The rabbis teach that the paradigmatic case of chillul Hashem (descreation of the Name of G-d) is how we buy and sell meat (Yoma 86a). That's why what seems to be the most recent scandal this week is another major blow to the credibility of American kosher establishments.
The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) has revoked its kashrut certification from Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats, a Los Angeles-based wholesale supplier of glatt kosher products. Doheny Glatt was caught on film by an investigator and is now suspected of repacking kosher meat boxes with USDA products that were not kosher, while extracting high prices from unwary customers who believe they are buying meat that was subjected to higher standards.
The RCC has allegedly been hearing complaints about Doheny since 2010, but no action was taken until now. While no direct proof of treif products has emerged thus far, a private investigator – who reportedly was not even hired by the RCC – was able to purchase counterfeit labels and tape bearing the name of a glatt kosher supplier from a family member of the owner of Doheny’s. With these supplies, an unscrupulous butcher could package kosher or treif products in reused glatt kosher boxes.
This is not the first time a kosher establishment was caught packaging treif, as the September 2006 Monsey kosher scandal recently taught us. In that episode, a kosher butcher who was apparently in debt to a kosher supplier decided to buy treif chickens and passed them off as kosher. The scandal traumatized the Orthodox community. Around the same time, a glatt kosher-certified take-out restaurant in Brooklyn was found to carry kosher (not glatt kosher) meat; while this is a comparatively minor offense, it does reflect a lack of concern for the strict Orthodox customer.
These are some of the many recent reminders of how important it is to embrace the Tav HaYosher (ethical seal for kosher establishments). The Tav is proof that a restaurant or store not only embraces kashrut but also tzedek for its workers and customers. The Tav is earned, not assumed: Our naïve trust that all kosher establishments are living up to the values of the Torah has been broken. We must transition from a broken, improperly supervised model to one of certainty that our kashrut system has a strong ethical foundation. Kashrut represents not only our ritual food choices, but also our core moral commitments as a people and a light unto the nations. After dozens of kosher scandals, the world is now calling into question whether or not the kosher industry really “answers to a higher authority.”
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a giant of Jewish law and philosophy in the last century, wrote:
The Halakhah is not hermetically enclosed within the confines of cult sanctuaries but penetrates into every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the street, the factory, the house, the meeting place, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop for the religious life” (Halakhic Man, 94).
We must stop compartmentalizing Jewish law as relevant only in ritual matters. To be a Jew is to follow the path of Abraham, to act justly in all walks of life, and to recall that God calls this behavior, and not merely ritual punctiliousness, righteousness (Bereshit 15:6). To be a halachic Jew is to ensure that Jewish law matters not only when it is convenient or emotionally moving – on Yom Kippur, for example, or on Shabbat morning – but throughout all of our everyday activities.
Some may say that there are but few examples of kashrut violations. My reply is that if the private investigator in the Doheny scandal did not donate 150 hours of work to uncover this troubling situation, we would not know about this abuse either, and observant Jews throughout southern California would be unwillingly and unwittingly eating treif to this day. It is my hope that kosher consumers will be willing to hold the kosher industry accountable to the ethical and ritual standards we claim to hold most dear. Rabbi Menachem Weiss may have taken over the hashgucha (kosher certification) with pure motives, but we must ensure that we don’t just move on and slide yet another scandal under the carpet. We must take responsibility for the Torah and for our community!
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, the Founder and C.E.O. of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” In 2012 and 2013, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America."