SPECIAL EDITION Vaad vs. Mehadrin: ROUND 2
Boycott vs Buy-Cott
Last week: we addressed the opening salvo, the first letter issued by the Vaad of the 5 Towns against the new Mehadrin 5 Towns hashgocho. This week, we are back after; a second Vaad letter -unsigned, but containing the names of 53 rabbis- at least three different zoom video conferences hosted by local rabbonim (at least two of whom are current Vaad Board members), and after calls with a handful of local good distinguished rabbis. The Oisvorfer is back with Round 2 of the war of words –and more- between the Vaad of the 5 Towns and the new kosher Mehadrin 5 Towns Hashgocho. And he’s back with these questions:
Are the tens of thousands of orthodox Yiddin -to include chasiddim- in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Yirusholayim, and many other cities and countries around the world eating treif when dining or shopping at establishments not under one local Vaad? Let’s try that one again: are restaurants and other establishments only trustworthy if their hashgocho is from but one localized Vaad? Is kashrus compromised by having more than one hashgocho in any one neighborhood or city? Should rabbis who govern the Vaad be involved with, or worse, behind a de facto boycott of establishments not under their supervision? Is it ethical for the Vaad –absent proof of nefarious behavior regarding kashrus- to issue letters warning the community not to rely on a new hashgocho and avoid eating at certain establishments? Are such warnings designed to keep control in “mafia style tactics?” Should our esteemed rabbis be behind a de facto cheyrim of glatt kosher restaurants owned and operated by people who were otherwise reliable just two weeks back when under their supervision? Do those leaving the fold of the Vaad deserve to be forced into bankruptcy just because they left and are now under a new hashgocho operated by other rabbis? Should the Vaad -when having a beef –pun intended- with certain other rabbis- not have aired their grievances at a ‘din torah,’ a rabbinical court, instead of letter blasting? Is this not what they teach and preach to us? Would the community have been better served by a simple letter from the Vaad advising that certain establishments are no longer under their certification? Is this not what the OK and OU routinely do? As an aside, it’s exactly what they do when they no longer certify a food item, company or establishment. Are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews who don’t follow Rav Moshe Feinstein’s opinion on one matter, bad people? Is Rav Feinstein’s response on a particular related issue germane to the issues of the 5 Towns? Were all of Rav Feinstein’s responsa universally followed? The answer: despite his greatness –a leading godol hador he certainly was- the answer to this question is a resounding no. Not all Yiddin followed him when he was alive and many don’t follow now that’s he’s passed on; it’s a fact! Did the Vaad act impetuously? These and other questions remain after reading and listening to the latest attempts by various Vaad rabbonim to explain bizarre behavior by the Vaad. OMG! Just how did a number of our good rabbis get entangled into this mess? Shoin, let’s find out if these questions were addressed in their letters or zoom video meetings.
Because the Oisvorfer will not be writing a separate parsha review this week (which incidentally closes out year ten of uninterrupted postings), let us begin with this shtikel review of this week’s haftora which speaks volumes about the issues of the day. In this third haftorah of calamity or rebuke, the opening chapter of Isaiah, the once noble society of Yiddin has sunk to the level of Sodom and Gomorrah. Strikingly, there is no dearth of external piety (indeed, the RBSO is over-satiated to the point of disgust with the people’s offerings and prayers), nor is there -amazing as that reads- any charge of sexual impropriety or impurity. Rather, the suffering of the people is caused by injustice, indifference to the cries of the vulnerable, oppression, systemic greed, and selfish and self-serving leadership. The prophet warns that society can be healed, and his terrifying vision of complete destruction avoided, only by care and concern for the most vulnerable members of society. Shoin, timing is everything; need more be said?
