Please be assured that KosChertified? respects our Constitution’s promise of religious freedom in our great nation. The current prevalence of kosher-certified products certainly indicates that it is now easier for a person to observe Kashrut or orthodox dietary laws in America than ever before. And this is wonderful for those citizens. However, the majority of society follow religions that simply do not require that their food receive kosher-certification, and many others are not religious at all. So for those who do not intentionally seek out kosher food, we present the following issues that may come in conflict with their own interests or ideology.
1) Cost is shared by all: The certification process can be costly to the manufacturer, and this expense is inevitably passed on to the consumer. Should 90+% of the population be financially supporting a religious-based certification that they do not demand? How much these companies pay for such certification is largely shrouded in silence, and the cost spread out to the consumer is completely unknown. After investigating hundreds of articles on the subject matter we found one article from the New York Times dated April 15, 1979, (With Them, It’s Always Strictly Kosher), that quoted the leading rabbi from a smaller certifying agency saying “a large company would have to pay $40,000 a year to comply with kashrut.” Keep in mind this was not the largest firm, and this was almost forty years ago. In Leah Koenig’s article for The Jewish Daily Forward, dated October 19, 2010 (How America Came to Think ‘K’ Is OK), she claimed that “the industry represented by those tiny seals of approval is worth $200 billion annually (up from $32 billion a mere two decades ago), and kosher-certified products can be found in virtually every grocery store aisle, from Brooklyn to Boise, Idaho.” And on January 14, 2013, the same publication is quoted as saying “the total revenue from the operation – a closely guarded institutional secret – is used to fund an array of religious services and communal operations, including a public affairs office in Washington, a publishing house and a congregational umbrella group for synagogues (Orthodox Union, Kosher Certifier, in Disarray, by JTA, January 14, 2013). We know of no food producing companies openly disclosing their costs for kosher-certification, but take a look at the following certifying agency’s explanation of their cost analysis (https://earthkosher.com/affordable-kosher-certification/) and you can get a better picture of how some of the larger agencies may charge for their services. Clearly it can be very expensive and complex in how the cost is calculated. This has been the case for many smaller producers we’ve spoken to who professed to us that it was “cost prohibitive” to pursue for such a small demand. The web page referred at EarthKosher makes mention of factors such as links to company sales, application fees, charges for initial quote and analysis, annual rates plus inspection and travel expenses. Their page also suggests that many companies get stuck in costing models that give them a “less than clear understanding of what the annual costs for kosher certification will be”, making these food producers incapable of budgeting properly for this service. They also bring up the fact that food companies lose negotiating power with the certification agency once the product packaging labels are printed with the trademarked kosher seals, or when major clients demand that their food products be kosher-certified. More details of what goes into the cost can be found on this page: https://earthkosher.com/about-kosher-certification/.
Companies of medium to large size, as well as smaller ones with management who use due diligence, will execute a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) before paying for a change in their product or service. We show the major factors that form this analysis below. Getting hold of a copy of a company’s CBA for kosher-certification might reveal much insight into the justification of such costs, especially since the average person would view ‘Externality’ costs as very high when compared to ‘Option Value’. We invite any business managers out there to shed light on their company’s individual analysis!
One can only imagine what the actual cost per unit would be for
the various food items we consume. It certainly would not be as controversial
if this service were less complex and offered free of charge by the goodness of
their hearts, as a charitable gift of these religious agencies in following the
commandments of God.
2) Exclusivity in program benefits: The program agendas of the certifying organizations, especially that of OU, may not sit well with all consumers outside of the Jewish community. Orthodox Union is a highly politicized entity, not only making regular press releases such as noted here http://advocacy.ou.org/news/, but it also “engages leaders at all levels of government as well as the broader public to promote and protect the Orthodox Jewish community’s interests and values in the public policy arena.” First, OU’s slogan found on their main logo is “Enhancing Jewish Life”. Take a journey through their websitehttp://www.ou.org and you’ll definitely find this to be their purpose. From their About Page, “Each and every day, countless Jewish individuals around the world are positively impacted by the work of the Orthodox Union, with its array of religious, youth, social action, educational, public policy and community development services, programs and activities.” So money comes in from kosher certification and is leveraged to lobby for more money for their very own non-profit organizations which are highly focused on the interests of the Jewish community. Other examples for where they spend their money include, but are not limited to:
- Jewish day schools
- NCYS – a Jewish organization which invests in various Jewish teenager programs (e.g. summer retreats, Jewish culture clubs, funded trips to Israel/Israel advocacy, social action/leadership training, and more),
- OU-JLIC (Jewish Learning Inititiative on Campus) – a college advisory program in conjunction with Hillel that helps Orthodox students balance their Jewish life at the secular university)
- Jewish Action Magazine – a quarterly publication covering anything of interest to the Jewish community. See http://www.ou.org/jewish_action/
- OU Israel – the local branch (in Jerusalem) of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America which provides various outreach centers, clubs, summer camps, travel adventures, workshops, and even aid to Israeli soldiers (OU’s Mashiv HaRuach – ‘Return the Spirit’ program). Quoting OU Israel: “The Orthodox Union in the US is financing this program which is aimed at making day-to-day existence a bit easier for our soldiers,” Rabbi Berman says. “When North American Jewish communities reach out to our soldiers, the soldiers understand they are not alone. They understand that this operation is for the entire Jewish people.”
- The OU Advocacy Center – OU’s non-partisan public policy arm, working to “promote Jewish values and protect Jewish interests in the public square.” -(http://advocacy.ou.org/about/staff/). Its Washington D.C. branch is conveniently located a few blocks from the United States Capitol at 820 First St. NE, and housed in the same office building as worldwide newscaster CNN.
On OU’s Career Page of their website, they proclaim a number of goals for their “Mission”. One of those stated missions is “to contribute to the welfare of North American, Israeli and world Jewish society.” Looking at other mission goals one finds a desire “to create programming, facilities and institutions necessary to carry out the precepts of the Torah” and “to acquire, maintain and hold property…” while speaking “on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish Community with a coordinated voice and to act with the strength of unity on issues confronting the North American, Israeli and world Jewish communities.”
If the reader here identifies with the Jewish community and its unique concerns, then he/she should be more than satisfied with this organization’s scope and effectiveness in influencing our country and the world. Adding to this, it is not readily apparent how much funding the main OU organization receives from its certification industry verses donations and other sources. That is to say, it is difficult to ascertain how much of OU’s budget derives from donors committed to the Jewish community as to those who were not aware that they were contributing to the Jewish community, both domestic and worldwide, civilian and military. As for those consumers outside the Jewish community who are seeking out the certification seal, there doesn’t appear to be a significant proportion of programs or political action being produced by OU for them (e.g. vegetarians, Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims, and others).
3) Tax exempt status: Orthodox Union, and perhaps some others in the kosher-certifying industry, have for decades received the IRS designation as a religious organization – hence all of their certifying income is tax-exempt while operating under this religious umbrella. Having this religious tax-exempt status makes their revenue stream and all of their finances less transparent, as they are not required to file IRS form 990 like other non-profits. One thing is certain: even though the certifying agency like OU can consider all of their certifying income as tax-exempt, the buyer of a kosher-certified product can not deduct any portion of their purchase as a tax deduction for their IRS filings.
4)Kosher Slaughter (Warning: the PETA videos linked below and university reports show and describe violence including animals): The rabbinical approved methods of kosher-slaughter have often been considered controversial by non-Jewish communities. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has written and documented much on this (see http://www.peta.org/features/kosher-vegetarian/ andhttp://www.peta.org/category/main-issues/vegan/kosher-slaughter/). A highly detailed and objective university examination of the process can be found here: Religious Slaughter. Subjects dealt with in this document include restraint of the animal, reactions to the throat cut, time to loss-of-consciousness, equipment design, and welfare aspects. There is a thorough bibliography of references at the end.
