Beth Din reports back on kashrut investigations
The firm of attorneys is now expected to complete its findings only by the end of the month. This is according to a letter from Bowmans that was read out at a public meeting held last Thursday at the Hebrew Order of David in Oaklands, Johannesburg. The letter was read by Jarred Abelson, the Head of Finance and Group Services, on behalf of the board of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues.
In it, leading attorney Jonathan Schlosberg of Bowmans said, “We understand that you may be frustrated that we have not been able to complete our investigation within the various time periods we have estimated.
“This is because it has proved to be [and continues to be] very difficult to assess accurately the work needed to reach completion. We appreciate your patience, and assure you that we continue to devote significant time and effort to this matter.”
Since the last letter to the board on 1 August, the firm had spent a further 273 hours on the matter, taking the total time spent since the firm was engaged in mid-April to 696 hours.
The Kosher Department of the Beth Din presented its strategic vision and operational plan to the community at the meeting. Following the Stan & Pete saga, the department has spent months in introspection, looking at ways to improve its systems to turn the negative experience into a positive, learning one.
About 40 people were present, mainly from the food industry, including restaurant owners and caterers.
Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, the Head of the Kosher Department, outlined its vision for the future, and the strides that had been made following the visit to South Africa earlier this year of leading kashrut experts who made a number of recommendations. “They found that our systems are sound yet somewhat outdated,” he said.
Goldstein said there was a process in place to build the department “one brick at a time” in a bid to ensure that new developments “last for many generations to come”.
The Stan & Pete incident had given it a chance to say, “Let us look at ourselves and how we can improve. In every crisis, you can take it as an opportunity to improve, or you can take it lying down. We have not taken it lying down,” Goldstein said.
He acknowledged that there had not been consistent leadership over the past 19 years, with six or seven different heads of the kosher department during that time.
The department had held multiple stakeholder meetings with rabbonim in recent months, as well as shul chairpersons, and mashgichim. Of the 75 active mashgichim, 63 participated in various meetings and answered surveys.
Goldstein said the kashrut department had built a top management team to run kashrut, placing emphasis on the highest standards and compliance.
Rabbinic co-ordinators had been appointed to “run kashrut on the ground” and close the vacuum in the relationship between the kosher department, food services, and the mashgichim, who “are out there in the field doing a difficult job”.
The department had also hired a full-time communications manager, and had piloted a WhatsApp line, which is receiving about 1 000 kosher queries a month.
During his talk, Goldstein said the department was well aware that the South African Jewish community was taking financial strain. He stressed that it was the department’s “commitment that everything we provide for the community is transparent and done in the most cost-effective manner, and that there is no additional cost to the Jewish community for the services we provide”.
However, when a member of the audience raised the question about huge discrepancies in the cost of kosher and non-kosher meat and chicken, the matter was not adequately dealt with given time constraints, with Rabbi Goldstein saying that the kashrut department did not control pricing.