Nosson Poppowitz, special for The Forvetz. May 7, 2010.
Yesterday, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America announced the formation of OCHEL (the Organization for Chizuk Hashgachas for Erliche Leit), an initiative to combat kosher fraud. He issued the following statement.
We must admit there have been some dreadful violations of Jewish law by individuals with highly regarded kosher certifications. It is no longer enough to say we don’t know. Now we have to act. We have consulted with the leading torah sages in America, all of whom are on our Council of Sages. If only you could know how many meetings were held where they anguished about this problem. The head of our Rabbinic Council of Great Ones, the Novominsker Rebbe, may he live long, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, has ordained the formation of OCHEL, to show the world our resolve. Each instance of suspected misconduct will be evaluated on its merits with while carefully avoiding any lashon horah (gossip). At this point we do not anticipate the creation of a pidyon shvuyim fund (prisoners redemption fund).
Last week, the Rockland County District Attorney, Thomas P. Zugibe, announced he is seeking a class action settlement against the kosher supervising agencies that charged fees but failed to deliver what was implicitly warranted in their product seal for Shvach Fowel. Rabbi Zwiebel denied any relationship between the DA’s announcement and the Agudah OCHEL initiative. He angrily added on,
This is a power grab by the DA at the expense of the Rabbis. We are better able to assist affected consumers in coping with such problems. If the DA continues on this path we will soon have big government telling orthodox Jews how to kosher their pots and pans.
Not all members of the orthodox community shared Zwiebel’s sentiments. Rabbi Benyomin Zvison of Monsey maintains a blog, Hechsher Watch, where he regularly challenges the practices of kosher certifying agencies. For a long time he was ridiculed as a “nutcase” like Yudel Shain in Lakewood. But when his early allegations about Shvach Fowel turned out to be true he acquired a following. Rabbi Zvison lambasted Agudah for perpetuating a cover-up.
Agudath Israel lobbied for a law to punish merchants who misled consumers into believing their products were kosher. Shevach sold Perdue chickens as kosher. I am not saying anyone should be an informer to the government. But the DA can pursue legal remedies without anyone informing just by using data from sales and supplier invoices. The DA doesn’t need rabbinical ordination to know an unsalted chicken killed by stunning isn’t kosher. Is Agudah saying “if Costco sells pork as kosher we want the law, but if Shevach fools everybody in Monsey and ruins their pots, its OK? Are we saying it is OK for an orthodox Jew to fool us?
As far as I am concerned it is a bigger scandal when an orthodox Jew does it. The rabbis giving the kosher certification were asleep at the wheel. The least they can do is return their fees. If they prefer they can put the money into a fund to help those who were least able to afford the expenses involved in replacing dishes and utensils.
They also owe us an explanation for how this happened. Instead they organized events urging more modesty by women. Sorry, but we don’t have any rabbis who are women. I am surprised they are not telling us that Moshe Finkel, the owner of Shvach Fowel, did tshuvah (repentence) and should be trusted again with kosher meat. How come Finkel was forced out of town but no one else in this business has publicly admitted they didn’t deliver on the hashgochoh.
Rabbi Zvison was angrily denounced at an event organized by the Monsey based Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. Its speaker, Rabbi Paysach Krohn, declared,
kosher violations made by mistake can be overcome. One loses one’s share in the word to come for insulting and embarrassing great rabbis. Many of the tragedies affecting the Jewish people are the direct result of lashon horah, malicious speech. But for lashon horah, we would not have had a Monsey chicken scandal.
Surprisingly, Rabbi Lipa Margulies of Yeshiva Torah Temimah (YTT) agreed with Rabbi Zvison and unveiled a program of tuition refunds. A letter was mailed to parents of 162 present and former students of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko saying that 2% of their tuition would be refunded. In return the parents would have to agree in writing to release YTT from all liability for “possibly unkosher acts by Rabbi Kolko.” They would also have to agree to not disclose “the nature of any perceived untoward acts.” It was widely understood that the term “untoward acts” was referring to sexual molestation.
However, Rabbi Margulies insisted, “I am just being a nice guy and going the extra mile to assuage parents who were uncomfortable with Rabbi Kolko’s unconventional teaching methods.” Friends of Rabbi Margulies claim he commissioned an efficiency study which determined that Rabbi Kolko used less than 2% of a school week molesting any one child. Rabbi Margolis considers two cents on the dollar a generous settlement for something that is “nisht geferlich”(not terrible).
Survivors of Rabbi Kolko’s molesting and their families and supporters were outraged by this “cheap insulting attempt” to avert lawsuits. The blogger UOJ declared, “well at least we finally have count of Kolko’s victims at YTT. I can’t wait for the Camp Agudah offer.” This reporter requested a comment from Agudath Israel which operates Camp Agudah. Their spokesperson, Rabbi Avi Shafran, refused to comment and referred me to their law firm, Dewey, Cheatham & Howe, which also represents the Archdiocese of Brooklyn. They also refused to comment.
Hat Tip: BZ