August 10, 2009

New Challenge to Kosher Law as Fraud Increases

New York…Avi G, a New Yorker vacationing in Ft. Lauderdale, found an ice cream cup at a local convenience store with an unclear kosher symbol. “It was either an OU or OV, but either way it didn’t look right,” he told KosherToday. Avi ultimately found out that the ice cream was using an unauthorized symbol. Pfizer recently filed suit against Marco Hi-Tech for allegedly selling it a kosher ingredient with a fraudulent letter from the Orthodox Union. The two are but a small sample of growing fraud and other misrepresentation of kosher that are creating angst amongst many kosher consumers.

Successful challenges against laws protecting kosher consumers have in the words of kosher experts left the growing base of kosher consumers extremely vulnerable. Kashrus agencies say that they have been forced to spend significant amounts of money to protect their symbols from fraud. These concerns are not shared by a Georgian Conservative rabbi and the ACLU who filed suit against the State for defining kosher as meeting “orthodox Hebrew religious rules and requirements.” Rabbi Shalom Lewis claims he cannot fulfill his rabbinical duties “because his theological interpretation of the state’s kosher laws differs from that of Orthodox Judaism.” He said he “violates state law” when he approves some foods as kosher that are not kosher under Orthodox definitions.” The laws have been on the books since 1980.

According to kashrus officials, incidents of unauthorized use of kashrus symbols has increased by nearly 30% in the last two years, even in New York where new kosher laws merely require food establishments to publicize the affiliation and background of their certification in what is commonly known as “disclosure.” One mashgiach found a form in a New Jersey kitchen that had filled in the name of the rabbi as “Moshe Rabbeinu” (Moses, Our Teacher). A proper version was posted in the catering hall. One kashrus official told KosherToday that “tougher laws clearly defining kosher are necessary to protect kosher consumers and that does not preclude a Conservative rabbi from establishing his own definition in his congregation if it is accepted. “More than 1.25 million Jews in the US are said to eat kosher foods regularly in addition to other Americans who expect that the kosher foods they buy are in accordance with the age-old definition of kosher.” The official pointed to the Commack LI butchers that successfully challenged the New York State laws, “who, believe me, did not increase their business after they torpedoed the laws protecting people who eat kosher everyday.”