The Jewish Report Editorial

Rise above the clamour about kosher

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The Beth Din’s kosher desk is at the heart of a community storm this week, which has taken us all by surprise. I certainly haven’t seen anything close to this hubbub since March 2018, when Stan & Pete’s kashrut licence was revoked after unkosher chicken was found in the caterers’ kitchen.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Oct 15, 2020

I must say, I was gobsmacked by the ugly things our community members have said about the Beth Din on social media. It appears as if a lot of resentment has built up specifically towards the kosher desk.

I believe Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, who runs the kosher desk, to be a man of integrity and someone who has a real vision for making kosher more appealing and accessible. I also know that since the Stan & Pete debacle, he has been determined not to take any risks with what’s kosher and what’s not. I imagine the kosher community want nothing less than this, considering how devastating it was when there was even a suspicion that people had been eating treif food at functions when they thought it was strictly kosher.

Having said all that, there are a number of people dealing directly with kashrut and the Beth Din who are coming out of the woodwork with serious complaints this week.

It all started with one man who produced a statement this week after his licence was revoked by the Beth Din. He emerged guns blazing at the Beth Din, and made some serious allegations regarding finances.

The Beth Din retaliated, saying it was going to get legal advice, and wouldn’t take the allegations lying down.

Initially, it looked like a spat between the Beth Din and one company, which it ultimately still is, however many who pay a substantial amount of money to the Beth Din to ensure that their products are stamped kosher don’t seem to be happy.

It all appears – from their accounts – to boil down to finances. There are claims that the Beth Din charges are exorbitant and unaffordable. Sitting at my desk, I can’t actually debate whether they are unusually high or not, as I wouldn't know. That I leave it to our intrepid investigative journalist, Nicola Miltz, who wrote our front-page story.

However, I can certainly understand the pain of high fees – warranted or not – from a business and consumer perspective. Today, thanks to COVID-19, we have all had to tighten our belts. This has been a year in which most of us can no longer afford to spend willy-nilly. We have to be conscious about what we spend our hard-earned money on. So, if we see a bottle of sauce that appears to be overpriced just because it’s kosher, we’re unlikely to want to buy it.

And if you’re the person whose company makes the sauce and you have to put up the price because of the fees you have to pay the Beth Din, you too aren’t likely to be happy about it. This makes sense.

The question is, though, are they too high? Can the Beth Din lower its premiums? Is there something that can be done to find a happy medium?

Surely, in this case, everyone concerned wants the same thing. It’s about more kosher products being available to the community at the most reasonable and attractive prices. Surely it’s about the concept of being kosher, and kosher food being accessible to everyone in the community.

So, while I totally understand that tempers are flaring, allegations are being thrown around, and people are being aggressive and defensive, it doesn't help anyone. All it does is put us under a pressure cooker, divide the community, and exacerbate the problem.

What we need to do is find a fair and amicable way of sorting this out. If there is a chance of the Beth Din charging less, then it should do so. If there is some way around some of the costs, then let’s find it.

The bottom line is that every single person in this community who wants to buy kosher food is affected by this situation because someone has to cover the costs, and inevitably they land on the consumers’ tab. That’s how it works!

Right now, many are having to go without meat, never mind sauces or chocolates and other delicious niceties in order to eat kosher. Then there is the threat of opening a second hechsher provider or even getting hechshers from international organisations.

Frankly, I understand why people are willing to go this route, but we pride ourselves in having one central place with strict regulations to provide hechshers. Do we really want to be divisive about this?

I don’t think so. I don’t think it will solve anything.

We are a small but united community, and we may get snotty and aggressive with each other at times, but we have to sort it out.

The discord and ugliness is inevitable, but it’s how we sort it out that makes us who we are. It’s getting together and finding an amicable solution that works for everyone that takes us from run-of-the-mill to an exceptional community.

We have just had Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We have made our apologies, and decided how we want to live our lives. Nobody wants to live with this unhappiness and anger.

Let’s make a plan, and rise up above the noise and anger!

Shabbat Shalom!

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