New York – Conservative Rabbis Fight Orthodox Kosher State Laws


    Brian and Jeffrey Yarmeisch in front of their shop Commack Deli and Market. “It defies credulity that given past history, the state would enact ecclesiastical law,” reads their lawsuit. Kym NewbornNew York – A bottle of wine, a slice of cheese and a package of frozen vegetables are now at the center of a new federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of revised New York State kosher laws.

    These foods and others, according to non-Orthodox standards, are inherently kosher and thus do not need a kosher seal. That was the belief of the two Commack, L.I., butchers who in 2000 successfully challenged the state’s century-old kosher laws. The new law, they believed, required only that they post a sign stating the name of their kosher supervisor.

    But they were “appalled” last October when a state inspector showed up to make sure that all the ingredients they were using carried a kosher seal or heksher

    “We find it reprehensible that, after this court declared New York’s kosher laws to be unconstitutional, the state had the audacity to try and backdoor the enforcement of kosher laws,” said Brian Yarmeisch, one of the Commack butchers.

    In his suit, filed Monday, Yarmeisch pointed out that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals had found that there is no unanimity of opinion when it comes to the laws of kashrut and that he and his brother, Jeffrey, had followed the dictates of their kosher supervisor, William Berman, a Conservative rabbi.

    “It is incredibly presumptuous for the state to dispatch [an] inspector to second-guess or monitor our kosher supervisor,” Yarmeisch said in his suit. “It defies credulity that given past history, the state would enact ecclesiastic law.”

    The suit comes just four months after the Yarmeisch brothers filed another suit complaining that the state was violating its own law by sending kosher inspectors into kosher establishments to “second guess a certifier’s interpretation of Jewish law.”

    The state has not yet responded to that suit, according to the Yarmeisch’s lawyer, Robert Dinerstein of Commack, L.I.

    Supporting affidavits in the new suit were filed by Rabbi Berman, spiritual leader of the Commack Jewish Center, and two neighboring congregational rabbis: Moses Birnbaum of the Plainview Jewish Center, and Ian Silverman of the East Northport Jewish Center.

    In his affidavit, Rabbi Silverman explained that there are many Jewish denominations and that each has its own practices “just as there are numerous Protestant faiths each of which has the right to determine its rights and practices.”

    “The state should no more have the right to legislate practices and customs for the sects/denominations of Judaism than it would have to do so for any of the Protestant faiths,” Rabbi Silverman said.

    All three rabbis stressed that “there are any number of food products for which the Orthodox Jewish denominations/sects may require inspection and heksher labels” but non-Orthodox believe are acceptable even if not prepared under kosher supervision.

    “Some products which immediately come to mind … are: many dairy products, including cheeses, which do not contain non-kosher additives; and most wines, brandy, cognac, sherry, vermouth and champagne without supervision and which do not bear labels/hekshers are acceptably kosher,” according the rabbis’ affadavit.

    In addition, they pointed out, the Conservative movement has ruled that, contrary to the view of Orthodox Jewish denominations, a “product otherwise deemed kosher is not rendered unacceptable/unkosher if the product contains animal gelatin (often used for marshmallows) or rennet (frequently used in the process of making cheese).”

    In his affidavit, Rabbi Berman said that although the Orthodox Jewish community may disagree with the practices of non-Orthodox Judaism, “the state is infringing upon the religious freedom of the non-Orthodox denominations/sects of Judaism by compelling [them] to adhere to the law requiring labels on all kosher food products.”

    Calls to the spokesperson for the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets, which oversees the kosher laws, were not returned. Attorney Nathan Lewin, who had argued in behalf of the original kosher laws, said he “could see an argument for both sides. … The question is whether a consumer is entitled to know that the ingredients that have gone into the end product [made on the premises] have some sort of certificiation.”

    In his court papers, Yarmeisch said he recently learned that the owner of a kosher deli supervised by a non-Orthodox rabbi was informed by the state that he would be breaking the law if he continued to use frozen vegetables that did not carry a heksher — even though they were acceptable to his supervising rabbi.

    Jeremy Lebewohl, an owner of the Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan, said that in the six months his restaurant has been open at its new location on 33rd Street, a state kosher inspector has visited two or three times.

