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Kosher Butchers in Long Island Ask: What Is Kosher?

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The JTA reported yesterday about a pair of kosher butcher brothers in Long Island who are causing a peculiar controversy: by petitioning the state of New York to stop enforcing its kosher laws.

The brothers’ shop, Commack Deli and Market, adheres to a Conservative definition of kashrut, which holds that some foods (like frozen vegetables) are inherently kosher, and therefore do not need kosher certification. But according to the JTA: “Under New York law, only products labeled as kosher can be sold as kosher. The store’s kosher supervisor – a Conservative Rabbi named William Berman – submitted an affidavit with a different point of view: “the state is infringing upon the religious freedom of the non-Orthodox denomination/sects of Judaism by compelling [them] to adhere to the law requiring labels on all kosher food products.”

On the one hand, I sympathize with the Yarmeisch brothers. I consider myself Orthodox, and I do purchase some foods without heksherim, beer, certain rice products (rice wine, vinegar in some cases), and frozen veggies. But I feel a bit like a hidden Jew – “If anyone finds out!”

BUT from the Ortho P.O.V. I can say as follows: I used to be amazed (okay I still am) at the level of craziness that people went through on Passover. Once a friend mentioned that when he was younger (the sixties) his parents would buy frozen carrots without certification even on passover. Then this year I was reading a Passover kosher manual and found an interesting issue: sometimes the machinery that is used to package, sort, etc regular frozen veggies also is used to make those frozen mixes that include pasta, fish or meat. Imagine dumping a bag of carrots into your Kosher-for-Passover-Chicken-Soup and having a bow-tie noodle jump in as well.

Imagine dumping a bag of carrots into your Kosher-for-Passover-Chicken-Soup and having a bow-tie noodle jump in as well.

What is the moral of the story? Food processing is so complicated these days that there is often significant cause for concern even in what appears to be the simplest of foods. All this notwithstanding, the constitutional questions are fascinating and the Jewish legal questions are equally or even more important: Why is there no significant ‘lenient’ or liberal hashgacha in the U.S.?

Read the JTA’s story here.
Read another account of the story in Vos Iz Neias here

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11 Responses to “Kosher Butchers in Long Island Ask: What Is Kosher?”

  1. Ben Murane Says:

    Hurrah!

    The Jewish community isn’t unanimous about what is and isn’t kosher — and the idea that the government is implementing one denomination’s religious law over another is pretty jarring. It’s not NY State’s job to verify who is and isn’t kosher — that’s for the Jews to decide.

  2. Mordechai Rackover Says:

    Ben,

    I am not sure of the history but I believe that the laws were originally implemented as a form of consumer protection legislation. I have a recollection of problems with ‘Kosher Style’ restaurants.

    But… it is an interesting conflict with Church-State issues.

    Here the question is, in some ways, who defines which church the State is in conflict with.

  3. Stephen Mendelsohn Says:

    BS”D

    I believe neighboring New Jersey has a kosher law that can withstand constitutional muster. It merely requires kosher restaurants and groceries to post a sign listing their certifiying agency, frequency of inspection, and has a short checklist for consumers to check for specific kosher standards, without entangling into denominational differences as to what exactly is kosher.

    BTW, New Jersey also has a similar law regarding halal food. The idea here is consumer protection is a legitimate state function; religious favoritism is not.

  4. Larry Lennhoff Says:

    I believe the Triangle K is considered a liberal hashgacha by most people. Unfortunately it is so liberal most Orthodox Jews won’t eat food that has only that hashgacha.

  5. Mordechai Says:

    I wouldn’t consider Triangle-K liberal. I meant something that has stated positions on halakhic issues that are more in tune with those individuals in the Conservative movement and the left of Orthodoxy. Triangle K is caught up in many issues that are beyond the scope of this blog. That is not to say they are of their own choice, it is an ‘old’ hekhsher and has history…This leads to disputes with others.

  6. invisible_hand Says:

    why is there no liberal kashrus around?
    speaking as someone who is a big proponent of such a thing…
    i believe that it is a factor of the general chumrafication of american judaism. when we, as a people, are in an incredible financial situation (at least, that’s the image we have), and have a religious temperament that focuses on the existential charge of denying ourselves as well as the radicalization of amoral ritual (not that there aren’t ethics in halakhah, but the orthodox don’t want to see it often), we get a kashrus (as well as most areas of halakhah) in which only the most machmir opinion makes you REALLY kosher (or orthodox, or jewish). i think the underlying factor with chumrafication is that judaism (in america mostly) is about identity. in a nation in which religion is a private enterprise, you choose who you want to be, religiously. so, for people to be REALLY jewish, they must cop to the most machmir position (this is what the success of orthodoxy is about).

    i strongly believe that this stress on machmir and institutional kashrus (and all the costs that come with it) has cost the jewish people many kosher-observers, those who do not want to/cannot absorb the cost (because we think within a framework that since the jews are set money wise, we don’t have to consider cost a major concern anymore. also, the existential piety is also triggered by a higher cost, due to our sacrifice).

    people who want to keep a (more) liberal kashrus can’t really compete with these social forces.

