April 3, 2013
After Doheny Kosher scandal, what does the future hold for L.A.’s meat market? [PHOTOS]
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The local rabbis reached this decision after consulting with Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, the head of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, N.Y., the legal authority for the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division. They relied on the principle of rov, which states that in certain cases in which a majority of a set of items are known to be kosher, the entire set can be declared kosher.
Still, there’s evidence that kosher consumers’ faith in the RCC has been shaken.
“I have no clue who to trust anymore,” a woman shopping at Pico Glatt Mart on Thursday, March 28, said, asking to be identified only as Friede. “I don’t trust RCC.”
May said that throughout the week of Passover, he had been questioned about what the RCC knew, and when. In addition to offering up the timeline of events on Sunday, May said in his statement that the RCC knew competitors had issues with Doheny.
Schwarz, the former owner of Kosher Club, said that, as early as 2010, and “numerous times” over the years that followed, he reported to Rabbi Nissim Davidi, the RCC’s kashrut administrator, that he had seen empty boxes, fraudulent labels and fraudulent tape in Engelman’s truck. Around the same time, Schwarz also told The Journal about questionable practices of the same nature that Agaki later documented.
The RCC, in its statement, said that it had investigated all the complaints about Doheny, “but found no evidence of wrongdoing.”
Schwarz is not satisfied by that answer. “It was obvious,” he said of the reasons to suspect Engelman. “If you wanted to find something, you could find something.”
Since Agaki’s videos have been revealed, it’s become clear that the current leadership of the RCC also did not know everything about Engelman’s history prior to his purchasing the Doheny shop.
In 1983, Rabbi Pinchas Gruman was the chair of the RCC’s kashrut committee. On Nov. 3 of that year, acting on a tip, Gruman drove to Orange County to visit Los Alamitos Kosher Meats and Poultry, where he found some kosher meat and poultry in the freezer placed alongside non-kosher animal products. In an interview this week, on March 31, Gruman alleged that Engelman was the person who opened the freezer for him that day.
It is not clear what Engelman’s job was at the shop — reached on Sunday, March 31, he had no comment. Engelman was not the sole owner of the Orange County shop, nevertheless, he was the only person Gruman said he saw on the day he made the visit.
“I’m telling you, he [Engelman] was caught with treif [non-kosher] packages, a goyishe [non-Jewish] company,” Gruman said. “I did not do any detective work as I did in other stores. This was, you walked in, he opened up the refrigerator, you opened up the freezer, you pulled it out. It was no difficult clandestine work on my part.”
May said neither he nor Rabbi Avrohom Union, who has been the RCC’s rabbinic administrator since 1990, knew about the Los Alamitos incident prior to being informed about it by a reporter. And although May said he could understand why the RCC would allow Engelman to own and operate a kosher-certified market after being connected to another store that was caught with non-kosher products – his store was manned by a constant rabbinical supervisor, or mashgiach temidi, who had the only key to the shop — May still said that hearing about it was “nauseating.”
“It’s hard to imagine that anyone would get two strikes,” May said, noting that there was little or no chance now that Engelman would have his certification reinstated by the RCC in the wake of the current scandal.
Who says what’s kosher?
In the week since the RCC revoked the certification and the news spread throughout the community, various rabbis from across the city — and from a number of different points on the ideological spectrum — have suggested that the RCC has not been doing its job in one way or another.
While some rabbis have reportedly urged their constituents not to trust the RCC because it is too lenient, Rabbi Moshe Benzaquen, who has advocated less stringent supervision for kosher restaurants in the past, sent out an e-mail to the congregants of the West Coast Torah Center calling for one of the professionals leading the RCC to be fired “for incompetence on this matter.”
“Obviously I’m biased, of course,” Benzaquen said in an interview on March 31. Benzaquen, who was president of the RCC for three years starting in 1990, now has his own kosher certification company, Kosher L.A.
“But if, God forbid, anything like this should happen to us,” Benzaquen continued, “we would have been ridiculed, and they [the RCC] would have said, ‘Oh, well, we knew that.’”
Two more rabbis quickly jumped into the fray to serve as rabbinic supervisors of the store. Rabbi Meshulom Dov Weiss and his son Rabbi Menachem Weiss announced that they would themselves certify Doheny as kosher from March 28 until the end of Passover.
This move led Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am, a Conservative congregation, to urge his congregants to shop at Doheny.
“Not only because their products are wonderful,” Kligfeld wrote in an e-mail to members of the large synagogue located on La Cienega Boulevard on March 29, “but because by doing so we can make a statement that kashrut should be about kashrut ... and not monopolies, or power plays, or raising suspicions or being careless with others’ parnassa [livelihood].”
What Kligfeld did not mention in the e-mail is that the manager of Doheny, Israel Feuerstein, is the son-in law of Rabbi Joel E. Rembaum, who served for decades as Temple Beth Am’s senior rabbi and now holds the position there of rabbi emeritus. Asked about that connection after his e-mail went out, Kligfeld dismissed any possibility of a conflict of interest.
“That didn’t play at all in my communication with the congregation,” Kligfeld said during an interview soon after he sent the e-mail, “and it doesn’t play at all into my deliberations here."