The Cost of Kosher Rabbi Meir G. Rabi
Poultry and meat are without question the foundation of the Kosher home. And there is no doubt that the price of Kosher meat and poultry is a great disincentive, even an obstacle, to many of our brothers and sisters. How many? Casual conversation suggests that for every Jew committed to Kosher there would be in the order of 8 to 9 who would engage and embrace Kosher if its image of being unfairly overpriced would be corrected.
Imagine if we had almost ten times as many Jews eating Kosher meat.
Yet this need not be an unattainable dream. There is a simple solution to reduce the cost of Kosher meat and at the same time improve its quality and integrity. I will discuss this at the end of the article.
An indelible perspective was burned into my mind by a non-religious friend explaining why he likes to have, every so often, Kosher meat at his table, “When I prepare and serve a Kosher meal, it feels like we have invited Gd to our table.” This was a perspective that I had, to my own loss, never considered; a symptom of the self-focussed life I have enjoyed being born and raised and having always maintained a religious lifestyle.
I also 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.
Life is a journey. We are forever moving, either towards or away from our heritage and traditions. Orthodox Jews are surrounded by rituals which create and sustain an atmosphere in which we view the world and our interactions with it, and which guide and prompt our life journey. Amongst all these threads, eating Kosher is the only pedestrian non-ritual activity that links us to HKBH. And for many, who do not embrace Jewish rituals, eating Kosher remains the link by which they connect and express their allegiance, to our traditions. Have you ever wondered why so many boast about keeping a Kosher home in spite of the clear implication that they do not observe Kosher outside their home? And the many who admit they do not keep Kosher, but boast they never eat Davar Acher?
However tenuous the attachment, one thing leads to another; feeling that one has invited Gd to one’s table nourishes the attachment to and pride with one’s Jewish identity and consciousness.
Yet it is not the cost per se that concerns us; people resist making Kosher a more active and relevant part of their life because they feel violated by what appears to be a systematic extortion. In short, it appears that Kosher consumers are being treated like idiots. When there is no transparency regarding prices and processes and no real competition, they feel abused. People who are prepared to pay for quality and for service are also prepared to pay for Kosher, provided that it appears to be reasonable and justified.
Now for some of us - perhaps a very small proportion of the Jewish population - how much Kosher costs is not an issue, we’d rather not eat at all than eat non-Kosher. However, the vast majority of Jews, our brothers and sisters, are not that way inclined. They wish to have burial according to our ancient traditions, to have their children circumcised, educated at Jewish institutions or about Jewish traditions and culture, to have their homes actively reflect some Jewish content and be connected to their heritage. These Jews are not opposed in principle to keeping Kosher.
From their perspective, 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 used exclusively for Kosher, must be Koshered as if it has been used for preparing Chazer Treif, 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 listed as Kosher on a published list are not Kosher enough for the rabbi who endorses that list.
Kosher has been made to look petty. That’s the consequence of accepting as Kosher the same food in one location but not in another.
Kosher has been made to look divisive and infantile, like kinder kids playing in the sandbox. That’s the consequence of the often heard, supercilious commentary, “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.” This is an illness that our communities seem to cultivate; dismissing those outside our own little arena.
The underlying issue, money and power, was identified by 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. He said that, “Mizrachi [Melbourne Kosher - KAM] profits from the Kosher service it provides which must raise concerns. [see this Teshuvah of R Moshe Feinstien, Igros Moshe YD 4, 1:8
I well remember the great Gaon Rabbi Rosenberg. He stood at the helm of the organisation of rabbis providing Kosher supervision, and he declared that communal agencies providing kosher certification must be fully financially independent before being able to legitimately claim any advantage over individual kosher agencies.
If a communal agency receives any payments whatsoever from the establishments they are servicing, even if only to defray the costs of the Mashgichim (supervisors), then they offer no advantage over the individual Rabbonim who are providing similar services.
In fact, it is quite likely that the Hashgocha of the communal agency is inferior simply because there is no one single individual in whom the final responsibility rests. There is no one "at the top" who feels personally responsible. Whereas an individual Rov is far more likely to feel the responsibility and the repercussions of any errors and he is far more likely to be fearful of having erred, having caused others to sin and lose the respect of his supporters.
Besides it is the way of the world that people tend to automatically trust the larger agencies without really checking their operations unlike the individual Rov who is queried and investigated.”
Melbourne Kosher (KAM) and Sydney Kosher (KAS) both operate facebook pages. Recently there was a veritable explosion on these usually docile pages [since removed] the detonator being the high costs of the Melbourne Kosher book [whereas the Sydney list of Kosher foods is freely available on the web] and the price of Kosher chicken/meat. These discussions have been removed which only serves to support the suspicion that there is no answer to these questions.
But I draw attention to 3 points:
A) the energy that was apparent in these exchanges, which was remarkably intense; and
B) the people expending that energy, who were exclusively committed Kosher consumers.
C) the few defenders with their shrill pronouncements and their reflections upon the personalities of those posing the questions, could not disguise the fact that there were no answers to the questions asked.
Now let’s have a look at the costs of Kosher chicken in Australia. Production is around 10,000 Kosher chickens per week. But Kosher chickens cost $12 more than non-Kosher chickens - that is in the order of $120,000 extra dollars per week, above and beyond what it costs to produce non-Kosher chickens. Admittedly, this is but one Kosher product and is an extreme example, it does however serve to illustrate the apathy of the Jewish community to address this issue and the power of the Kosher organisations. The Rabbis responsible for our Kosher chickens have not felt any need to contribute to this discussion, nor have their representatives. And the community seems resigned to allow things to continue as they are.
We can be fairly confident that much of this money is directed towards important community needs. Dayanim, Rabbanim, community services all require financing - it may be seen as a tax to support the many community services, but there is no accountability and no transparency.
Furthermore, once the Kashrus edifice is in place, it and the people engaged with and by it, resist change. And resistance to change is what obstructs implementing the system that is ready to make Kosher meat only slightly more expensive than non-Kosher meat and at the same time enhance its integrity and quality. The system that promises this is not a Halachic mystery, it is not hidden in the depths of a clause in a sub-paragraph of an unknown Halachic authority. It is discussed openly in the Gemara and is clearly documented in the Shulchan Aruch and every Posek. It is the Halacha of Ben PeKuAh. These animals are all Glatt Kosher, none are ever disqualified due to the types of ritual blemishes that disqualifies ordinary animals as Tereifos. Furthermore, the hindquarters are Kosher without need for the special time consuming and risky Nikkur procedure to remove all traces of the Cheilev and Gid. What has prevented this program from being implemented? [Rabbi Rabi has studied and communicated with senior Rabbanim about this matter and can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org]
Clearly, only a very small part of the cost of Kosher pertains to what demands are made on our wallet, the true cost of Kosher is the silent, stifling damage inflicted upon the broader community and its future generations. The power concentrated in the hands of the few, paralyses progress and robs the community of easier access to their and our heritage.