5) Non-Edibles: Many consumers may find no problem with the kosher-certifying authorities controlling various aspects of food production in America. However, as their authority has gone beyond food and into certifying non-edible products such as plastic storage bags, dish soap, aluminum foil, multi-surface cleaners and much more, many may view this as an over-extension of this religious practice. Should the manufacturers be more forthright to the public in providing awareness that their non-edible products are being kosher-certified? And why are they being certified as such?
6) Ideological Differences/No more choice: The United States of America, its Declaration of Independence and Constitution, were formed and written with great influence from philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. This Age of Reason saw scholars challenging many aspects of religious orthodoxy in an effort to curtail its power while “liberating” and encouraging the individual to “Sapere Aude” which may be translated from Latin to “Dare to think for yourself” or “Dare to know.” Both of these aspects that inspired our Founding Fathers conflict with the very nature of the present kosher-certification process as this industry is a highly organized and orthodox religious ritual being perpetrated on a very unknowing public. Also inherent in our nation’s democratic formation was the political philosophy of liberalism, with classical liberalism stressing liberty or freedom, and social liberalism promoting equality. As it stands today with over a million products and ingredients being religiously certified kosher, does our public have the freedom to choose otherwise in our grocery stores? Is there an equality of representation carried on store shelves for those who do not require kosher? Our stores are not government entities, but with legal actions sailing through courts these days for businesses not serving certain groups, the argument might now hold water that better disclosure be made to the general public. Does this phenomena of the last century sing praise to the philosophical spirit and essence of traditional America? Regardless of that answer, we’ll conclude this brief philosophical inquiry here and encourage all KosChertified? users to Exercise Your Dietary Free Will! For can we agree that free will is an Enlightenment ideal?
7) Religious Domain and Diversity: The cultural laws of Kashrut that have been scribed by the ancient priests, interpreted in the Talmud, and refined by the most esteemed rabbis of Judaism’s classical period, were intended for the Jewish community – and not for Gentiles (as distinguished in various religious texts). The entire scope of Kashrut strictly belongs to the domain and culture of the Jews, and it can be very complex (especially if the ritual includes kashering a kitchen, eating utensils, dishware and observing customary prayers). It is the organized Jewish community and its certification agencies that have historically pushed to have more products certified kosher. And yet, according to a 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, only 21 percent of American Jews keep kosher homes. This yields a little over one million people in our country influencing the food supply of nearly 325 million.
One result of this influence is that manufacturers have to cater to the orders of the certifying agencies, and even change recipe ingredients to meet rabbinical demands. In the long run, this dominance might break up our diverse array of ethnic foods and lead us towards a singular food culture – that which accommodates the requirements of Judaism. As for a sweet example of this, future generations will never know what Oreo cookies tasted like when they were made with their original recipe including pig lard. Maybe the end result is healthier, but couldn’t there be two types – a non-kosher and a kosher version so that the consumer can have a choice? Countless formulas for scrumptious vittles may be lost forever as the certifying agencies employ their powers to reformulate what we eat. Yes, even Coca-Cola’s secret formula was changed in the 1930s to accommodate rabbi’s requests. Details can be found in this article: http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/kosher-law-escaped-procter-gamble-coca-cola-kosher-centro-america.
And even within the Jewish community itself, are there differences of opinion on what can be declared kosher and what needs special treatment or oversight? Of course! In a correspondence with a CEO of a bottled water company we made inquiries into the kosher-certification status of his particular brand. Even though most bottled waters found in the United States grocery stores are certified kosher, this CEO condemned the practice responding “I’m Jewish. There’s no way to certify natural water kosher, without cheating.”
8) Christianity’s New Testament:
Matthew 15:10-12 –
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
Matthew 15:16-20 –
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultry, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’, but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’.”
Almost the exact same verses are found in the book of Mark, chapter 7. At the end of this section it states “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’)”. For many Christian believers, these verses settle the issue. But it’s all about how the reader, the Christian, or the clergy interprets the writings. Let’s look at a chapter in Acts…
Acts 10:9-13 –
“About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ “