April 3, 2013
After Doheny Kosher scandal, what does the future hold for L.A.’s meat market? [PHOTOS]
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Kligfeld said his position stems from a long-standing disagreement between Orthodox and Conservative Jews over the nature of kosher laws.
The disagreement is particularly salient in the case of Doheny Meats, which, for most of its history, sold meat that was kosher, but did not meet the higher standard of “glatt kosher.”
For meat to be considered kosher, it must be from the right kind of animal and must be slaughtered and prepared properly. For large animals — not poultry —the animal’s innards must be checked to ensure that there are no signs of disease. If, for instance, a cow has a hole in its lung, the animal is not considered kosher by any standard.
But to be kosher under the higher “glatt” standard — the word means “smooth” in Yiddish — the animal’s lungs must have no signs of ever having had any ulcers. If the ulcers have healed, the meat is considered kosher — but not glatt kosher.
The RCC began to insist upon the higher standard in 2008, after the Rubashkin-owned AgriProcessors kosher meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, which had been documented mistreating its cattle, was shut down in the aftermath of the largest immigration raid in American history. At that time, because glatt kosher meat is more expensive, Engelman initially decided to drop the RCC’s certification and to continue selling kosher meat that did not meet the glatt standard under the Weisses’ supervision.
Without the RCC certification, however, Doheny’s business suffered, and after about 18 months, Engelman decided to return to the RCC and to adhere to the glatt standard.
For Kligfeld, the glatt requirement “is an unnecessary stringency” that was invented in the 17th century. The rabbi said his family does not abide by it. But because “so much of the kashrut world is in the hands of the most stringent authorities,” in large part because their constituents make up the majority of the consumer base, Kligfeld said that he and other Conservative Jews who might be satisfied with non-glatt meat end up having to buy glatt kosher meat anyway.
“Non-glatt meat, which for your grandparents and my grandparents was completely fine, has been rendered treif, which it isn’t,” Kligfeld said.
But what to Kligfeld is an unnecessary stringency— the word in Hebrew is chumrah —is, for the RCC’s May, a way to fulfill a commandment in a more beautiful way, or hiddur.
“I think most people want to have glatt kosher meat these days,” May said. “This is a hiddur, an improvement. It’s an extra step, and now, people are saying, ‘If they checked it better, great.’ ”
Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, the spiritual leader at North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda, said that such a reading, while narrowly accurate, did not take account of the broader connotation of the term.
“What glatt has come to mean is something bigger than the actual meat — which is kashrus with a bigger sense of accountability and responsibility,” Eliezrie said.
Similarly, Eliezrie, who is president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County and Long Beach, which plays a role similar to the RCC, said that the involvement of such organizations in kosher certification also represents a greater level of communal accountability and transparency.
And so, when an organization like the RCC, which has nearly 100 member rabbis, decides to pull its certification from a particular establishment, Eliezrie said they should be given the benefit of the doubt.
“If they say we’re pulling a hechsher from somebody two days before Pesach,” Eliezrie said, “it’s got to be for really good cause.”
Was what was in the boxes kosher?
Even though Engelman wouldn’t say it in his own words to this reporter, there may be a somewhat generous way of explaining what the owner of Doheny Meats is doing in the video.
“I don’t believe he brought in any non-kosher meat,” Menachem Weiss, the interim masghiach said, following an explanation he said he had gotten from Engelman. “I think that non-glatt meat might have made its way into the warehouse, not into the store.
“And if it was done,” he went on, “it was not done with the intention of bringing it into the store, or selling it to anybody who would think it’s glatt. I think that he might have certain clients who would want the non-glatt, and I think he might have been secretly providing them.
“If that’s what he did, I’m not excusing that; that was wrong, that was a big mistake, and it put him in this situation that he’s in right now,” Weiss said. But, he added, “I don’t think he deserves to be closed down for that.”
Just after 10 a.m. on Friday, March 29, the employees of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats were clustered near the front of the shop. A single customer, a woman, stood in the store; she said she had been shopping at Doheny for more than 30 years.
“I’ve been coming to this store since Jack and Joe, the original owners, were here,” she said later, through the open window of her Prius, which was parked on Pico Boulevard, in front of the store.
But the woman, who described herself as Orthodox and requested her name not be used, hadn’t come to purchase anything on this visit. And according to one of the employees — whose jobs depend on Doheny’s ability to resume selling kosher meat — only six customers had come through the doors so far on that Friday morning.
The woman knows Engelman, but she didn’t want to talk about him. Her main concern was for his employees.
“All of us who shop here, we’re all very worried about the workers,” she said. “We see them regularly. We feel like we grew up with them.”
Contributing writer Zev Hurwitz contributed to this report.