  7. Jewish Matchmaker Says:

    They are just trying to save money on paying for certification! Makes jews look bad.

  8. Robert Jay Dinerstein Says:

    The story gives a curious slant to the “facts”.

    If you aren’t already paying enough for kosher food be prepared for price increases as purveyors of kosher foods must purchase/print “labels” and spend the time affixing the labels; a preposterous requirement since an unchallenged provision of New York’s kosher laws requires every purveyor representing that it sells kosher food topost a notice identifying under whose hashgacha it operates, how often the mashgiach supervises [for those without a mashgiach temidi], and the mashgiach’s “background”.

    Last time I checked Pirkei Avot told us to find for ourselves a rabbi and it is our rabbi’s determination as to whether the hashgacha is acceptable. If the hashgacha is acceptable, what is the need for a label.

    It is suspected that no purveyor of kosher food adheres to having every product bear a label identifying it as kosher [ever buy a sandwich to go.] Surveys of some of the most respected purveyors of kosher foods, establishments which indisputably adhere to stringent rules of kashrut, reflect that they sell some kosher food without the statutorily required label.

    In this regard it is important to note that there is no provision of the law which provides that heckshers constitute the required label. Of course, according to Kashrus Magazine, there are now well in excess of 900 heckshers and, if the purpose of the labeling law is to give consumers notice that something is kosher, few if any consumers can recognize most, much less all, heckshers . More to the point, very few of the heckshers state, in English, Hebrew, Yiddish or otherwise, that the product to which the hecksher is affixed is kosher – the statutory requirement..

  9. Eliyahoo WilliamDwek Says:

    Any man who chooses to be a rabbi (true teacher of Torah) or a dayan (judge), or a mekubal (kabbalist) should be doing so Voluntarily. Out of his pure love for Hashem and the Torah. And his Ahavat Yisrael.

    If he refuses to do community work voluntarily, and wants and accepts payment for everything he does, such a man should not be leading a community. He should get a job and earn a living. He can collect milk bottles or clean the windows. That is what is called earning a living.

    Torah is learned, studied and taught: out of Love. Voluntarily. But the rabbis have turned the Torah into their Profession, from which they earn money.

    We are commanded in the Shema to:
    LOVE Hashem, your G-d, WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with all your soul and with all your might.

    VEAHAVTA et Hashem Elokecha BECHOL LEVAVECHA uvechol nafshecha uvechol meodecha. (Devarim, Vaethanan, 6:4-5)

    Is the ordinary man or woman PAID to pray to Hashem, or to say some words of Torah? No. Has veshalom! But the rabbis are. These men can give lovely shiurim that they have rehearsed. But they would not give a shiur without being paid for it.

    The true hachamim and rabbis of old, all actually worked at proper jobs and professions.

    Wake up! Even a little child could have worked this out. These salaried men can never truly stand for the Torah, because in a case of conflict between a correct course of action according to the Torah, and the rabbi or ravs pocket his pocket and position will always prevail.

    Pirkei Avot: (2:2)
    Raban Gamliel beno shel Rabi Yehuda HaNassi omer: yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz, sheyegiat shenaihem mashkachat avon. Vechol Torah sheein imah melacha sofa betailah vegoreret avon. Vechol haoskim im hatzibbur yiheyu imahem leShem Shamayim

    Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabi Yehuda HaNassi, said: It is good to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation, for working at them both drives sin from the mind. All Torah without an occupation will in the end fail and lead to sin. And let all who work for the community do so for the sake of Heaven

  10. Eliyahoo WilliamDwek Says:

    When dayanim, rabbis and false mekubalim use the Torah for their own power and commercial profit, this behaviour is abhorrent.

    No other rabbi will ever act against another rabbi – even when he knows his colleague is clearly desecrating the Torah. Each rabbi is only worried about losing his own position.

    Therefore, the rabbi, dayyan or false mekubal (kabbalist) will never effect justice. And he will never truly stand for the Torah or the Honour of Hashem. His pocket will always prevail.

    The Torah must never be used for commercial gain and profit. Amm israel can only be lead by those who have the necessary love and respect of Hashem and the Torah.

  11. click here Says:

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