An Interesting Postscript

A second follow-up to Rabbi Adlerstein’s non-response to the “Monsey chicken story:” In the comments thread, I wrote that there is a butcher here in Baltimore who carries no hechsher (Kosher certification). I also said that “I imagine that when the deli owner retires, this situation—at least in Baltimore—will retire with him.”

Yesterday afternoon I wanted to pick up a small item, realized that the aforementioned deli probably had it, and stopped in. I then discovered that the previous owner did retire — two years ago (shows how often I shopped there, doesn’t it) — and I was wrong. The “situation” of having no hechsher did not retire with him. The new owner explained that he has only one employee, an observant individual like himself (actually, the employee works elsewhere as a Star-K mashgiach (supervisor)!), so they also needed no hechsher.

Until now. In the wake of this scandal, the owner was advised by a prominent local Rav (not involved with Kashrus) that it would be worthwhile for him to get certification.

The naysayers who claim that “nothing will change” are simply wrong, because things are already changing. As I said, though, I do not believe it is a positive development. A world in which it was unimaginable that a known observant, upstanding individual would so willfully distribute non-kosher meats was superior to one in which every piece of meat is checked. People will still try to beat the system — but now you can’t recognize who is likely or unlikely to be a problem.

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9 Responses

  1. Tzvi says:

    That is very interesting; thanks for the update. I think it is a positive development as it will bring standardization to the way consumers approach the market. Although, of course it would be nicer if everyone was trustworthy and scandals never happened.

    Question: When you buy meat, are you (personally/Halakhically)trusting the owner or the mashgiach? What does Halacha say? What is your personal subjective opinion? E.g.,
    1) Would you buy from a store where the owner is not frum, but it has a mashgiach?
    2) Would you buy from a store whose owner is frum and has a mashgiach?
    3) Would you only buy from a store where the owner is frum and you personally know/trust him and he has a mashgiach?
    4) Would you only buy from a store where the owner is frum and you know/trust him so well that you would buy from him even if he didn’t have a mashgiach?

    If people are actually shopping with the #1 mindset, then the Hashgacha had better be superior.
    If people are shopping with the #2 mindset, then the Hashgacha should be adequate.
    If people are shopping with mindsets #2-3, then the Hashgacha is irrelevant at best and a $ drain at worst.

  2. dilbert says:

    Interesting situation. You thought that the owner was a certain person, and based your assumption of the kashrut of the place on that person actually being the owner. It turns out that for two years that person has not been the owner. In fact, it could have been anybody, as far as you knew. Luckily for you, it turns out that the new owner is obserant, and from your point of view, trustworthy. Obviously, if you hadn’t shopped there in two years, you wouldn’t have known that the ownership had changed. But wouldn’t it have been possible to shop there and not know that the ownership had changed? How would you have known, besides asking every time you go into the store? How would the community know? Seems to me that this is a vestige of mimetic Judaism, that what is accepted is accepted, without having to be measured and stamped with approval. However, if one is going to accept one person without a specific hechsher, why not another person? Obviously everyone in the communty is going to make up their own mind, and ultimately a sort of ‘herd kashrut’ will emerge, where enough people do a certain thing and the rest follow their lead. On a related note, why dont people eat [name of other store/product]? I know some of their mashgichim and they are people full of yirat shamayim and middot. If they had a shop on the corner I would buy from them. However, someone(someones, or organizations) have said that they are not reliable, and enough have done so that the herd has moved away from them. Would it be better for them not to have a formal hechsher and just rely on the frumkeit of the mashgichim and/or owners?

    I am not opposed to a store having no official hechsher. However, if a hezkat Kashrut is being given to that extent to one person, why should it not be applied evenly? And, given that the ownership changed without you even knowing it, how reliable are you actually in determining the degree of kashrut of the store? can one rely on ‘word of mouth’ in the community? Interesting problems to think about.

  3. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    The world has not changed. There never was a “world in which it was unimaginable that a known observant, upstanding individual would so willfully distribute non-kosher meats”. Imaginable: yes! possible: yes!
    probable, no!. The real world is stochastic, not deterministic. There always were and are such people around. Applied Normative Halacha has always recognized this distinction and has based many of its rulings on the concepts of Rov and Chazaka. The probability that an Ashkenazi has eaten “Traifa” at least once in his lifetime is very high becuase we only check the lungs for disease not the other organs.

    The Monsey Scandal may be nothing more than a ruach sheina metsuiyah(a uncommonly strong ill wind) buffeting the world from time to time.

    The Halachic authgrities will have determine if the probability of a *butcher* selling non kosher meat these days has risen above what it has been in the past. The may eve want to look into the concept of risk used in risk analysis rather than straight probability

    Risk is the product of the probability of an unwanted event occuring and the damage that happens give that the event occurs.