As we welcome in -albeit somewhat solemnly- Chodesh Av and the “nine days” leading up to Tisha Be’av, the second most important fast day on our calendars, we get ready to mourn the destruction of our holy temples, the first and second Batei Mikdash. Exactly why each was destroyed, ver veyst. Zicher there are many opinions on exactly which sins the Yiddin were guilty of and which brought about the wrath of the RBSO. The heylige Gemora (Yoma and in other tractates) provides differing opinions of the myriad infractions; which of these brought about destruction no one knows with certainty; we don’t know for sure because there are too many opinions. In this week’s haftora to be read on shabbis chazoin, the Novee Yishayahu (Isaiah) prophesied about the tragic condition of the State of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. He asks the Yiddin why they don’t recognize the RBSO as their master. The RBSO appeals to the Jewish people to repent. They should stop with all their sacrifices and worshipping of other gods. The RBSO tells the Yiddin they should learn to do good, seek justice, and support the oppressed. The bottom line: the Novee tells us the Yiddin were guilty of various sins which ultimately led to the fall of bayis rishoin. And when it comes to the destruction of the second, many sages suggest that it came about as a result of sinas chinam, baseless hatred or jealousy. The heylige Gemora (Yoma 9b) asks azoy: “Due to what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there were three matters that existed in the First Temple: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed… However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvos, and acts of kindness, and that they did not perform the sinful acts that were performed in the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed. Shoin. Seemingly the Yiddin of second temple times were also plagued internally by tumultuous politics, and they divided into many factions—a phenomenon that ultimately led to the Temple’s destruction and our nation’s torturous exile. Ring familiar?
And it’s against that backdrop that the Ois is back with Round 2 of the war of words (for now) between the established Vaad and the upstart Mehadrin Hashgocho. It’s avada interesting to note that both letters coming out of the Vaad on its dissatisfaction with a new hashgocho in town were written during these three weeks. Yikes! Nu, luckily there is no Beis Hamikdash to burn down, and shuls are barely functioning.
As mentioned above, over the past few days, the heylige Oisvorfer listened to a live zoom session hosted by Rabbis Ya’acov Trump (YILC) and Aaron Feigenbaum (IPM) and also listened to a recording of a session hosted by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz (BKNW). An earlier call, hosted by Rabbi Heshie Billet of YIM was missed. We needn’t introduce these rabbis; all great. This week, the Oisvorfer is here with responses, commentary and thoughts on this entire mess. Comments are based on all that’s been heard and read, as well as notes taken while on calls with a number of rabbis who weighed in –over the phone- to discuss last week’s missive. Here we go:
A great majority of the time spent on both zoom calls was dedicated to good works and inner workings of the Vaad. And taka credit they deserve for a job well done with regard to kashrus over the years. Few if any doubt their accomplishments and It’s avada good to know that one can rely on their kashrus certificate. The Vaad is in midst of making improvements and one rabbi told me that in the near future store owners too will have a voice. What that specifically means I don’t know, but it’s seemingly a good step. But is it coming too late?
The bottom line: the good rabbis on both calls emphasized the importance of having one central hashgocho. One rabbi pointed to a tshuva (responsa) written by Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztl who was indeed a recognized torah leader, a giant among men in his generation. On one zoom call, another rabbi made reference to the same responsa and avada that piqued my curiosity. What did Rav Moishe write and is what he wrote relevant in the case of the Vaad and Mehadrin? The Ois asked for and received Rav Moishe’s tshuva on the relevant topic. Time was spent reading it, over and again. Following that exercise, it was discussed with other internationally known rabbis and here than the consensus on this part of the argument.
Rav Moishe –without getting into any details of the case and question posed to him said (not quoted directly) azoy: in the case of Pittsburgh (as in Pennsylvania), rabbis who are not properly trained, recognized and experienced in kashrus should not be issuing hashgochis. Interestingly and ironically enough, the case before Rav Moishe involved the very controversial matter of ‘hasogas givul’, a term used when one business or person makes a claim that a competitor could harm, or his harming, by opening a competing store or establishment. With all due respect to the many rabbis among the 53 printed but unsigned names on the second letter (as an aside, printing the names of every rabbi associated with a shul is overkill; when one removes the duplicate signatures associated with assistant or associate rabbis, and when we deduct names of other rabbis who were not fully aware of what was being disseminated, the list of 53 is rather dramatically reduced). The heylige Ois know this because he spoke to a few rabbis who admit to a call but deny having given authorization for their names to be used in a letter. In any event, in irony of ironies, the Vaad points to an issue of hasogas givul to make its point? As mentioned just last week, this Vaad has allowed competing kosher food eateries to open by always taking the position that there was no issue of hasogas givul. Does it make sense that hasogas givull applies only to the Vaad’s business? Is there hasogas givull when new shuls keep opening within walking distance of each other? Seemingly not as the community has grown geometrically. Someone, please help me here; what’s pshat?