    “All of my products are kosher,” he said, noting that his mashgiach [kosher supervisor] is an Orthodox rabbi, Yisroel Steinberg. “The only thing that might not have a heksher is if I buy canned mushrooms. I would call my mashgiach, tell him the product information and he would tell me if it is OK.”

    “If he says it is 100 percent OK and the state comes in and says it has no heksher, it’s treif [not kosher], I’m in violation of the law even though my mashgiach said it was OK,” Lebewohl continued. “I have not yet had a problem, but why should I as an owner be put in a situation where I am at risk? If the state inspector has a problem with anything in my restaurant, his problem should be with the mashgiach and not me.”

    The suit was filed before Brooklyn Federal Judge Nina Gershon, who had issued the August 2000 decision overturning the state’s kosher laws. It asks her to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from continuing to enforce the contested sections of the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law.

    In her earlier ruling, Gershon found that the state had violated the First Amendment because “the entanglements involved here between religion and the state are not only excessive in themselves, but they have the unconstitutional effect of endorsing and advancing religion.”

    The brothers had alleged that their business had been subjected to “irregular, arbitrary and capricious” state kosher inspections that had resulted in fines for everything from failing to properly label kosher chicken to incorrectly salting veal spare ribs.

    When the state issued another citation in 1993 shortly before Passover and sought to impose an $11,100 fine, Yarmeisch said in court papers that he and his brother were convinced the state was out to “cripple, if not destroy, our business.” And the fact that the state released the information to the Jewish media “compounded the damage to our business reputation for reliability in matters of kashrut as well as to our personal reputations.”

    He said that although their suit challenging the kosher laws was ultimately successful, their business has not fully recovered from the state’s actions against them. Three years ago, Yarmeisch said, they calculated that they had suffered damages in excess of $7 million.

    The brothers have cut back on staff and moved to a store in the same shopping center that has about half the space of their old store. And in an attempt to rebuild their business, they changed their name from Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats to Commack Deli and Market, focusing on their deli and prepared food operation instead of butchered meat and poultry.

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    1. As much as we vehemently disagree with “their” definition of “Kosher”, he does have a point. According to the new law, the state requires that the establishment have a sign stating who their mashgiach/rabbi is, how often he visits etc. The inspector’s job should be only to verify that the information on the sign is truthful. Beyond that, it’s up to the certifying rabbi to decide what he allows in the store.

    2. if u aren’t orthodox u are automatically fighting kosher. not being orthodox is not kosher. its’ against the torah!!!!! it’s al,l the from yatser hora!!!!!!

    3. I’ve seen restaurants that are open on Shabbos with very clear letters of kosher certification from Orthodox rabbis. I called one anda sked him how he could certify kashrus if the place is open on Shabbos. His answer was that he’s certifying that the food brought in was kosher. He isn’t certifying that the place itself is kosher. That’s double talk.

    4. NEWSFLASH*** GELATIN & RENNET OFTEN CONTAIN PORK!!! And people wonder why Orthodox Jews don’t respect the Conservative Movement… Anyone else catch this?

      ” the Conservative movement has ruled that, contrary to the view of Orthodox Jewish denominations, a “product otherwise deemed kosher is not rendered unacceptable/unkosher if the product contains animal gelatin (often used for marshmallows) or rennet (frequently used in the process of making cheese).”

    5. Rennet for cheesemaking doesn’t use Pork.

      It’s almost always calves rennet (for cow milk cheeses) or sometimes goat or sheep rennet (for goat or sheep milk cheeses).

    6. They try to go against kashrut and now their business is failing.

      I don’t think giving themselves a goyishe name is really going to be their salvation. 😛

    7. I will not profess to be the authority an Hechsheirim, nevrtheless, I want to make note that probably every single item under the large Hashgochos, such as O.U., is manufactured in a plant that is open on Shabbos. Perhaps the businesses are owned by non-jews, perhaps not.

      Please note that almost all food items with a real “Heimishe” hashgocho has ingredients whch are certifies solely by O.U. Hisachdus does not give hashgochos on food coloring, flavorings, and many other ingredients. They rely on O.U. and other parties to certify many of their ingredients. Chances are therefore that no matter what food you eat, that it was manufactured in a company which is open on Shabbos.