    *We learn the concept of eid eched neeman besurin(A single witness is believed in the matter of prohibitions) from vesaphra la(she wiil count)
    The Torah states that a woman(wife) is believed in matters of family purity even though she is a single individual. I have always wondered if a prostitute would be so believed. Would the fact that she is tempted not to tell the truth because of business considerations negate the torah’s grant of reliability to a woman on the issue of family purity. This is over and above the fact that being a sinner may invalidate her as a witness. Is this case alse one which involves money where one needs the testimony of two?

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    “A world in which it was unimaginable that a known observant, upstanding individual would so willfully distribute non-kosher meats was superior to one in which every piece of meat is checked.”

    I don’t know that we ever had such a world or that the occurence of one messup means we don’t have such a world now. Take your pick.

  5. Baruch Mayer says:

    Respectfully, you miss the point. A shop owner who is a conscientious and observant jew is far superior to any Hasgocho. The Monsey travesty is proof positive that a Rav Hamachshir who hangs his hat on the supposed Chezkas Kashrus of the proprietor is doing the customers of his Hashgocho a disservice.

    We are better served by your Baltimore butcher who openly proclaims that he has no Hashgocho, resulting in the consumer knowing that they must engage in their own due diligence. Relying on a broken Hashgocho system manned by the inept or lazy is a distant second to doing one’s own research.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    One thing to consider is the high volume of chicken passing through the affected butcher shop in Monsey and other shops, there and elsewhere, of similar size. I doubt that any one butcher shop in the “old country” operated on this scale. If I’m correct about this, the phenomenon of one renegade shop generating this many treif kitchens, etc., is relatively new. This higher “downside per shop” may in itself require refinements in kashrus supervisory methods.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    Tzvi, my personal standards aren’t really the issue. Obviously the ideal location falls into category 4, and yet he has a mashgiach. But the reality is that there isn’t an Orthodox Jew buying food from commercial providers who isn’t eating from #1 plus, likely, the others as well.

    Hashgacha is never a waste of money. Providers get a Hashgacha because they find themselves more likely to sell product as a result. The advice received by the deli has nothing to do with the Rav’s estimation of the owner and/or his employee’s ability and likelihood to continue selling only Kosher products, but with what he suggests is likely to happen as a result of Monsey. In the overwhelming majority of cases when the provider is observant, we hope and expect that the hechsher is merely a layer of protection and not actually the sole motivator for the producer not to sell non-Kosher food to the observant populace.

    Dilbert, the shop is small and was (and is) essentially always staffed by the owner. His absence was the first thing I noticed when I walked in. I’m not familiar with the shop you mention, but there are many “kosher” establishments that have developed track records of doing funny things, with the result that those careful about Kashrus have migrated away.

    Baruch, as I said in the original thread, terms like “inept or lazy” have no place here. Certainly if you had any idea who the Rav in question is, you would recognize that if he is inept or lazy, by that standard 99% of “observant” Jews keep no Mitzvos anyway. A Mashgiach who relied upon the Halacha by definition did all that the Halacha requires. Somehow the owner was able to pass muster every time there was a periodic check.

    The unfortunate reality is that we have to “build fences around the Torah” where previously none were necessary. If you want to know why the Halacha we follow is more strict than the Torah’s requirements in a host of areas, it is because of situations like this one — where people found themselves inadvertently violating the Halacha. Think legumes on Pesach, for example. For that matter, we didn’t blow shofar on the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year because it was Shabbos — and chazal thought it possible that some uneducated Yankel might go out into the public domain carrying his Shofar, bringing it to the Rav to be sure he was blowing correctly. For that relatively strange case, all of us miss out on Shofar…

    As many others posted in this thread, it may be that the risk was always there, but the impact never so broad.

  8. Baruch Mayer says:

    I beg to differ with your assertion that “terms like “inept or lazy” have no place here.”

    While universally respected as an upstanding and learned man, the Rav Hamacshir had no business selling his guarantee of Kashrus to the public without knowing for certain that the food was in fact kosher.

    The Rav’s integrity is evidenced by his resignation from the Kashrus business immediately after the publicizing of this scandal.

    However, I for one would be more impressed by his refunding, to the consumers of this non kosher meat and poultry (and yes, I am one,) all the income he derived from his certification of this non-kosher food. They paid for kosher and received non-kosher. The Rav Hamachshir inadvertently received a portion of this money and in my opinion would send a valuable message to this grieving community by repaying it.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    Baruch, your bias in this matter is understandable, but means you cannot judge fairly. A Kashrus certification does not guarantee anything, as I mentioned in the earlier thread. It only means that Halachic standards were followed to monitor the business, and that was true.

    Many years ago, another Rav in Monsey told me of his experiences going out to do special product runs on behalf of one of the more stringent Kosher symbols. All the plants he entered had national symbols — and he found obvious violations that could not be justified with recourse to Halachic standards. There are a lot of problems in the industry; while this unfortunate situation does highlight the issues, it itself was attributable to an owner who showed himself worthy of a very high level of trust — again, as per Halacha.

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