Ugly “ferribel” rears its head as former mashgiach takes on the UOS
An aggrieved former mashgiach (kosher supervisor) of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) has expressed his long-suffering gripes on social media in what some say is an outrageous attempt to discredit the reputable organisation and shake up the Johannesburg kosher industry.
Velvy Bokow has more than a bone to pick with the organisation he once worked for.
He claims the organisation has treated him unfairly and discriminated against him for many years, and said he was going public with his story because he had tried all other halachic avenues in vain, leaving him with no choice.
“Every human being has a right to justice,” he said on Facebook.
Bokow is now a competitor of the UOS, having recently launched a new kosher hechsher in a bid to compete with the Beth Din, the country’s foremost kosher certification under the UOS.
Bokow is the director of Kosher Certified South Africa under the halachic supervision of his father, Rabbi Avigdor Bokow.
So resentful and bitter is he, he has obtained permission from the controversial Badatz Rabbinical Court of Lakewood to pursue claims against the UOS in a non-Jewish court of law.
However, this rabbinical court has been discredited and delegitimised internationally.
In a bombshell announcement on Thursday, 21 April, a few hours before yom tov, Bokow laid out his long-winded and convoluted grievances in nine pages on Facebook. In it, he alerted the community to his intensions to take the matter further in a non-Jewish court of law.
“The UOS has been summoned on more than three occasions to Din Torah and has failed to attend,” he said. He accused the UOS of failing to appoint a zabloh (ad-hoc tribunal) and said he had therefore received permission to pursue his claims against the UOS using “other avenues” in an effort he says to “seek relief”.
Bokow’s grievances go back more than two years in an epic palava which has resulted in a protracted souring of relations between him and the UOS, culminating in his licence as a mashgiach being revoked last year.
He insists he has raised his concerns and lodged grievances in accordance with halachic requirements in an effort to seek relief, and accused the UOS of repeatedly refusing to come to a Din Torah.
In response, Kenny Rabson, UOS board chairperson, said he felt it was crucial to reach out to staff, dayanim and associates following Bokow’s Facebook post, which he described as “inflammatory” and said “omitted significant information on top of inaccuracies.”
Rabson said the UOS wouldn’t engage with any claimants on Facebook or in the public domain.
In a letter to staff, he said, “I want to stress that the board of the UOS, our rabbis, dayanim, and staff are certainly not above the law and we are all subject to the same shulchan aruch (code of Jewish law). While we exist as a non-profit organisation to serve the community, we recognise fully that our actions will always be closely scrutinised by all.”
He said Bokow’s claim that the UOS had declined to appear before a Beis Din, was “simply not true”.
He explained to staff how the process of litigation worked from a halachic perspective.
Should a claimant feel that the dayanim of the Johannesburg Beis Din aren’t independent enough to hear their case, they can opt for a zabla (as defined in shulchan aruch) to be co-ordinated by the Beis Din. This involves the claimant and defendant each nominating a judge, and these two nominated judges agreeing between themselves to a third judge.
“In Mr Bokow’s case, this hasn’t worked, and he has gone to a Beis Din in Lakewood, New Jersey, for resolution of his claim,” said Rabson.
However, he said that the halacha provided that the choice of Beis Din belonged to the defendants – the UOS in this case. “Though the board of the UOS is of the view that Mr Bokow has no legitimate claim against it, we communicated with him several weeks ago that not only would we appear before a Beis Din, but importantly, we offered to subject ourselves to one of the most reputable Batei Dinim in the world, that of Dayan Asher Weiss in Jerusalem, which Mr Bokow declined.”
This piece of information is a crucial omission in his document. The claim of being mesareiv l’din (avoiding justice), is simply not true, Rabson said.
“Mr Bokow asked the UOS to communicate through his legal representative in London, who isn’t only a solicitor, but also a reputable rabbi.
“Again, before Pesach, Mr Bokow was offered a zabla as communicated to him by his solicitor, which he hasn’t accepted. This information isn’t in his posting, but from the UOS perspective, we are comfortable that we have offered him different choices, which he has declined. We remain open to alternative routes of resolution as well.”
Rabson said that given that any defendant must be comfortable with the Beis Din selected, “we declined to appear before the Beis Din selected by Mr Bokow in Lakewood”.
He said this was because the rabbonim of Lakewood had issued a letter in the United States saying that this Beis Din “wasn’t to be accepted by anyone”. The letter, he said, instructs defendants to ignore summonses issued, judgements, and granting of rights to go to secular courts.
“On the back of the controversies around this Beis Din, which we didn’t investigate further, the UOS utilised its halachic right to reject this Beis Din,” said Rabson.
“We ceased communication with it, and have rejected the heter arkaos (the right to go to secular court) issued by it. It must be questioned why Mr Bokow would choose such a Beis Din in the first instance, given his awareness of these letters.”
Rabson said that while the UOS wasn’t aware of the multitude of claims Bokow had against it, it was aware through his solicitor of his claim to be reinstated as a mashgiach for the UOS.
“I’m sure you will agree that this can never happen, given that he is the director of a competing company and has clear disregard for this organisation,” he said.
Rabson said the UOS would continue to try find a way forward with Bokow to resolve the issue.
Bokow’s post on Facebook has been received with criticism and praise by members of the community.
One community member, Tzvi Chaimovitz, accused Bokow of “dribbling” on this platform.
“The people you seek revenge from will not dignify your pompous rhetoric on this absurd medium where your friends lurk in the shadows of your misinformation campaigns,” he said.
The Beth Din of Lakewood has allegedly been “delegitimised by dozens of prominent Beth Dins around the world”, he said.
Said Rabson, “We aren’t going to let a man like this destroy an organisation that has been built up over many decades by prestigious and respected dayanim and rabbonim to satisfy his personal crusade.”
Bokow told the SA Jewish Report that he didn’t wish to comment.