Vaad vs. Mehadrin- Round 1
In the first half of this week’s double header parshsios of Matos and Masey, the Yiddin are instructed to wage war against the Midianites, to take the booty (according to the Merriam Webster dictionary on line, booty specifically refers to plunder taken (as in war)), kill all males, as well as the women who were of the age where they could know a man. Mistama you’re thinking the Oisvorfer will go to town on that subject, ober this week, the action is in a different town -five of them and Far Rockaway to be exact- and his focus is on another war. A war where a different type of booty is threatened, one that is brewing and about to explode. A war of words has already begun and is about to get louder in the 5 Towns over kosher supervision. Who is in charge of kosher? Should but one organization maintain a monopoly? Is a new competing agency good or bad for the consumer and for the establishments seeking their stamp of kosher? And we ask these questions because eight days ago, the heylige Oisvorfer woke up to the following notice – see below- and having been in involved with a kosher establishment for approximately 24 years, wanted to weigh in with a few thoughts. My comments are found in yellow, but let us begin with here:
The Vaad HaKashrus of Five Towns Far Rockaway is a non-profit organization that was founded to supervise and certify retail establishments and commercial companies that cater to the Kosher consumer in the local Five Towns area. Until very recently, they were the only game in town; use them or else.
Mehadrin 5 Towns is a newly formed kashrus agency founded by two well respected rabbis with sterling reputations, one of whom used to man the Halacha Hotline of Five Towns/Far Rockaway. The other, also steeped in learning, runs a kollel.
IMPORTANT NOTICE FROM COMMUNITY RABBONIM
14 Tammuz, 5780 / July 6, 2020
Dear Members of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway Community,
Due to recent events that may have a serious, adverse impact on the unity and kashrus in our community, we feel it is important to reach out and communicate our position to the entire community. We daven that our words will be understood in the manner in which they are intended, to enhance a sense of shalom and achdus within our broad and diverse community.
The Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway is an organization that is run by community Rabbonim and lay leaders, both of which reflect a broad cross-section of the community. With Siyata Dishmaya, and with tremendous efforts over several decades, our Vaad Hakashrus is known throughout the kashrus industry as one of the most reliable and professional vaadim in the entire world. Some of the features that make our Vaad special are:
1. Neither the Rabbonim on the rotating Executive Rabbinic Board, nor the lay leaders, take a single penny for their hours of service to ensure the kashrus standards of our community are kept at a very high level.
While it is emes is that neither the Rabbonim, nor lay leaders of the Vaad take a single penny and that the Vaad is 501C3 organization –meaning: not for profit, one should not for a moment think this is not a business. If monies are involved- and certainly a lot of money is- it’s a business. They are an organization and its employees –to include administration and those on the field -all of them- get paid, and quite handsomely. They are not volunteers; they work and they get paid. In fact, one might wonder why they qualify as a not for profit? Are they doling out charity? Not!
- Our carefully selected professional staff comes with decades of experience and a sterling reputation throughout the world of kashrus.
Of course, we –those who rely on the Vaad’s supervision (hashgocho) -expect nothing less from you, any other organization, or rabbi seeking to ensure the kashrus of any item or establishment. Dozens of other kosher certifying agencies around the world do exactly the same. .
3. Our professional staff is salaried and therefore stands nothing to gain or lose based on the number of stores certified, ensuring absolute integrity.
That statement is likely only partially true. Yes, they are salaried but false in that they have “nothing to gain.” Fewer stores certified under the Vaad translates to fewer staff and smaller salaries. Remember, kashrus is a gisheft, a business, like any other business. The establishments sell kosher food and the Vaad sells its services. If existing establishments leave the Vaad, or if newer one’s chose another competing certifying agency or company, fewer dollars are available for salaries and other costs. It’s how all businesses run, non for profits as well.
4. None of our Rabbonim would ever be involved in a kashrus decision of a restaurant that is owned by a relative, or even a mispallel of their Shul. If a matter of concern arises regarding a store owner, that person’s Rabbi – if he is a member of the Rabbinic board – recuses himself from any vote that affects his own mispallel.
Rabbis and Rabbonim –on a regular basis- get involved in the affairs of their members. Rabbis are asked to mediate money and other disputes among members. They get involved with family issues though both husband and wife are constituents. When was the last time a rabbi recused himself because he knew the parties? Never! We trust that our rabbis will act rationally and with halocho on their side. Which rabbi –even for a relative- would have the temerity to say “kosher” when an item or practice in an establishment were not so? We trust that all Rabbonim act in accordance with halocho.
We want to alert you to a new hashgacha recently formed by two Rabbonim in our community known as Mehadrin of the Five Towns. We have no ill feeling toward the Rabbonim who provide the hashgacha, but we must categorically and absolutely recommend to all of the members of our community that they avoid eating at the restaurants under that hashgocha – specifically FiveFifty Restaurant and Shoppe, Chimichurri Charcoal Chicken, and Keneret Fresh Market. Please be advised that one of the establishments is owned by the Rav Hamachshir’s brother-in-law, a conflict of interest on its very face. In fact, each and every one of the establishments under this new hashgocha are owned by mispallelim of the Shul of the Rav Hamachshir, which under our Vaad’s standards is in itself a cause for invalidation. This is not in line with the high levels of integrity and impartiality that is at the foundation of our community Vaad.