    8. This is not only a matter of state vs. religion-it is a matter of fraud by conservative “rabbis”-one fraud for saying they are “rabbis” and another fraud by declaring food forbidden to Jews as kosher. Or do conservative “rabbis” only concern themselves with fraud when it comes to giving illegals jobs?

    9. The Orthodox Union supervises a bagel factory in the Bronx that runs on Shabat. It also supervises the kosher kitchen at Weiler hospital which also runs on Shabat. And LeiderLeider is correct about food processing: Almost every such factory in American runs 7 days a week, as do the farms from which we get fresh produce. There is no way to live in America without benefiting from gentile labor on Shabat unless you want to starve to death. But I don’t see what the problem would be if the owners/employees are not Jews and bishul akum is not an issue — non-Jews are not supposed to observe Shabat.

      Also, I’ve been taught that most canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and fruit juices, do not need a hechsher in the United States. In addition, most cheese in the United States today is produced with non-amimal rennet.

    10. He may have a point however he is forgetting that the term kosher is generally associated with orthodox judisam. Therefore using it for anything other then standards approved by orthodox judisam is misleading to the consumer and therefore unconstitutional.

      Most orthodox jews generally rely on the kosher symbol of any food item or eatery to say that it is acceptable to their standards. Therefore if somone who compremises on thoose standards uses the term kosher, it can decieve the consumer.

    11. As per cheese there are difficult halachic opinions that go both ways with animal rennet because not rui lachilat kelev ask your local orthodox posek rabbi..

      The conservative and reform (non observant of traditional halacha) do not believe is kashrut as per YoraDeya – they are NOT kosher. Therefore their “Rabbis” are misleading to Observant jews – as would be Commack Deli to a Jewish customer who wants ‘real kosher’.

      • There is a big difference between Conservative and Reform when it comes to Kashrus. Conservative certainly do believe in Kashrus – they may have different kulos, but most are kosher

    12. Whether you do or don’t agree, I think us as frum people need to be concerned with the state telling us what is or isn’t kosher.

      Any fringe group can then convince the state whatever standard they want, and then force us frum to go along with it. As frum people we should be defending these people, and not letting the state get involved with ‘kosher’ at all.

    13. Therefore using it for anything other then standards approved by orthodox judisam is misleading to the consumer and therefore unconstitutional.

      They are prominently displaying who certifies them as Kosher. Given the regular arguments over which Hechsher people accept, I don’t think it is reasonable to assume that frum customers are going to simply see a sign that says “Kosher” and assume that all is well.

      As far as state involvement, leaving aside constitutional issues of state entanglement with religion, do you really want the state to determine what goods can and can’t be called Kosher?

    14. If there is only one standard of kashrut, why are there 100s of Orthodox hashgachas and why do many people hold by one and not by the other?

      The whole point of the article is that New York State cannot be the arbiter of what is kosher and what is not. New York State (last I checked) is not run by halacha. It is up to the individual to decide which hashgacha he trusts and which he does not. If you don’t trust a Conservative hashgacha, DON’T EAT THERE!

    15. It’s unconstitutional to support an establishment of religion. That means the US can’t preferentially support an Orthodox understanding of kashrut. Remember it’s called the United States of America- not the Vaad HaRabonim of America.

    16. since when does the state cirtfiy what is a hecsher or what is not ? second of all let them put up a sign that their hecsher is conservetive and lets c how long they will stay in business!

    17. caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) It’s up to each individual to be his own mashgiach and read labels and decide whether or not to trust someone’s establishment or not. If you’re very concerned to eat only the highest standards of kashrus, then you have to limit what and where you eat.

    18. Rennet used for cheese in the United States is almost universally made from vegetable sources.

      Kraft and other major brands all use vegetable rennet.

      In Europe, they still use animal rennet.

      It is also possible small artisan cheese manufactures still use animal rennet.

      But the big manufactures use vegetable rennet for uniformity and standardization.

      The issue is Gevinas Akum.

    19. Anonymous Says:

      hello?????? why do they need kosher if they dont keep the torah the right way?????????

      um, hi. why does the fact that they do one aveira mean they have to do another? Mitzvos are exclusive of aveiros? I”m sure you never sinned in your life…

    20. Call the Chief Rabbi of the entire, complete, total Park Avenue Synagogue! His name is Rabbi David Lincoln! Wow!

      Call him up now and get his hashgacha for the meat sellers who used to have the word “kosher” in their name.

      When people get upset about kashrut, fine, that is understandable. WHen they make sure the press knows their position, there is an extra motive.

    21. Why is the state inspector bothering them about canned mushrooms that have no hechsher on the label?

      It is absurd. These crazy inspectors are going to get the entire kosher law thrown out.

    22. The problem is that the good law was overturned in 2000 or so. Now they are working with a band aid which “protects” the consumer from fraud.

      Every store has something posted which the owner could put all his kosher claims. It is similar to the NJ laws.

      The more I think about it (and I am very aware of the law) I dont know what the issues really are. Seems to me like this is a bunch of conservative hypocrisy as usual!

    23. I realy don’t get it!!!

      “Cholov akim” is plain traifa, since you don’t know the cow can live for at least 12 month, because there is no rabbinical suprevision.

      So why dosnt cheese need a hechsher? If an animal can not live for 12 month, then anything from it (meat and the milk) is traife. There is no insurance that these cows or goats can live for at least a year and are not traife, if there is no hechsher..

      Can someone explain it to me????? Donn’t come to with reb moshe feinstein’s zatza’l. stories, since he is in gan eiden and I’m here and so I can not ask him… Please, if someone can answer me why so many good yiden use cholum akim.

    24. Any vegetables if it’s not original (like canned or baged) needs an hechsher to make sure if it was checked for worms and also if it might be from isreal, then you issues with maser, shmita etc; for example many tomattos availble are from isreal

    25. “the judicial process is singularly ill equipped to resolve [intrafaith] differences in relation to the Religion Clauses.” Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security [*517] Division, 450 U.S. 707, 715, 101 S. Ct. 1425, 67 L. Ed. 2d 624 (1981).

      However when both parties admit that the Kosher standard held by orthodoxy is kosher and only one party claims that the conservative standard is good, it does weaken the their case somewhat. However the NY state kosher supervisor and the courts seems to take a hands off approach if anyone called a Rabbi gives a hashgocha. Such is the case of Heshy Gottesman, the first man caught selling treif in his store, Heshy’s Pizza, 40 years ago on Monsey. (Strangely enough in the same building were Moshe Finkel was.) After being caught several times with treif cheese, he now sells his own line of cheese called Naturally kosher(?) It’s available in Pathmark but none of the heimish stores carry it. I believe his rav hamachiz oops, Rav hamachshir, is Rabbi David Cohen of Flatbush. He has a rabbi that says it’s kosher, they let him sell it.

    26. This is a classic straw man argument. While the plaintiffs are correct that the state does not have the right to mandate kosher standards per se, it DOES have the right (and the obligation, for the protection of consumers) to mandate that you adhere to whatever standards you claim to hold by before you can call a product “kosher”

    27. while these “conservative” “rabbis” are acting like fools wanting to change what’s kosher, let’s look on the bright side people! who would think that the conservative movement would ever feel passionate enough about kashrus to try and make their own hechsherim! we cant and shouldn’t stop them, but as Torah Jews we are responsible to redirect their energy towards the Torah way, to true kashrus v’chulu.

    28. “achusid” — de rets narishkeit — cholov yisrael can come from the same cow as cholov akim. No one knows whether any live cow is or is not a treifa. You can only determine a cow’s status as a treifa after scheita and bedieka. The reason we are allowed to drink milk and do not worry whether the cow is a treifa is because we go after the rov, based upon the G’Mara that rov behaimos are not treifas. This leads to a conundrum, since many leading rabbonim today who are involved in kashrus will confirm that rov behaimos that are schected today are found to be traifos. This issue is dealt by some of the recent poskim.

    29. A second chusid: de rets narishkeit…….

      Since todays day they needle all cows for varience reasons, the “chazuka” on most cows is that they are traifa. For 10-12 years ago was a big balagon that they needle the cows and many people did not use any dairy products for a while, until the rabonim made some deal with the farmers thay don’t needle some of the cows, so we should be able to use them. Times have changed from 30-40 years ago, there are many complications today to have kosher milk.

      Also, there are haluches to see on a live cow if it’s healthey and could live. Then we use the chazuka of “ruv” cows that have these signes live at least 12 month.


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