Kashrut not in crisis says NSWJBD

January 23, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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A master plan involving a commission of inquiry with a brief to report on Kashrut in NSW has been established by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

President Yair Miller has issued the following statement:

kashrut

“The closure of Passion8 and the establishment of Amaze In Taste (AIT) under a separate hechsher have been the catalyst for substantial public discussion about Kashrut in Sydney. 

The discussion has enabled unprecedented and generally positive interactions between the lay and rabbinic leadership of the community. It has included dialogue with the NSW Kashrut Authority (KA), Rabbinical Council of NSW, the butcher and some caterers and restaurants. These discussions have been far broader than the issues raised in respect of AIT.

There is no kashrut crisis in Sydney.  We are fortunate to have a wide range of product available and access to many regular products on supermarket shelves.  Supervised meat and cheese is easily obtainable.  The certification provided by the KA is highly regarded in Australia and internationally.

It is acknowledged that kosher food is expensive.  There is a desire for more and varied restaurants (though it is not clear that the market could support this). Sydney has a range of kosher caterers available and can accommodate small through to grand and lavish functions.  The price of kosher catering is most certainly higher than the consumer feels is warranted.

It is considered a priority to make kosher living and kosher catering more affordable and more accessible.

Having met with many stakeholders it is recognised that the kosher food industry straddles the requirements of providing an essential communal facility, a proper source of income for the hard work invested, expert supervision arrangements as well as meeting the expectations of consumers.

It had been hoped that engaging with the KA would lead to instilling community confidence and the allaying of some of the public concerns about transparency and financial management.  The KA at one stage accepted that changes would be made to its lay structure and agreed to an independent forensic audit under the aegis of a JCA nominated accountant.  There is no allegation of impropriety. The public claim by the KA, however, that it has submitted all appropriate accounts to the JCA is simply not correct.  JCA representatives were merely given a copy of a MYOB printout.

As has been made public by the KA it has now resiled from the original agreement, noting that it is under no legal obligation to have an independent audit. The KA’s most recent offer to have its auditor perform a more detailed audit and review is universally regarded as inappropriate after discussion with other industry professionals. This position has been adopted by communal representatives to ensure transparency and accountability. It is not a reflection on the KA’s auditor in any way and is not dissimilar to the way in which each of the constituents of the JCA is reviewed every year by the JCA Allocations Committee over and above any statutory requirements.

The KA continues to operate as an arm of the Sydney Beth Din, answerable to the rabbis of the Beth Din in matters of halacha and to its hand-picked lay board in all other respects. This lay board currently consist of two lay members and Rabbis filling lay positions.

Significant decisions are made by this single body which have an impact upon the butcher, restaurant owners and caterers – not just in establishing halachic standards but also the sourcing of product and the regulation of competition. There is no independent review process by the KA of its pricing policies. The ultimate impact however, is on the consumer.

While the KA and Beth Din determine for themselves what is in the religious interests of the community, there is no formal accountability to the wider rabbinate, synagogue membership or lay leadership.  This is considered by many as a flaw which must be addressed if kashrut is truly to be considered communal and communal confidence is to be restored.

Melbourne operates with a number of hechsherim.  Some are widely accepted and some considered unacceptable by the rabbinic council.  Of course it leads to problems of who will eat at whose event.  This is a commonplace predicament the world over.  Where the supervisory bodies are properly regulated the situation is manageable.  Where there is no regulation, confusion and great damage can eventuate from privately operated hechsherim.

The establishment of AIT under a private hechsher was not the outcome desired by its proprietor or many of the rabbonim in Sydney.  The way it came about amidst acrimony and rancour and in the spotlight of media was unfortunate.  It had been hoped that dialogue would enable some reconciliation between the parties.  However lines were drawn forestalling agreement.

A number of Sydney rabbonim, together with NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, JCA and The Council of Orthodox Synagogues and other lay leaders, had envisaged that changes to the KA along with an independent audit might enable the KA to remain the sole licensing authority in Sydney.  The KA has made it clear that it prefers to retain its existing structure and independence.

The one-rabbi supervision of AIT is not a good solution.  There is no suggestion that AIT is anything other than fully kosher to the highest standard.  This model however does nothing to improve upon community concerns for transparency or accountability in the decision making process.

Therefore a number of communal bodies have agreed on the need to establish an interim Kashrut Commission of Inquiry to review kashrut issues including but not limited to, the appropriate structure, corporate governance and transparency issues, commercial operations, the cost of providing hechsherim and mashgichim and the cost of kosher food. In particular, the issue of schehita and the cost of kosher meat in NSW will be addressed. The Commission of Inquiry’s primary goal is to ensure that the interests of the kosher consumer are best served.

The Commission of Inquiry will comprise rabbinic and lay leaders from the representative bodies, The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and The Council of Orthodox Synagogues. It is supported by the JCA, UIA and JNF of NSW and will be able to utilise the JCA planning capabilities.  The Rabbis who will make up the rabbinic board of the Commission will be (in alphabetical order) Rabbi David Blackman of the Jewish Learning Centre, Rabbi Menachem Channen of Adass Yisroel, Rabbi Gad Krebs of Kehillat Masada, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of The Great Synagogue and Rabbi Paul Lewin of the North Shore Synagogue.  This group represents most of the major orthodox communities in Sydney and discussions are still underway with others who will join shortly.

The Commission of Inquiry will be chaired by communal leader and businessman Robert Gavshon and will include Geoff Levy, Bruce Fink, Meir Moss and Richard Sheinberg, lay leaders from the representative bodies and others as needed. It will look at the current models of provision and pricing of kashrut with a view to recommending any improvements in delivery and cost.  It is envisaged that the rabbonim represented on the Commission of Inquiry will take over the direct responsibility for supervision of AIT, and others as appropriate, on an interim basis, so that it is no longer under single rabbinic supervision.  This will provide greater stability and security.

The sole motivation in the establishment of the Kashrut Commission of Inquiry is to enhance the provision of local kosher services.  In the wake of recent discussions, religious and lay leaders believe that there is great potential for collaboration in kashrut to better serve our community.

We sincerely hope that this interim plan will be accepted by all stakeholders in the spirit in which it is intended and that we will all work together to ensure a much more robust long term future for Kashrut in NSW. We call on all Rabbis, synagogues and institutions to work with us in achieving this result.

Recommendations by the Kashrut Commission of Enquiry, supported by reasons, are intended to be made public by the end of June this year.

J-Wire asked Miller how many rabbis were holding lay positions on the KA. He said that “the treasurer and vice-president are both rabbis”.

Comments

One Response to “Kashrut not in crisis says NSWJBD”
  1. I may be dumb, and just in case, I have a question.

    Why does it need 5 talmidei chachamim (scholars) and 5 millionaires to figure out why kosher meat is dearer than treif meat? Or, please direct me to ANYWHERE in the whole world where kosher meat is not dearer than treif meat.

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