Jewish Journal

What does Jewish law say about Doheny’s “kosher” meat?

by Jonah Lowenfeld

April 10, 2013 | 10:29 pm

Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld

By now, most people reading this are probably familiar with the details of the scandal that all but destroyed Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market just before the beginning of Passover. Most readers are likely also familiar with the decision made by the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) and other local L.A. rabbis a few weeks ago that allowed all meat that was purchased from the shop before 3 p.m. on March 24 to be considered kosher.

But just because Jews in L.A. and across the country are aware of the decision -- which was made in consultation with the legal authority for the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky -- doesn’t mean they don’t want a better understanding of the halachic (Jewish legal) reasoning that led to it. ***

“All throughout Yom Tov, I fielded questions,” Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea told me recently. “I actually gave a shiur (class) on the afternoon of the seventh day of Passover.”

“In a nutshell,” said Kanefsky, who was in the room when the initial decision was made, “there’s a halachic dispute that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years as to when you can apply the principle that the majority of the meat that is present determines the halachic status of all the meat that is present.”

Rabbi Belsky, Kanefsky said, directed them to one side of that rabbinic debate, and allowed the principle of rov, or majority, to be employed in the Doheny case.

“Prior to there being definitive knowledge of questionable or forbidden meat present,” Kanefsky said, “one can presume, based on majority, that any given piece of meat purchased from the store is kosher.”

Kanefsky is hardly the only rabbi to have tackled this question in the weeks since video footage revealed that Doheny’s former owner had, on at least one occasion, brought eight boxes of unidentified animal products into the store, which had been certified as glatt kosher by the RCC.

Rabbi Elchonon Tauber, a prominent local Chassidic scholar, gave an hour-long class on April 9 about which mixtures of prohibited and kosher meats are permitted to eat and which mixtures are not.

“So many people are wondering: what makes three o’clock the magic number?” Tauber said near the beginning of the class at Chabad-Lubavitch of South La Cienega (Chabad SOLA). He went on to lead the 35 men present through the relevant section of the Shulchan Aruch, a 16th century code of Jewish law.

Every detail, it seemed, had an impact on whether the meat was to be considered kosher: what the buyer knew about the seller when he bought it, what the seller knew about the meat, even whether the seller was himself a religious Jew.

The reasoning was complicated, and drew some strong reactions from those in attendance. (Video of the class – # 17 in Tauber’s weekly series – has been posted at the Chabad SOLA web site.)

But if Tauber – who sits on the rabbinic advisory board of the local kosher certification agency that competes most directly with the RCC, Kehilla Kosher – is standing behind Belsky and the RCC’s decision, there is at least one person who disagrees.

“The claim that since the majority of the product in the store was definitely kosher we can assume that the meat being bought is kosher needs clarification,” writes a guest poster on the blog of Rabbi Yudel Shain, a kosher consultant from Lakewood N.J.

The post continues:

If a store has 1000 kosher chickens and 10 livers of which 9 are not kosher and 1 is kosher, if I purchase a liver at that store I am definitely not allowed to eat it. We can only group similar items to create the majority. We must therefore be able to establish that we had a majority of livers, tongues, rib steaks etc. against the unknown product that was brought in.

And that’s only the beginning. The poster – who Shain, in an interview with The Journal, declined to name – goes on to question the RCC’s statement that the meat was not unkosher but merely not glatt kosher. It also questions the RCC itself.

Shain said he approved of the reasoning used by the guest poster, who he said was also a rabbi.

“I am convinced that treyf (non-kosher product) was going in there,” Shain said. “I have no doubt.”

Among the rabbinic community, however, Shain may be a lone voice. He said he had submitted the guest blogger’s post and another post about the Doheny scandal (which lifted a few paragraphs, without attribution, from work done by this reporter) to other Jewish news outlets that primarily serve an Orthodox readership. Those news outlets, he said, turned him down.

*** I’m not a scholar of these matters, not by a long shot. If I’ve misrepresented the statements of any of these rabbis, I hope they’ll forgive me. (And, more to the point, that they’ll contact me so that I can correct any errors.)

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