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The Jewish Report Editorial

When things fall apart, will the centre still hold?

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When you picked up our newspaper last week and looked for our Purim spiel, you probably stopped at the story about Stan & Pete having lost its kashrut licence with disbelief. Who wouldn’t? They are the oldest and biggest, and one of the most trusted, kosher caterers in Johannesburg. Everyone knew them and for more than 40 years, they were at the core of Jewish celebrations.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Mar 08, 2018

Even I didn’t believe it possible. When the Beth Din notice was brought to me on our newspaper deadline last Wednesday afternoon, I initially dismissed it as a Purim spiel. Only on calling the Beth Din’s kosher desk did I realise it was no joke.

For the record, our Purim spiel was the KosherCoin story by Dr Hayman Tasssen PhD. Yes, the one that claims the more you daven, the more this special Jewish bitcoin’s value increases.

However, with all the news that was in the SA Jewish Report last week, it was the Stan & Pete story that touched all our lives. Last Friday evening, there were few Shabbos tables that weren’t deep in discussion about this caterer. It didn’t stop then. The story literally consumed the community this week. We stopped discussing our new president, and even the possibility of land grabs paled almost into insignificance next to Stan & Pete.

The tall stories about the caterer abound and were then embellished. I kept hearing people make outrageous allegations and say they were from a good source. As a journalist, I have learnt over the years that the truth is generally much stranger than fiction. So, I am not quick to dismiss apparently unbelievable stories at first hearing. The trick is always to check, check and check again to verify whether something is for real. If you cannot corroborate from a truly reliable source, it is unlikely to be true.

With all the talk in our community, there was also a lot of anger and frustration. There are people fiercely defending Jeff Shull, the owner of Stan & Pete, and others condemning him. People wanted to know why it happened. Was it a set-up? How long had it been going on? Was the Beth Din right or wrong to so publicly revoke its kashrut licence? How far back had this been happening? Did we eat non-kosher food at the last wedding or barmitzvah?

There was no let-up, and we, at the SA Jewish Report, felt it was incumbent on us to find out the truth for the community. Because only with the truth in front of you would you be able to feel safe enough to let it go and move on.

What is it about this story that created this all-pervasive chaos? Even those in the community who don’t keep kosher took it to heart.

Kashrut is one of the core tenets of Orthodox Judaism. You can’t have a wedding or barmitzvah with a rabbi without kosher catering. We moan and groan about the prices of kosher food, particularly chicken. We grumble about having to pay the Beth Din’s surcharge on our simchas. But we do it anyway.

So, when a caterer who has been trusted for so long appears to let us down so royally, it impacts on our very core. As Yeats so poetically put it: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…” Kashrut, and being able to trust restaurants and caterers that what they are providing is the real deal, is pivotal to us.

It is about trust and faith. It is about right and wrong. It is about what makes us Jewish and how Jewish people look after one another. And when they don’t, what happens to our trust?

If we can no longer trust someone licensed by the Beth Din, our own court of law, what and who can we trust?

It also speaks to the high cost of kosher food, as many have said: “If kosher chickens didn’t cost so much, this may never have happened.” Well, I am not sure about that, but kosher meat truly is ridiculously expensive. And as our VAT rises and the municipal valuations skyrocket, having to pay that extra to ensure we eat kosher really does hurt. And for some, it has simply become too expensive. What is the alternative?

I know a great deal of thought has gone into making kosher sexier and more appealing. What a great idea! However, as much as the Beth Din, the chief rabbi and the kosher experts may market it, those high prices are always going to affect the appeal. Simply put, creating Shabbos dinner for family and friends is certainly not meant to break the bank.

So, in that short time it took to decide to remove Stan & Pete’s kashrut licence, I am not sure that the powers that be had any idea what they were going to set loose in the community.

All I hope is that the facts we provide you with will stem the madness.

Shabbat Shalom!

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