That last statement is offensive. The letter writer sates that he (or they) has/have no ill will towards the Rabbonim who have formed a new kashrus organization and then go on to warn the public not to eat at the food establishments under the supervision of the new hashgocho!? What’s pshat? If the two rabbis at the core of the new hashgocho are otherwise fine and respected rabbonim –no one seems to doubt that, not yet anyway- why attack their work? Is it because their emergence on the scene might impact the business of the Vaad? The bottom line: the two rabbis spearheading the new hashgocho enjoy sterling credentials and reputations. At least they did until they decided to dip their toes into the business of the Kosher Nostra. Es vyst zich ois azoy (it does appear) that while they -the new rabbis behind the new hashgocho- were minding their own business running a kollel, or issuing halachic rulings, they were perfectly kosher and valid. Not one person in these 5 Towns had a bad word to say about them –in fact, the opposite is emes; they are well respected. Ober, once they decided to go into the business of providing an alternative hashgocho, one cannot rely on their rulings? How utterly absurd! Did they suddenly lose all their knowledge and reliability? Were they suddenly touched by a malach (angel) and forgot all they learned? I don’t think so!
Another bottom line: the existing Vaad does not want competition, is afraid of the competition, and will do all in its power to drive them –or attempt to- drive them out of business. It has nothing to do with kosher standards. It’s wholly related to the booty – the monthly fees that myriad establishments pay them. They want their monopoly intact. It’s interesting to note that not one rabbi on the Vaad complained when one of these two rabbis decided to open a shul in these 5 Towns. In fact, one of the two rabbis behind the new Mehadrin hashgocho runs a Kollel and ironically enough, one of the mashgichim who works for the Vaad was -until very very recently- learning at this kollel in the mornings before going out on his daily visits to establishments. At that point the rabbis themselves were glatt kosher. Now they cannot be relied on?
Moreover, being related to a store owner, or having an interest in an establishment as one Vaad rabbi in these 5 Towns does, does not mean a lowering of kosher standards. In fact, one could argue that the opposite is true; honest rabbis who may have a conflict will go out of their way to ensure that they are operating with clean hands. Do we not trust our rabbis? I am relatively certain that one or more of the Vaad leadership are themselves, or have relatives who are involved in kosher establishments under their supervision. It is an absolute fact that one rabbi whose signature is affixed to a follow up letter regard the Vaad’s resistance to a new entrant, is now, or was a partner in Gourmet Glatt; was this a conflict? Let’s get real: many of us are related and we trust that our rabbonim will act -always- in accordance with halocho, but also with respect to the establishments. Respect is but one element that’s been missing as a result of the current Vaad monopoly.
In addition, we have labored diligently to maintain a unified Vaad Hakashrus for a broad and diverse community. Rabbonim and lay leaders across the spectrum have worked together for decades with a sense of mutual respect and a pure desire to make kosher food readily accessible to the members of our community. We have built in our community an efficient and harmonious Vaad Hakashrus and a wonderful platform of achdus, something that many Rabbonim in other communities yearn to emulate. Indeed, we have dedicated much time and effort to try working together with the Rabbonim involved in the new hashgacha, only to be told that they had no desire to collaborate with our unified Vaad.
Wake up and smell the coffee: these 5 Towns no longer resemble the 5 Towns of decades back. Some 30 years ago there were but a handful of shuls and kosher establishments. The community has changed dramatically and grown exponentially. The Vaad know this well. The number of food establishments it supervises has exploded over these decades. In fact, for the Vaad there is no such thing as too many pizza store, Chinese restaurants or anything else. This Vaad never stepped in to protect an existing establishment from competition. Its motto has always been that there is no concept of ‘Hasogas Givul,’ a concept whereby one could argue for some protection against direct competition. More stores translated to more dollars.
In 2020, finally seeing an emerging competitor, they want to rely on achdus, unification and lack of competition. How utterly absurd? Absurd! And they want to accomplish this by disparaging other respected rabbinic leaders? I don’t think so. If there is room in these 5 Towns for over 25 or more shuls where not one rabbi needs to ask permission to open, and there is no limit to how many entrepreneurs may open a particular type of food establishment, does the Vaad think they are on solid ground by claiming that a new certifying agency is not kosher? And they want to accomplish all this by sending out a letter supposedly signed by 53 rabbis -some of whom claim never to have signed on? I don’t think so.
In the interest of maintaining the high standards of impartiality established by our Vaad, we strongly recommend that one not patronize any establishment under the Mehadrin of the Five Towns hashgacha. With heartfelt prayers that our sincere efforts to enhance kashrus and religious life in our community are successful.
The bottom line: Jews vote with their legs and with their money. As new shuls began to open and still do, those who felt disenfranchised voted with their legs and joined a competing shul. Some made the switch by abandoning their old shul, while many maintain duel or even more memberships. Jews enjoy dining –in or out- at different food establishments. As well they shop for their groceries, produce and meats at many different establishments. And these same Jews will and should – vote to eat at any of these establishments – as long as they are kosher and reliable. If the rabbis behind the new Mehadrin are kosher and legitimate – the paragraphs above suggest they are- and their reputations in learning and other matter Jewish are sterling- they can certainly be trusted to maintain high standards of kosher.
Finally, the owners of FiveFifty Restaurant and Shoppe, Chimichurri Charcoal Chicken, and are both well known; they are good and honest people. How dare the letter writer(s) and or Vaad impugn their reputations only because the drumbeat of competition is getting louder?
I feel better!
More on the parsha later this week.
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv