© By Geraldo Fuentes for viewzone.com (2012)
To some it is an old story, hardly newsworthy. To others it is evidence of a world conspiracy suggesting "the Mark of the Beast." For me, it's something quite humorous. It's called "The Kosher Tax."
According to the Official 2010 Census, there are approximately 6.5-million people in the USA who describe themselves as being ethnically Jewish. That's a whopping 2.1% of the population. Of these 6.5-million, less than half of one percent admit to being Orthodox, attend Temple or are otherwise religious. That's a population about the size of Philadelphia.
The 1.5-million Jews that observe traditions of the Torah and Talmud adhere to strict dietary laws that prohibit certain food combinations, methods of slaughter and eating certain "unclean" animals, such as pork and bottom-feeders like lobsters.
Food that meets these strict requirements must be supervised in its production by a Rabbi and only then will it be certified as "Kosher". These foods are marked in a special way by affixing a Kosher symbol on the product's label. The most common one in America is the letter "U" inside a circle, or the letter "K" -- but there are many more.
Because food producers must hire the services of a Rabbi to inspect and verify that they comply with these strict regulations, organizations like The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations collect a fee for their services. This fee adds to the cost of producing the food, which is, of course, passed along to the end consumer as a so-called "Kosher Tax".
So what? You don't buy Kosher food -- or do you?
Take a minute right now to check out your kitchen pantry or that bag of chips you're munching. If you're like me, you will be shocked to see that just about everything has one of these Kosher symbols on it. (Go ahead, I'll wait for you to return...)
It seems that just about everyone in the USA -- all 307,006,550 of us -- are regularly buying Kosher food and paying this tax. That's quite surprising, don't you think?
Manufacturers claim that the increase in food prices due to this tax is "minuscule", yet reports claim that the tax is levied on more than 400,000 products in 8,000 plants in 80 different countries. The Union (U) employs approximately 1,000 supervisors, mashgichim in Hebrew, and about 50 rabbinic coordinators. But they are not the only ones doing this. The next largest is Rabbi Bernard Levy's "Committee For The Furtherance of Torah Observance" which uses the "K" symbol. Canadian Kosher products are stamped with the letters "COR" which stands for "Council of Orthodox Rabbis". If you're in another country, chances are they have a special organization collecting the tax and affix a special symbol on your food. Here's a partial collection below.
In the 1920s the Union (U) started its operation. The H. J. Heinz Company's Vegetarian Beans became the first product to be kosher certified by the Union in 1923. Today it's hard to find a food item in the supermarket that doesn't have one of these symbols.
Some more surprises!
What's even more surprising is that some of the Kosher certified products are certainly NOT produced for Jews. Consider the Premium Relish for Pork [below]. What's up with that? Remember, pork is a definite no-no for those keeping Kosher.
In researching this article I have found Kosher aluminum foil, Kosher soap pads, toilet cleaner, plastic wrap... the list of non-food items paying the Kosher tax goes on ad infinitum.
When I tried to get information about the tax I was told by some Jewish organizations that I was anti-Semitic and my question was some kind of hate crime. (Hey, I'm Mexican-American and I'm the last one to single anyone out for their race.) The Jewish Anti-Defamation League even sent me a pamphlet, claiming that many non-Jews prefer products with the Kosher certification, believing that it assures them of hygiene and purity. So I thought I'd test this hypothesis by taking a stroll through my local Safeway supermarket and speaking candidly with some fellow customers.
My first shopper was buying olive oil. After I introduced myself, I asked if he knew what the circle-U symbol on the bottle meant. "No, I have no idea."
In the next aisle, an elderly woman was buying some chocolate cake mix. Did she know about the circle-U symbol? "I really never noticed it before. What does it mean?"
This continued for about a dozen random customers until I was approached by a member of Safeway's customer service. "Can I help you with something, Sir?" Sure enough, not even she could explain what it meant. She was shocked to see it on everything and when I saw her a few minutes later, after she had checked the products in many different aisles, she said, "I'm going to go crazy now that you've shown this to me. It's on everything. What does it mean?"
Only one customer came close. "Oh, the U... it means the company used union labor, I think." Close, but as they say in America, no cigar.
Another thing that kind of defeats the argument that non-Jews prefer Kosher products is that product labels appearing in advertisements usually have the Kosher indicia airbrushed out, except in Jewish trade magazines, where they feature red arrows to draw attention to the Kosher symbol. Hmmm.
According to New York Orthodox Rabbi Schulem Rubin:
"Kosher doesn't taste any better; kosher isn't healthier; kosher doesn't have less salmonella. You can eat a Holly Farm chicken which sells for 39 cents a pound on sale, and next taste a Kosher chicken selling for $1.69 a pound, and not tell the difference. There's a lot of money to be made! Religion is not based on logic!" - The Washington Post (November 2, 1987)
Well, this is too weird. So I throw the question out to the public and seek an explanation. Why are 300-million non-Jews in America paying a tax that benefits a small, "minuscule" portion of the population. Perhaps there is a perfectly good answer -- anyone?
Now some hateful people will claim that the money collected from this Kosher Tax is going to support the State of Israel. Before you get upset about this, the Anti-Defamation League's pamphlet assures us that it is not. According to their pamphlet the money goes to the Rabbis who make the inspections and the dozens of organizations associated with the various Kosher indicia. I don't know otherwise and apparently we have to take their word on this.
According to Wikipedia, the Union (U) "supports a network of synagogues, youth programs, Jewish and Religious Zionist advocacy, programs for the disabled, localized religious study programs, and some international units with locations in Israel and formerly in Ukraine." Religious Zionist are described by Wikipedia as follows: "Religious Zionists are observant Jews who support Zionist efforts to build a Jewish state in the Land of Israel."
Leaving that controversy for a moment, some interesting things have been in the news of late. Most significant was the charge by some Kosher authorities that Hebrew National Hot Dogs were -- ready for this? -- NOT Kosher!
| June 18 (Reuters) - ConAgra Foods Inc has been sued by consumers who contend that hot dogs and other products sold under its Hebrew National brand are not kosher.
The lawsuit alleges that meat processing services provided to ConAgra by privately held AER Services Inc fell short of the standards necessary to label Hebrew National products as kosher. As a result, they said, ConAgra misled consumers and was able to charge premium prices.
Eleven individual consumers filed their complaint in May in Minnesota state court. ConAgra moved the case this month to a federal court in St. Paul. The lawsuit was reported last week by American Jewish World, a publication based in Minnesota.
According to the complaint, Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra marks Hebrew National packages with a "Triangle K" symbol, and represents that the contents are kosher "as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law.
" But the plaintiffs said in the complaint that AER supervisors "did little or nothing" to address employee complaints that the meat processed for ConAgra was non-kosher. They also said Skokie, Illinois-based AER fired or threatened retaliation against those who complained.
ConAgra spokeswoman Teresa Paulsen said in a statement on Monday: "While we can't comment on pending litigation, we stand behind the quality of Hebrew National and its kosher status."
AER is not a defendant in the lawsuit. "The allegations in the complaint regarding AER are completely and utterly false," Shlomoh Ben-David, AER's president, said in a telephone interview. "There is no basis for them, and they are without any merit."
ConAgra has long used the slogan "we answer to a higher authority" to promote Hebrew National products.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and an injunction against further mislabeling. Their lawsuit seeks class-action status for U.S. purchasers of Hebrew National products over the last four years, and alleges negligence and violations of state consumer fraud laws.
"This is an invisible fraud," Hart Robinovitch, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a phone interview. "How does a consumer who thinks he is buying kosher meat really know he is buying kosher meat? It's a very, very difficult thing for a consumer to detect, unless someone investigates."
Other ConAgra brands include Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Peter Pan and Reddi-wip, and are not part of the lawsuit.
ConAgra shares closed down 2 cents at $24.95 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The case is Wallace et al v. ConAgra Foods Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, No. 12-01354.
Here's a few more stories that will pique your interest.
Is there "meat" in Coca Cola?
Rabbi Tobias Geffen was an Orthodox Rabbi living in Atlanta -- the home of Coca Cola. When he was asked by his congregation whether Coca Cola was Kosher, he approached the company and asked to see a list of ingredients. The exact formula for Coca Cola is one of the most secret recipes of any company, so this was a problem.
In a brilliant decision, the manufacturers gave the Rabbi a list of ingredients which included the real ingredients, but also listed many other items not used in the making of the soft drink. The Rabbi was asked if anything on the list was a problem. According to The Jewish Virtual Library:
"When Geffen was given the list of ingredients, he discovered that one of them was glycerin made from non-kosher beef tallow. Even though a laboratory chemist told Geffen that the glycerin was present in only one part per thousand (one part in 60 is dilute enough to earn kosher certification), Geffen informed the Coca-Cola Company that, since this glycerin was a planned rather than accidentally added ingredient, observant Jews could not knowingly tolerate its inclusion. Coke failed to meet Geffen's standards.
Back at the company's laboratories, research scientists went to work finding a substitute for tallow-based glycerin and discovered that Proctor and Gamble produced a glycerin from cottonseed and coconut oil. When they agreed to use to this new ingredient, Geffen gave his hecksher, or seal of approval, for Coke to be marketed as kosher." [source]
But the controversy, first revealed by the Kosher test, remains today. Consider this brochure from Burger King which describes their Coca Cola Classic, apparently reverting to the old recipe.
What's up with that? Meat in Coca Cola... tell me it isn't so!
Countries Ban Kosher Meat Because of Cruelty
When animals are slaughtered today, they are usually stunned with a metal bolt that is thrust against their skull, sometimes piercing it, and rendering them unconscious. That's a good thing for the unfortunate animal because what follows is even worse. The animal has its throat cut and is hung up on a hook, skinned and disemboweled. You certainly wouldn't want an animal to consciously face that horrible suffering. Not only is it bad for the animal but the release of adrenaline and other hormones associated with a panful death permeate the meat through the blood and, some say, can effect those who eat it.
But Kosher tradition requires that the animal NOT be stunned. Instead, it must be kept conscious and alive while it pumps its own blood out through its severed neck arteries and veins. Rightly so, animal activists have deemed this practice cruel and have demanded that it be stopped.
Five European countries have banned Kosher killing methods [source] and the latest to join them is New Zealand. This has caused the Jewish community to claim that such acts constitute anti-Semitism and their refuting arguments begin by mentioning Hitler.
"One of the first steps in Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic drive in the creation of his Third Reich was instituting a ban on the kosher slaughter of animals.
Today, as a new wave of ugly, and sometimes violent, anti-Semitism sweeps through the European continent, at least five countries have banned kosher food production, and one of them is considering halting all import of kosher meat."
It's a controversy that threatens the heart of Kosher tradition and practice. And it's one that I will not even touch... and one that I'm sure will keep me awake with bad dreams tonight.
No Reply from the Big-U
I wrote to the Union (U) and asked them specifically about the aluminum foil and pork relish, but have not received a reply. Perhaps you can help.
I put the question out there for someone to answer: Why would a manufacturer of things like aluminum foil or Pork relish feel obligated to be endorsed by such a "minuscule" population, making the majority of its customers pay a tax that has no relevance to them?... Just asking.
Now, back to my Kosher Ravioli and Dunkin Donuts coffee! Mmmmmmm!
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