of kashrut supervision in the United States. As part of its effort to achieve universal acceptance, even in the most right-wing circles, about 30 years ago the O.U. stopped providing supervision to non-glatt meat. Once the O.U. no longer recognized the validity of non-glatt, it soon became verboten for the average Orthodox Jew. The great irony here is that the leading Modern Orthodox organization is itself responsible for creating a situation where virtually all Orthodox Jews in this country, even the most liberal among them, would not dream of buying anything but glatt kosher.

* Glatt Kosher Meat Is Not All It Is Cut Out To Be, Marc Shapiro, August 18, 2006

(B) Right-wing Orthodoxy has promulgated incorrect beliefs about glatt kosher meat. It is incorrectly taught that kosher meat needs to be “glatt” kosher. In fact, many halakhic sources say that glatt is only a stringency. Forcing all meat to be of this standard raises the price of kosher meat to the point where few people can afford to purchase it. This is a matter of politics, not absolute reality: consider that in Israel it is possible to purchase Beit Yosef glatt beef for many times less than it costs here in the USA.

(C) Kosher certifiers questionably – some say deceitfully – allow the sale of meat that is not glatt – yet is labeled as such. So we bear th ehigh costs, yet do not actually get meat that is glatt.

This is an open secret, as many Orthodox Jews, even some rabbis, admit to in a multitude of online discussion forum. Yet no Orthodox organization in the United States has shown the will to change the situation. Here’s a quote from Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, smichah from Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, and is Rabbinic Administrator of the Kosher Information Bureau. In “Is it Kosher?” (Feldheim Publishers, 1992) he writes on page 53, 54:

“Until about 500 years ago, only meat from animals free of adhesions (“glatt”) was used. Later, however, there were halachic (legal) authorities who permitted eating meat of animals with small adhesions on particular sections of the lung in case of dire need. If the adhesions are small, easily removable, and the lungs prove to be airtight (by inflation under water), the animal may be declared to be kosher, but not glatt…”

“Nowadays, one cannot even be sure that the ‘glatt kosher’ meat one buys is truly ‘glatt’. Since only a small percentage of animals are truly ‘glatt’ (sometimes only one in 20), there is a shortage of true glatt kosher meat. Therefore, most suppliers have “watered down” the term ‘glatt’ to include those animals which only have a few small adhesions, and some have diluted the term even more. Accordingly, it is possible that non-glatt meat of a shochet who is scrupuously precise with the glatt terminology may have fewer adhesions (i.e. be more glatt) than the boldly advertised ‘glatt kosher’ meat of another.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Rappoport, who once trained as a shochet, writes that the level of meat being passed off as glatt is too high to be realistic.

“A popular buthcher in Brooklyn, NY who calls himself glatt buys animals that have had up to 5 sirchot. Sirchot are lesions on the lungs that can be flicked off with the thumb nail. I know of no source that allows 5 sirchot I do know of sources that allow up to 3 sirchot. But in my book, 3 sirchot is 3 sirchot (hey, I learned to count!) And if there are 1, or 2, or 3 sirchot then by definition, the lungs are not glatt. Right? So now we have a situation where the rabbis (whoever they may be) have made something not smooth – smooth. Not a bad trick, eh?”

“In addition, I will tell you that the amount of meat that comes into NYC marked Glatt is way out of statistical proportion to what would seem to be a real possible number.) When I was the Mashgiach of a local butcher a few years ago, I was amazed at the amount of meat that came in marked glatt. The store was NOT a glatt store. Funny thing, the store where I was also did not pay glatt prices since they didn’t put the meat out as glatt, they got it for a cheaper price than did the glatt butcher.”

Given that so much non-glatt meat is sold as glatt, one would think that the cost of glatt-labeled meat would come down. Yet the price difference between glatt and non-glatt labeled meat has not changed. This makes one wonder whether the large price difference is based in reality, or is the result of unfair market practices.

(D) American Orthodox rabbis insist on such high standards for being a mashgiach, and charge so much, that many kosher restaurants cannot stay open. Consider the case of Shalom Beijing in Brookline, MA. It was forced to close in July 2006, and one of the reasons is that the mashgiach charges $3000 per month, on top of the outrageously high prices that all kosher restaurants must pay for their “glatt” meat. That comes out to $36,000 per year, the price of a full time employee! (Edelson, 7/28/06)

Even in regions of the country where there is a high percentage of religious and a multitude of synagogues, kosher restaurants cannot afford to stay open. Consider Suffolk County in New York, which occupies all of central and eastern Long Island. The area is simply unable to keep a kosher meat restaurant open anymore. That’s a clearly dysfunctional system which hurts Jews, not helps them.

(E) Many Orthodox Jews reject hekshers from rabbis outside of their own group. Thus, in order for a food to be considered kosher to a large segment of the Orthodox community, some kosher meat producers are forced to pay for two or more separate Heckshers. Empire Kosher Sausage is an extreme example of this, requiring four separate hasgachot! OU, KAJ, Kosher l’Meharin, and Kahal Adat Yisrael.

Orthodox Jewish groups reject each other in other areas as well; witness the recent refusal of large segments of Israeli Orthodoxy to recognize conversions performed by American Orthodox rabbis. (Chabin 5/5/06) Also consdier the refusal of Charedi groups to grant legitimacy of Modern Orthodox groups, and the refusal of many Orthodox groups to allow the use of siddurim that have prayers for the State of Israel, etc.

(F) Kosher catering has become so expensive that most hotels outside of the tri-state region cannot afford to allow them in. I live in southern New Hampshire, and we don’t have a single kosher caterer in the state. Local hotels once engaged in discussions with the local rabbi; they said that they would be willing to have them, but the cost was simply too high.

(G) Newspaper investigations have shown that major American kosher slaughterhouses had horrible treatment of their cattle that violated Jewish laws of tzaar baalei chayim, and botched the shechting of cattle on a regular basis. More problematic was the way that some right-wing Orthodox spokespeople defended these brutal, violations of Jewish law and American civil ethics. This series of events was so distasteful many religious Jews vowed to eat treif meat as a protest.

“After reviewing video footage taken by an undercover PETA investigator, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has concluded that Postville, Iowa-based AgriProcessors—the largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse in the world—repeatedly violated provisions of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) while federal inspectors looked on and did nothing.”

“Workers were caught on videotape shocking cows in the face with electric prods, ripping out their windpipes while they were still conscious, and dumping the animals onto the floor as they struggled in terror while blood gushed from their throats. The report belies AgriProcessors’ earlier claims that the cruel methods it used to kill cows complied with federal and kosher regulations. The USDA report also states that some inspectors accepted gifts of meat from AgriProcessors, failed to report violations, and committed ‘other acts of misconduct.’ ”
(USDA Report Finds That AgriProcessors Violated Humane, Kosher Laws)

The Traditional, Conservative and Reform Jewish community was appalled. So was much of the Modern Orthodox community. These actions were forbidden by halakhah, and many rabbis labeled the products of this slaughterhouse to be non-kosher.

“Israel’s Chief Rabbinate … told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that it would not consider as kosher cows that appear in an undercover video of ritual slaughtering at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa. . . .’You see there, it looks like he ripped out the trachea and esophagus. We do not allow the animal to be touched after the shehita until the main part of the bleeding stops …”

“Raful, who has supervised kosher slaughterhouses all over the world, including at AgriProcessors, said he has never seen the ripped throat practice before … ‘Look,’ noted Raful, ‘he did not cut one of the jugular veins, so blood is still flowing. That’s another reason for not accepting that shehita. It looks as though the animal wasn’t slaughtered properly.’ Raful said it normally takes 30 seconds to a minute for the cow to lose consciousness if shehita is done properly.” (Jerusalem Post, December 2, 2004)

“[A] spokesman for Shechita U.K., a British lobbying group that defends ritual slaughter against the protests of animal rights advocates, said after watching the tape with a rabbi and a British shochet that he ‘felt queasy,’ and added, ‘I don’t know what that is, but it’s not shechita.’ The spokesman, Shimon Cohen, said that in Britain an animal must be restrained for 30 seconds to bleed, and no second cut is allowed. Done correctly, Mr. Cohen said, a shochet’s cut must produce instantaneous unconsciousness, so AgriProcessors’ meat could not be considered kosher.” (The New York Times, December 1, 2004)

Unfortunately, at the time, much of the American Orthodox Jewish leadership ignored the halakhah. Some of their spokespeople maliciously claimed that the complains were part of of anti-Orthodox or anti-Semitic conspiracy.

In point of fact, we were witnessing a Charedi attack against rabbinic Judaism. The Charedim knew that many of the critics were Modern Orthodox, and that the arguments attributed to the non-Orthodox were also being made towards the Modern Orthodox community. It was a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” way of attacking the Modern Orthodox, done in a way that causal observors might not recognize.

Those who tried to defend the barbaric acts at AgriProcessors have no leg to stand upon. When an owner of a kosher slaughterhouse or restaurant is publicly known not to observe Jewish law (for instance, by running the business on Shabbat) then Orthodox rabbis refuse to give , even if the meat is fully kosher. That doesn’t make sense, since it raises the price of kosher meat, and makes it more difficult for Jews to keep kosher – yet for other gross violations of halakhah, including the videotaped activities at AgriProcessors, no Haredi rabbius considers this meat treif? Since when has Orthodox Judaism “reformed” away all of the mitzvot about ethical treatment of workers, and of animals? That’s not in line with anything religious Jews did in the past.

(H) Not long after the above mentioned incidents, “The Forward wrote its report about labor issues in May after speaking with many workers who alleged that they received virtually no safety training, something that they said contributed to accidental amputations and other health problems. Industry experts also told the Forward that wages paid to workers at AgriProcessors are among the lowest in the slaughterhouse industry, despite the premium price at which AgriProcessors sells its kosher meat.” (Popper 2/18/06)

In response, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly created a “Magen Tsedek” – a certification that those who produce kosher good also follow halakhah for how workers are treated, and avoidance of cruelty to animals.An unfortunate response from parts of the Orthodox community was angry, and ironically, anti-Jewish.

“The most organized criticism of the new effort has come from a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis belonging to the Central Rabbinical Congress, or Hisachdus Horabbonim, which released a proclamation condemning the Conservative rabbis. The proclamation from the congress, which is affiliated with the Satmar Hasidic sect, was echoed in a column in the Jewish Press, a leading Orthodox publication. The Jewish Press columnist, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, said Jews should “repulse any attempts of introducing such alien impositions. Tannenbaum wrote that the “injection of social or humanitarian considerations, especially by outsiders, would be an unallowable breach of the time honored halachic administration of kashrus standards.” (Popper 2/9/07)

It seems bizarre that right-wing Orthodox Jews now claim that ethical and humanitarian aspects of halakhah are non-halakhic, that they are an “outside standard.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, greed has impelled some groups to create a virtual kosher-meat monopoly that is not functioning as a free market, nor in accord with traditional Jewish values.

Medicine does not need a hechsher

Non-food items do not need a hechsher, yet kashrut certifying agencies are trying to convince us that we need to pay extra for kosher certified sponges, aluminum foil, dishwater detergent. Now some are certifying medicine as kosher, despite that fact that this stringency is not a part of halakhah, and hurts the Jewish consumer with fake increased costs.

Orthodox Union saying medicine needs hekshers niw

More resources

Whats the truth about glatt kosher? A centrist Orthodox perspective

Satmar Hasidic glatt meat that isnt really glatt at all

False & Defamatory Allegations against Hebrew National – because their meat is not glatt

Rubashkin Scandals – FailedMessiah website

Agriprocessors raid made us briefly rethink kashrut – The Forward

Rubashkin worker abuse

Rubashkin food safety scandal

CNBC Report: American Greed – The Rubashkin slaughterhouse story

Extreme cruelty at kosher slaughterhouse (PETA)