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The Cost of Kosher

March 13, 2012 – 9:19 pm322 Comments

By Rabbi Meir Rabi
Cost is a strong negative influence that most people consider when evaluating Kosher foods and Kosher services. I distinctly recall being very uncomfortably unable to answer the plaintive question; “Rabbi, why is it that a vegetarian Kosher function provided by a non-certified Kosher caterer is so much cheaper than the identical menu provided by a Kosher certified caterer?”

I did not have an answer and I don’t believe anyone has an answer to that question, because the cost difference was enormous. And they had tried a number of Kosher caterers. I saw the quotations.

However, my main point is that many people resist making a commitment to Kosher or even a partial commitment (I know that sounds weird but that is the fact, people will eat various things but never THAT stuff.) for a related reason. Their main objection is – they feel violated by a system that appears to extort and abuse them. In short they feel they are being treated like idiots. When there is no transparency regarding prices and processes and no real competition, they feel abused. These are people who are prepared to pay for quality and for service and they want to pay for Kosher, provided that it appears to be reasonable and justified.

Now for some of us, an extremely small proportion of Australia’s Jewish population, this is not a question. However, the vast majority of Australia’s Jews, our brothers and sisters, are not that way inclined. Are they opposed in principle to keeping Kosher? Sure, some of them are. But let’s consider the overwhelming proportion who wish to have burial according to our ancient traditions, who have their children circumcised, educated at Jewish institutions, their homes actively reflecting some Jewish content and connection to their heritage. Are these Jews in principle opposed to keeping Kosher? Certainly not.

Kosher has been made unnecessarily difficult, and unjustifiably expensive. We do not, and many believe that we cannot, explain and justify that the costs are fair and not extortive.

Kosher has been made to look silly and political. That’s the consequence of insisting that a kitchen must be Koshered after being used by a Kosher caterer supervised by a different Kosher organisation.

Kosher has been made to look trivial. That’s the consequence of knowing that the products on the Kosher list are not Kosher enough for the rabbi who endorses the list.

Kosher has been made to look petty. That’s the consequence of accepting as Kosher the same food in one state of Australia but not in another state.

Kosher has been made to look divisive and infantile. Like kinder kids playing in the sandbox. That’s the consequence of some of us, who suffer a narrow perspective, dismissing those outside our own little arena. This was recently expressed on this site by a poster who declared that those who keep Kosher to standards approved by some great Poskim but not to the poster’s standards, “You’ll consider yourself kosher, and even some of your friends will consider you kosher. But by the standards enshrined in our Holy Torah, you’re simply not there yet in terms of full kashrus adherence.”

Melbourne KA (KAM) and Sydney KA (KAS) both operate facebook pages. Recently there was a veritable explosion on these usually docile and pedestrian pages, the detonator being the high costs of the Melbourne Kosher book on the Melbourne FB page [whereas the Sydney list of Kosher foods is freely available on the web] and the price of Kosher chicken/meat on the Sydney FB page. These discussions have been removed, which is probably appropriate since those FB pages are not designated for such discussion [and is one of the reasons I have aired the topic here].

But I draw your attention to 3 points: A) the energy that was apparent in these exchanges, which was remarkably in tense; and B) the people expending that energy, who were exclusively committed Kosher consumers. The third point is that there were some who defended the costs of Kosher but their expressions of confidence in the Kosher system voiced in shrill pronouncements and their reflections upon the personalities of those posing the questions, failed to disguise the fact that there were no answers to the questions asked.

KAS, to the best of my knowledge, did not respond at all other than by removing the discussion from their fb page.

KAM responded after removing the discussions with the following (I have trimmed its length) “There has been a burning question raised on our Facebook page – why do we charge for the Kosher Australia Food Guide – The small charge (I think this refers to certified companies) defrays some of our costs, not all of them. The typical family can get the Kosher guide for $40 p.a. which also includes a Pesach guide that takes hundreds of hours to prepare. (The regular Kosher Food Guide involves a review of the ENTIRE LIST – not a 2 hour job.)
To properly check a company requires time & expertise – the charge being disproportionately small in comparison to the time & materials involved. Staff need to be paid to maintain the service. As users of the Kosher guide, it is fair and proper that some charge is sought. The equivalent of less than a dollar a week is not unreasonable.”

This response suggests that the book sales are profitable but that profit is required to finance the investigations of companies paying for their Kosher certification since the charges to the companies are not sufficient to cover the costs. The question though remains, why does KAS not charge for their list but KAM does charge? How does KAS make ends meet?

Mr Romy Leibler, President of COSV Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria, 1995 – 2005 and inaugural President of COSA Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Australia, says that, “Mizrachi profits from the Kosher service it provides which must raise concerns. Further, it purports to be a broad communal organisation by its new name of Kosher Australia yet it is raising as much money as possible for itself, a single community group.”

Mr John Kraus [past president of Mizrachi Kosher] assures us that there is transparency in all of Mizrachi’s financials. As he writes [on Isaac Balbin’s Pitputim blog] to Mr. Romy Leibler, “you have access to the financial accounts, these are audited. Mizrachi is transparent and is accountable to its members of which you are one.”

We should note that for every EXTRA dollar paid for Kosher chickens, $10,000 EXTRA dollars are collected EVERY WEEK from the Kosher consumers since we produce 10,000 Kosher chickens per week. But Kosher chickens cost $15 more than non-Kosher chickens. So we are not talking about $10,000 but about $150,000 per week! What do we pay for a Kosher chicken? Close to $30. A non Kosher chicken retails in Coles and Woolies for less than $7.

I invite any businessperson to clarify these projections.

Furthermore, given that Rabbis Groner and Telsner are the principals responsible for Kashrus of our chickens [their names appear on both the Biada chicken processing plant and also the Solomons Kosher butcher shop] it is disappointing that neither they nor their representatives have ever provided any input into this discussion. The entire Jewish community will be delighted to have their and the other community Rabbonim as well as the communal leaders, help us unravel this mystery.

This is not the first time such a discussion has been aired. In his blog Pitputim Isaac Balbin suggests that:

  • Melbourne Kashrut, now Kosher Australia is moving towards the standards employed by the OU, which is good.
  • Some are critical of this move.
  • Sydney appears to have embraced the lower LBD rather than OU standards
  • Rabbi Moishe D Gutnick of the Sydney KA responded,

“Kosher Australia (Melbourne based) has announced that it is phasing out its “approved” listings. The Kashrut Authority however maintains that “approved” products are 100% kosher l’chatchila and should be listed. Furthermore, it is wrong to restrict the general community to certified products.”

The Kashrut Authority (Sydney based) maintains that “approved” products are 100% kosher l’chatchila, and it is wrong to disqualify such products. If the consumer wishes to eat only ‘mehadrin’ products that is the consumer’s choice but not a Halachic necessity.

Approved products are no ‘less kosher’ than certified products, they just fall under a different halachic paradigm.

See here.

Some more comment on the Pitputim blog:

  • It would be good if there was one communal Kosher organisation, standard and symbol for Australia. Financials should be transparent and accountable. (David Werdiger)
  • Kosher VeYosher is self serving and does not provide any real benefit to the community.(Isaac Balbi)
  • At a Council of Orthodox Synagogues Victoria meeting, Mr. J Kraus representing Mizrachi, proposed that COSV take over the Kashrus work then being run, at a significant financial loss to Mizrachi. COSV was willing but Mizrachi withdrew their offer. (Isaac Balbi)
  • Dr. Kloot has stated that that Mizrachi will only cede its control of Kashrus if it will be compensated with over $1,000,000. Dr. Kloot also fears that those who offer to take over this responsibility may lower the Kosher standards. He also bemoans that the community is not the slightest bit interested in helping to pay for the Kashrus services provided by Mizrachi.
  • Isaac thinks Dr. Kloot’s comment is sad and negative.

Mr J Kraus

  • disputes Isaac’s recollection, insists that the offer demanded compensation
  • Isaac insists that no mention at the time was made re financial compensation. Suggests that the minutes be perused.

Mr J Kraus

  • as Chairman of Mizrachi Kashrus, invited all Melbourne Synagogues to become part of Kosher Australia, to contribute to operations and to have representatives on the board, but was unsuccessful.
  • maintains that the Kosher booklet is extremely difficult to use.
  • Agrees with Dr Kloot that fair compensation must be paid to Mizrachi if it relinquishes or shares its control of Kashrus as occurred when COSV became joint managers with Mizrachi for the Eruv
  • Assures us, as past Chairman of KA and Treasurer of Mizrachi, that Kashrus is not a profitable enterprise and is lucky to even now, be breaking even.

Rommy Leibler suggests that:

  • it is absurd that the same product is Kosher in NSW but not Kosher in Melbourne
  • Kashrus ought to be a communal enterprise however monetary and parochial interests prevent this. Mizrachi profits from the Kosher service it provides which must raise concerns. Further, it purports to be a broad communal organisation by its new name of Kosher Australia yet it is raising as much money as possible for itself, a single community group.
  • A simple important change would see KA reporting to COSV.
  • Kosher VeYosher panders to those desiring lower Kosher standards; it is controversial and confrontational.
  • The proposal of ECAJ and ORA that one authority determine who may and who may not provide Kosher certification, is dangerous.

David Werdiger

  • agrees with Isaac that Kashrus ought to be a communal asset, although he does not necessarily agree with the OU being the standard that we should embrace.

Finally, ANONYMOUS posters have mentioned that:

  • A single Kashrus authority leads to increased costs for Kosher products and services, proof for this is demonstrated by the costs for Kosher in Sydney.
  • KVY does some strange things but are servicing a section of the community that neither the Mizrachi nor the Adass are willing or capable of doing.

Rabbi Meir Rabi is the principal of KVY (It’s Kosher) Kashrut Agency.

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