All that being said, with regard to Reb Moishe in his responsa on the Pittsburgh matter, it is the opinion of this writer who is not a rabbi, and the opinion of other distinguished rabbis spoken to, that Rav Moishe’s psak in Pittsburgh has nothing to do with these 5 Towns of today. Moreover, there is at least one opposing view on this very topic written by Rav Moishe Sternbach. The bottom line: sadly, Rav Moishe is not alive today and therefore the issue of whether or not what was written for Pittsburgh is relevant for the 5 Towns cannot be clarified. One party says yes, the other disagrees. What Rav Moishe, OBM wrote then about Pittsburg may or may not have been relevant in these 5 Towns 30 years ago, maybe even 20 years back when these 5 Towns were towns mamish, much smaller in size, and with fewer shuls, rabbis, associates and assistants. The towns grew exponentially, hence the need for assistants and associates and plaudits to the rabbis who recognized the growth and need for them. They are a great addition. The 5 Towns of today do more resemble Brooklyn and other larger cities and states to include the State of Israel. In other words: the community needs changed. And what those larger places have in common is this: they all have multiple hashgochis. Again, not to take away from Rav Moshe who was –as stated above- a true generational leader, ober the times have changed. Today, the 5 Towns and Far Rockaway are represented by more than 50, and perhaps as many as 65 or more shuls and shteibles. Today these 5 Towns enjoy more flavors of Yiddin that does Baskin & Robbins offer in ice cream.
Let’s get real: Rav Moshe’s responsa on that topic was not then, and is not now, followed and accepted by most Jews around the world. I repeat: his responsa was not universally accepted, ever! The fact is that tens of thousands of Yiddin in hundreds of cities and many countries eat out at establishments that are certified by dozens of different hashgochis. In plain English: in most cities and countries, multiple certifying agencies compete for business. Are these good people all eating treif? Are they compromising their standards? Are we not to rely on them simply because they exist? Does the Vaad follow each and every one of Rav Moshe’s responsa? They do not! In fact, the myriad, diverse and ever growing list of rabbis and rebbes in this community each follow their own Rav and teachers. And while there’s nothing wrong with having one Vaad, there’s also nothing wrong with having more than one certifying agency. One could argue farkert: a second -and perhaps more to follow- agency might enhance kashrus. All of Brooklyn is not eating trief, nor are our holy brothers living over in Israel, and in other larger cities. The Yiddin in Brooklyn who keep kosher have choices and each decides which hashgocho is acceptable. There is –despite what was stated by Rabbis Trump and Lebowitz’s to the contrary- no confusion. Many different hashgochis exist side by side. In fact, many establishments carry multiple certifications in order to satisfy different constituents. Many God fearing Jews eat at these establishments. Consumers are not idiots; they can read and decipher.
Which brings me to machloikes, fighting, and especially so in these perilous times when lives are at stake and anti-Semitism is on the rise. Is this fighting good for the Jews? Is it healthy for the Vaad to cause this rift at this time? At anytime? Is control that important? Is this a picture of the “achdus” (brotherhood/togetherness/unity) mentioned in both letters and on the calls? Oy vey!
Each of the rabbis on the zoom call went out of their way to vigorously deny that the Vaad was a “mafia” or used “mafia tactics,” ober let’s get real: how shall we label letters that disparage the new hashgocho? What do we call tactics that are designed to run rabbis and their hashgocho out of town? If it looks like mafia tactics and a monopoly, and behaves as one, what then is it? Let’s be one unit, or else?! What great sin did the new Mehadrin hashgocho commit? Is the emergence of a new hashgocho deserving of a boycott? Of attempts by those calling for unity to destroy the business of other frum Jews? OMG! Of smear campaigns against the rabbis behind the new entrant? Do these restaurants, already suffering from the effects of Corona need this? A boycott? Oy vey!
All the rabbis went on to say how the Vaad is a losing proposition; they must rely on financial support in addition to the fees they collect. Nu, if that’s emes and we have no reason to doubt them at their word on this issue, they should be pleased to have three fewer establishments under their supervision. Fewer stores to watch should translate to fewer losses. It should be noted that while the Vaad’s letter stated they were a not for profit 501c3 organization, this was not completely emes, at least not yet. As explained on both calls, the Vaad –only in the past few months- has applied to become a 501c3. It has not been one for the past 30 years. It is true that once approved, its status as a not for profit 501c3 will be retroactive to the date filed. As an aside, those who donate should be blessed; they also deserve support.
