August 8, 2011

Kosher Consumers in Twin Win in the Courts; NYS Enforcement May Increase

New York…There was hope amongst kosher food advocates that the Commack LI butchers who have spent more than a decade fighting kosher food laws in New York State may have come to the end of the line. Federal Judge Nina Gershon last week disagreed with the butchers saying that the latest version of the New York law does not violate Jewish religious or free speech protections under the U.S. Constitution and should be upheld. Across the continent in the State of Washington, there was more good news for kosher consumers. A Washington appeal court ruled against Pasado’s Safe Heaven, which claimed that the state law favors religion because it requires humane slaughter by stunning or “in accordance with the ritual requirements” of a religion. The Washington ruling was particularly welcomed as animal rights activists continue to press their battle against shechita (humane ritual slaughter of animals), scoring victories in Europe, including Holland. The Commack LI butchers whose standard of kosher failed to comply with strict Orthodox standards successfully challenged the New York State’s century-old kosher laws resulting in the revised law, passed by New York's legislature in 2004. Known by many as the “disclosure law,” it  requires all food claimed to be kosher to be labeled by producers and distributors, and basic information about the qualifications of the person giving the kosher certification must be disclosed in a publicly available database. But even this watered down version of the kosher laws was challenged by the Commack butchers, claiming it violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. New York, the largest kosher market outside of Israel, has seen a rise in the abuse of kosher symbols since the new law went into effect, which was further complicated by the dismissal of kosher food inspectors by outgoing Governor David Paterson. Only its director, Rabbi Lozer Weiss was left and he was charged with “educating” the State’s safety inspectors to also look for violations of the kosher food laws. The loss of the inspectors has meant losing a powerful “deterrent,” say kosher sources. But Kosher Today has learned that the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking into the possibility of restoring at least several of the inspectors. No further information was immediately available.

The Washington case is significant since the US and the individual states have long held that religious slaughter of animals is humane. Animal rights activists have taken their fight against schechita to all corners of the globe. The decision came several weeks after Holland passed a bill, which has not yet been signed into law, prohibiting kosher slaughter and requiring that the “stunning” (not permissible under Jewish law) method be used. The measure faces another vote in the Dutch Senate and, if passed, a probable appeal to the European court on its legality. The Orthodox Union (OU) noted: “We appreciate that elected officials, such as those in the Washington legislature, recognize the humane nature of shechita, and ensure its protection and thereby the flourishing of Orthodox Jewish life.”