A Tragedy That Should Not Have Happened Kashrus, A Comical Tragedy, not played by Comedians
Remember Monsey? It is home to a very large Jewish orthodox population 90 minutes drive north of New York. Remember the Monsey Meat Scandal? It is about 90 light years away from our collective memories.
So allow me to refresh. A well known and well respected ultra-religious-orthodox member of that community ran a very successful Kosher butcher shop which was supervised by a well known and well respected ultra-religious-orthodox rabbi providing a well known and well respected Kosher certificate. Tragically, it was discovered that the butcher shop had been substituting non-K for Kosher meat. This had been going on for many years. No one knows or is prepared to say, for how many years.
That is the tragedy, now for the comedy. Appended below are two articles. The first is from the website of a well known and well respected Kosher agency. The second is from a well known and well respected Jewish magazine reviewing the improvements in Kashrus one year after the tragic discoveries of the Monsey Meat Scandal. Also SEE - HaArets, and SEE J Exponent.
Before reading the first article (SEE), take note that it suggests that the discovery was made by an anonymous tip-off, a whistle-blower, probably a rival butcher who was being undercut by this fellow. The ultra-religious-orthodox Kosher certifiers had not the slightest clue that anything untoward was happening.
Even after the tip-off, it was impossible to positively identify that the meat was not Kosher. They relied upon vague indicators that were apparent for all to observe for all the years the non-K chickens were being sold:
the skin was the wrong colour,
the flesh was not salty enough and
the kidneys were within the carcase.
Also they were
unable to identify the supplier and
there were no Kosher seals on the cartons and the chickens.
As Kosher seals are not mentioned as the first and most compelling proof it must be surmised that in fact Kosher seals are not compelling proof of authenticity. What do you make out of that? One thing is clear, the most rudimentary auditing protocols would have certainly averted this disaster. Only a grossly incompetent or corruptly unwilling Kosher certifier could have let this happen under their watch.
"As a result of a tip, the supermarket owner discovered two major kosher chicken distributors had stopped supplying chicken to the butchery months ago. When confronted, the butcher said he had gotten chickens from other kosher sources. When checked, those sources proved false. The local rabbinical leaders were contacted, amongst them the Skver Dayan (a judge qualified in Jewish law) who ruled that an immediate search of the butchers’ refrigerators needed to be done. As soon as the Rabbi’s examined the cases of chickens in the fridge, they discovered the chickens were not Kosher based on the color of their skin, the lack of salt residue used in the koshering process and the presence of their kidneys. Also, no seal or signs were on the chickens or the boxes. Non-kosher chickens had been substituted and sold as kosher chickens. It is possible that this had been going on for as long as eight years."
In the US of A Kosher meat is shipped from the slaughterhouse to wholesalers and retailers, who will re-pack it. The repacking is not always done under supervision by a Kosher authority. This and other weaknesses provide an opportunity for substitution to take place with relative ease.
"There have been instances at OK-certified meat establishments where meat came in from the original slaughterhouse without seals. Our Mashgiach rejected the meat and sent it back to the truck. The (non-Jewish) driver had seals on the truck, and proceeded to put them on the boxes of meat. Of course our mashgiach, under the direction of his Rabbinic supervisor, still rejected the meat. How would holograms help in such an instance (other than to profit those selling holograms)?" SEE)
According to this incredulous information, it is impossible to rely upon any Kosher meat in any establishment in the USA since any box of meat, including non-Kosher meat, can be labelled by the non-Jewish (or Jewish) delivery man to whichever standard or style of Kosher is preferred by those receiving the boxes.
I have begged the rabbis of this agency to remove this ridiculous comment from their site, but it is still there years on.
I asked them how their Mashgiach can know if the next meat delivery has not had the “correct” label applied by the same driver, before being delivered to their very vigilant Mashgiach. I am still waiting for a response.
I have implored them to remove this silly comment from their website but it is still there many years later. One can only conclude that there is such arrogance in this arena that they fear no ill consequences by publishing such foolish comments. Either they know that nobody reads these articles or that all who read such articles could not possibly think critically about what they are reading or about the people in whom they place their trust.
Here is the second article. I have inserted my observations in square parentheses 
The HaModia magazine [Section 9 Ellul 5767, August 23 2007] interviewed rabbis of various Kashrut organisations one year following the Monsey meat scandal and published their responses.
Moshe Elefant OU I have three important points to relay about the changes that have occurred since the kashrus scandal took place in Monsey last year.
First, the fact that we were able to uncover this terrible crisis is already a sign that we are headed in the right direction and that we are being vigilant in this area. [According to most accounts suspicions were first aroused quite by accident. Verification came about by breaking into the butcher shop and inspecting the cool-rooms. Even then, there was no absolutely clear proof that the meat was not Kosher: the meat did not taste as salty as Kosher meat usually does, some chickens still had kidneys attached which is unusual for Kosher chickens and they did not "look like" Kosher chickens. Apparently the question of saltiness had already been asked by customers who were told that, "a new low sodium salt is being used."]
Second, here at the Orthodox Union where most slaughterhouses in the U.S. are certified for kashrus, we have instituted a number of important changes in our whole system. [What are these "important changes" that have already been implemented? Why is the rabbi reluctant to delineate these important changes?] This is especially true in the packaging process, where we hope to create a system in which each piece of meat or chicken has a hologram, with its own UPC code that is tracked by computer. [Are these important changes that HAVE been made or important changes that WILL be made? It is now 5+ years since this "hope to create" has been uttered, nothing has yet been done other than the seemingly disingenuous platitudes uttered to assuage those asking questions, relegate these issues to the back burner and pray that they die a quiet death.] The labelling of the holograms will be done only by the mashgichim, and they will be the only ones who have access to these seals. [They are unable to maintain control over the labels they are presently overseeing, why will anything change when they introduce holographic labels? They apparently have no system in place to monitor and audit the distribution and use of labels.] This system has already been installed in the Montreal based Marvid Chicken slaughterhouse, we hope that in the very near future this system will also be implemented in slaughterhouses in the United States. [Many years have already passed and there is not the slightest indication that any of these initiatives are being implemented. Besides, these systems are far from foolproof, rumours are rife of Kosher meat seals being freely circulated beyond the safe hands of the Mashgichim. Besides even if such a system is implemented, considering the price difference between K and non-K, there is still more than sufficient incentive to pose serious threats. Take for example the multi-million dollar efforts of the music and video industry to prevent piracy which took all of a couple of hours for the hackers to undo and publicise. This approach can not offer a safeguard to prevent substitution.]
Third, we are presently working on an education program geared toward our Mashgichim as well as the consumer to teach them what to look out for in kashrus. When you know what to look for, things look different. [We are still waiting to see this initiative: how the Kosher consumer can detect the fraudulently labelled Kosher meat that the supervising rabbi cant or does not wish to detect. What can a consumer do to avoid being duped?]
Hillel Weinberger HisAchDus HaRabbanim One thing is evident after the kashrus scandal, and that is that the tzibbur is worthy, the tzibbur is holy, Jews want to be good and to do good. [That’s right. There never would have been such an outcry had the luxury cars sold by the reputable Gd fearing salesman been discovered to be cheap imitations only worth a fraction of what they were paid for.]
The scandal caused a storm in all chareidi circles, be it the yeshivishe crowd, the Chassidishe crowd, and among the more modern circles; all of us made changes in kashrus. [What changes should the consumers make if the businesses are cheating them and the Supervising rabbis are not capable of preventing the substitutions?]
It is interesting to note that even one year later the subject is still very fresh and on the minds of everyone. People are taking it seriously and are ready to work towards a solution, and that I think, is admirable. [Praised be The Lord.]
Many individuals who were tainted, either directly or indirectly, by the terrible tragedy that occurred took upon themselves certain Kabbalos and measures of teshuva to atone for the terrible Michshol that took place. I know one family in Nitra Mount Kisco that had Keilim that were tainted by the meat from Monsey [somehow they had not consumed non-K meat - that would be too horrible to contemplate; they must have just received a gift of a used pot that had been contaminated with the absorbed flavour of the non-K meat] The family took upon themselves not to have ice cream for a whole year to atone for that. It is no small feat for a family of many small children to get through the long hot summer without a single drop of ice cream. [One wonders what penance is being undertaken by the rabbi and the Kosher agency at the helm of this tragedy.]
Yechiel Babad, Tartikover Rav It is difficult to say how things have changed since Iast year because what was kosher in the past continues to be Kosher and what wasn't kosher in the past still isn't. [In short nothing has changed.]
What is certain is that people are more watchful they don't buy blindly anymore, and they read the small letters on the package to ensure that the product has a reliable Hechsher. [The Monsey shop bore a very reliable Hechsher with all the necessary fine print.]
