Kosher Inspectors Seek Help As Shutdown Looms, 12/14/10
Adam Dickter, Assistant Managing Editor
The state’s last remaining kosher inspectors are looking to legislators for support and gathering petitions in a bid to keep jobs that will be eliminated on Dec. 31.
“I’m very worried,” said Andrew Wolpin, who received a layoff letter last month from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, which oversees an embattled Division of Kosher Enforcement that has been at the center of two lawsuits and will be virtually obsolete after the budget cuts. “But people are saying they are behind us.” Wolpin said he and supporters of the kosher unit hope to gather 30,000 signatures and that they have the support of the state Senate’s Republican minority leader, Long Island’s Dean Skelos, and other lawmakers.
The kosher division has been drastically reduced in recent years from 11 inspectors to just two, and the layoffs will leave none as part of a bid to reduce state payroll spending by $250 million as Albany battles a projected $10 billion deficit.
“We’re in a recession and I’m not going to make any bones about that,” outgoing Gov. David Paterson told The Jewish Week in an interview last week. “I hate having done that, and we’ll take responsibility for doing it. We’ll be very sympathetic to any criticism I get about it, but it’s gotten to the point where we have depleted our resources to reduce the deficit and have to go now into some places where we did not want to go.”
He noted that staff conducting health code, liquor authority and environmental protection inspections will also be reduced.
The state’s 1915 law requiring inspections of establishments marketing themselves as kosher was in place until 2000, when a court challenge by a non-Orthodox butcher on Long Island resulted in a federal district court ruling that it was unconstitutional for a government to enforce Orthodox standards. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 declined to intervene in the case, affirming the ruling.
A 2004 law requires only that “consumers of food represented as kosher in New York be provided with information identifying the person or organization certifying that food as kosher.” The law also established a mandatory registry of “certain producers, processors, packers, distributors, retailers and certifiers of kosher food products, as well as those who prepare kosher food.”
Under the new law, inspectors were allowed only to check that establishments provide the required information.
But a second challenge to the law filed in 2008 by the same plaintiffs, Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, claims that inspectors were exceeding their mandate by checking food already inspected by private certifiers.
“People from the department themselves told me and other publications … the reason why they closed it was over the litigation,” said Rabbi Wikler. “The fact that the reduction of inspectors to zero is not in any way balanced with the reduction in other departments is a clear indication.”
The lawyer representing Commack Kosher in both lawsuits against the state, Robert Dinerstein, said his clients have “mixed feelings” about a lack of inspections.
“We feel that the state should not be involved in religious law, but we do feel that requiring the maintenance of supervisors was within the state’s purview, and we regret that will not be continued,” Dinerstein said on behalf of his clients.
“New York State, as a center of kosher production, distribution and consumption deserves a stand-alone agency dedicated to this,” said the OU’s deputy director of public policy, Howard Beigelman. “Aware as we are of the budget realities, we are disappointed with these additional cuts and hope that as the economy improves, this office is restored and reconstituted effectively.”
Wolpin, who has a wife and three children, said he isn’t sure where he will find work when the job is over. He said that for the last five years he has carried out some 40 inspections per week from Brooklyn to Buffalo to Binghamton. “Last week at a place in Flatbush I found them serving TempTee cream cheese in a place that [declares itself] cholov Yisrael,” he said. “Some people are very particular about cholov Israel.’
Cholov Yisrael dairy products are supervised by an Orthodox Jew from the time milk leaves a cow through the packaging process. TempTee is kosher but not cholov Yisrael.