Jewish Journal

Passover profiteering

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 28, 2010 | 2:55 pm

Probably my least favorite part of law school is being removed from the Jewish community (as much as one can be at a law school in Los Angeles). One of my favorite parts of working at The Jewish Journal was being in touch with the Jewish world around me. This was particularly true around the holidays.

Last year I spoke on “Which Way L.A.?” about Obama’s implementation of a White House Seder. Before that I celebrated Passover at Wilshire Boulevard Temple with Daphna Ziman and the Rev. Eric P. Lee, who were trying to reconcile an allegedly anti-Semitic speech that Lee gave at a dinner at which Ziman was honored. A blog post about that Seder prompted the best comment this blog has ever received: “The true meaning of Passover.”

Go further back and you get to the most controversial Passover of the past decade—the one challenging the actual occurrence of the Exodus.

This Passover The Jewish Journal opts for something introspective and personal: Rabbi Finley’s call for a private Seder.

I, however, offer this report from Benyamin Cohen, whose name you likely recognize. Writing for Slate, Cohen talks about Passover profiteering:

In general, Passover food is marked up an additional 20 percent over regular kosher prices, hence the $24 box of matzo I saw at that same grocery. It seems we should add another question to the traditional four associated with Passover: Why is this food so darn expensive?

Many blame exorbitant costs on a complex price-fixing scheme among the three major Passover food manufacturers—Manischewitz, Streit’s, and Horowitz—which came to light in the early 1990s. Nobody served jail time, but Manischewitz pleaded no contest and was forced to pay a $1 million fine in addition to donating another $2 million in kosher food to charity. It was a PR nightmare, which drew national attention to the problem (at least briefly). But it didn’t affect business practices that much in the long run. After Manischewitz repented, they hired an executive from RJR Nabisco to run the company and eventually bought out Horowitz, all while continuing to keep prices high.

To many, standing up for the Passover manufacturers is like defending Wall Street bankers. There are, however, a couple of valid reasons for the seasonal markup.

First, most reliable kosher agencies require full-time supervision for Passover production (as opposed to occasional pop-ins by rabbis for year-round kosher items). And it’s not just for the finished product, but for each of its ingredients. Take, for example, that expensive bottle of ketchup. It’s comprised of multiple ingredients sourced from other manufacturers. Not only does the ketchup have to be made under full-time supervision for Passover, but so do the spices, vinegar, and oils that flavor it. And someone’s got to pay for the rabbi’s time. Second, in just about all the cases, companies must clean production equipment thoroughly to get rid of any non-kosher-for-Passover ingredients. This process often requires a costly 24-hour downtime for the production plant.

Read the rest here. And have a happy pesach.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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