It is my feeling that if the Rabbanim see that the tzibbur is particular about kashrus, they feel a stronger responsibility to provide them with products that are kosher LeMehadrin Min HaMehadrin. [So, if the Rabbanim are not adequately responding to the imperatives of Gd's Law, it is the consumers alone who are to blame. The consumers can help the Rabbanim feel a greater responsibility in their holy work.]
Yosef Moshe Greenwald, Tzelemer Rav Things are just like they were a year ago. In the beginning, right after the scandal occurred, the word was that the repackaging of meat would stop. But that hasn't happened. Recently, while in a [non-Jewish] supermarket in the mountains, I was shocked to discover a large sign that said the following: "We are open seven days a week, and we sell glatt kosher meat." How does it look that a year after this terrible story in Monsey, Jews are buying meat in these kinds of stores? [What a heap of nonsense. Is there ANY problem for a supermarket to sell Kosher or Glatt Kosher food on Shabbos? It was packed and sealed BEFORE Shabbos] In short, things are just like they were last year.
Menachem Meir Weissmandel, Nitra Mosey Rav People are asking questions and are looking into matters pertaining to kashrus; they are more aware than they used to be. [Meaning, people are more aware that there is no guarantee that the food which is marked as Kosher is in fact Kosher.]
What is painful to see is that after what happened last year, we spoke about ways to rectify the problem, such as putting holograms on the boxes of meat so they could be tracked. I do not comprehend why a courier company can have tracking numbers so that the company knows exactly where the package is at all times, and we cannot have the same system to track the meat during the long road from the time it leaves the slaughterhouse until it arrives on the store shelves. As long as this hologram system is not instituted, the root of the problem remains. I think it is the only solution to the problem. [One can only wonder in astonishment when considering that this rabbi, who was responsible for the biggest Kosher meat manufacturer in the USA, Argi Processors, did not implement this system for the Kosher meat under his own supervision.]
The way to achieve this is to launch a campaign to educate the public that we need to direct all our energy toward improve the situation in kashrus. [What does this have to do with the public? They are already paying grossly inflated prices for Kosher meat and can not point to anything that suggests their money is being used to provide a superior service and properly audited authentic Kosher meat.]
Then again, there has definitely been a change for the better in the field of Kashrus, especially regarding insects in fresh food. Nowadays, people are a lot more vigilant about insects in fruits and vegetables, an area which was very much neglected in the past. [A complete misdirection of the conversation and an almost sinister perspective suggesting that this perversion of Kashrus and treachery of the Kosher consumers, was a "good" thing to have occurred.]
Avrohom Pollack, Star-K Certainly, last year's incident shocked both kosher consumers and kashrus agencies out of their complacency in the area of kashrus. [What is the complacency of the Kosher consumers? As far as the agencies are concerned it just proved that no matter how negligent you may be there are few if any negative consequences to fear. SEE]
Besides the greater scrutiny and vigilance over which individuals may have any control over kashrus issues, there is now much more emphasis on verifying that other agencies and individual Rabbanim HaMachshirim also exercise similar diligence in their own certifications. Today, in the post-scandal kashrus world, it is much more common for reputable agencies to make inquiries regarding the identities of mashgichim and the frequency of visitations before accepting another kashrus agency's products for use either as an ingredient or in a certified establishment.
Nevertheless, it is imperative for kosher consumers to realize that the events last year were a complete aberration of what normally occurs in establishments with a reputable certification. According to halacha people have the right to trust their Rabbanim. And certainly, a Jew who is shomer Torah U'Mitzvos should not be suspected of wrongdoing without any evidence to the contrary. [That is not true. All Poskim we have consulted, including HaRav M Heineman of Star-K Kashrus, insist that we are not to rely on a person's personal appearance of orthodoxy where A) an enormous profit can be accumulated B) by simple deception C) that is most unlikely to be detected by incompetent or unwilling Kosher agencies.]
Shaye Reichman, VaAd HaKashrus of Queens The whole kashrus industry has undergone a transformation since the scandal; the vigilance is much stronger than it used to be. We have more mashgichim than we used to, we double-check the invoices from the various plaints, and all repackaging is done only in the presence of a mashgiach temidi. [This rabbi is living in Noddy Land. Perhaps he should compare notes with those who are quoted earlier in this article, Rabbi Yechiel Babad, Tartikover Rav and Rabbi Yosef Moshe Greenwald, Tzelemer Rav.]