Let us move on to another issue not addressed on either call, nor on the calls I fielded from various rabbis. No one could answer the question of why the Vaad did not invite the new hashgocho to a din torah. If the new Vaad has complaints –of any nature, if it believes that halocho is on their side, that what Rav Moshe wrote about Pittsburg decades back is relevant here and today, and if conversations to resolve those issues were not successful, why not invite them to a din torah? Why use a public forum? Why get the community involved? Why write letters seeking to harm the livelihood of other Jews who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into their establishments? What’s pshat?
Avada one could chap a sense of urgency were the new hashgocho suddenly certifying pork or other non kosher items, ober that is certainly not the case. Was it, and is it necessary to cause further infighting in the community? Oy vey!
One rabbi told me that they did in fact – going back to last winter- sit with the rabbis of the new hashgocho and thought they had reached an agreement for them to stand down. Not having spoken to any of the rabbis of the new Mehadrin agency, I cannot further comment on what went down at these meetings, ober the bottom line is this: for whatever reason or reasons, the new hashgocho decided to form and has already snared three establishments from under the Vaad.
Why didn’t the Vaad simply issue a letter advising the public that they no longer certify the three establishments? What purpose does a letter disparaging the reliability of the new hashgocho serve? Was loshoin horo the only way? Now? Oy vey! On the zoom call, one rabbi made reference to –hinted to, but did not elaborate- on a scandal of sorts involving one of the rabbis on the new Mehadrin hashgocho. Upon further investigation, the Ois learned that the supposed scandal took place over in Australia some years ago. Australia? So happens that the heylige Ois has been to Australia five times and knows a good number of people there. The bottom line: it’s fake news! The Oisvorfer has seen a letter from the shul in Australia and its contents suggest farkert; they were saddened to see him leave.
What the Vaad letters did accomplish during these three weeks is this: a number will stay away and a number, will not. Farkert: a good number of people have advised that they will increase their spending at these establishments. It does appear that the letters –originally intended as a boycott- have instead resulted in a new sense of achdus, “a buycott.”
On his zoom call, Rabbi Lebowitz read a thank you letter the Vaad received from the owner of Chimichurri wherein he thanked the Vaad for its previous services. Nice. That same rabbi stated that the Vaad had no kashrus issues with either establishment; none of the establishments were at any risk of losing their hashgochos. It was the storeowners who left them. Is that a crime? Did these store owners suddenly decide to serve non kosher? To lower their kashrus standards? I don’t think so. I personally know both restaurant owners. Instead, for reasons they chose not to discuss in open forum, they simply placed ads advising the community that they were under a new hechsher, under the supervision of two rabbis who themselves are kosher, are versed in halocho and are experienced in kashrus. Moreover, they were otherwise respected until they decided to offer a competing hashgocho which in effect would result in breaking the monopoly of the Vaad. And while rabbi Lebowitz stated empathically that he is a capitalist and does not believe in monopolies, he does believe strongly that when it comes to kashrus, a monopoly is indeed good, there should be only one voice. He is of course entitled to his opinion as is the Vaad but the bottom line remains azoy:
Many are not happy with the tactics employed by the Vaad to stamp out and drive out a new upstart competitor. Let’s also keep this in mind: Bagel Boss is not under Vaad but under the hashgocho of another outside rabbi. Is the Vaad happy? Not! But they are here and operating.
The bottom lines: many plaudits to the rabbonim who founded and worked tirelessly these past 30 or so years to build the Vaad into a leading trusted name in kashrus. Let’s adjust to the a new reality: there is a new hashgocho in town, it’s likely here to stay. It’s also manned by well meaning rabbonim who will be working hard to get established and to ensure that establishments under their hashgocho are doing the right thing and maintaining kashrus at levels the people are accustomed to. Monopolies are not good; they lead to machloikes. Choices are better and now the community can make them. Jews belong to and daven at different shuls, shop at various establishments and very much enjoy having choices. Says the Ois azoy: the right choice is to buy-cott; let us also support the food establishments under the new hashgocho.
Chapter three has yet to be written. On the zoom call, one rabbi stated “….we are still trying to make sholom…” What that means, ver veyst. To my mind, sholom means peaceful co-existence. Stay tuned.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv