September 14, 2009

Rushing to Judgment in the Streit’s Fiasco

It was an unfortunate incident for the Streit family when it learned just several weeks before Passover that its Matzoh would not be acceptable in many of the stores supervised by the Vaad Harabbonim of Queens and the Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns. The reason: The matzoh no longer had a national certification (it dropped the Kof-K and relied on the hashgacha of Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, son of the late Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik who had certified the company for decades prior to his death). The incident immediately became the subject of sensational articles in at least one Jewish newspaper and the gossip of choice for many bloggers. The two Vaadim were called the “Kosher Nostra” by one site while the newspaper called for the head of the rabbinic administrator of one of the Vaadim. One blogger called for more transparency in kashrus, obviously not buying the reason given by the Vaadim. But in my conversations with leading kashrus officials, it appeared that transparency is exactly what they are trying to avoid. Said one: “Even if we catch someone red-handed with a kashrus violation, most responsible agencies and rabbonim will do everything in their power to couch the violation in something vague and broad that hopefully will not destroy the reputation of the perpetrator but will be enough to get the message to the customer.”

One rabbi recounted an incident where he caught a chef in a restaurant using a non-kosher ingredient resulting in his removing the hechsher. “I simply issued a statement saying that I was removing my hechsher without saying another word. I subsequently advised many of the people that called me that it was for kashrus reasons without saying a word about the non-kosher ingredient.” Some of the rabbis I spoke to seemed to agree that even if there were some kashrus violations (and they were not sure there were any other than the added trust of a national kashrus symbol), Streit’s should not have learned about it a few weeks before the holiday and from the press. But transparency, they say, will never happen. “We’re not in the business of loshon harah (speaking evil),” said a prominent kashrus authority, “but we are in the business of telling the public whether or not we have confidence in the products we certify.”

As I surfed the blogs, I could not help but notice that many of the authors are the same bloggers who surface at every possible hint of a scandal in kashrus. The “gotcha” crowd seemed to eat up the Streit’s story though I suspect that a year from today it will long have been forgotten as the bloggers move on to the next “scandal”.