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Making a Kosher Deal With Iran

As the June 30th agreement deadline approaches, it has me wondering how the P5+1 will guarantee Iran doesn’t obtain nuclear weapons. While my work as a rabbi doesn’t include agreements and safeguards on nuclear nonproliferation — though I did study that in university back in the day — one of my areas of expertise as a rabbi is certifying the production of kosher food.

Having practical and theoretical experience in negotiating and monitoring production agreements, I know how challenging oversight can be. In the case of assuring the production of kosher food we have excellent guidelines established by the Talmud. These guidelines include the essential elements of any deal to produce kosher food, the means of inspection and how to manage problems as they arise.

Which got me thinking.

If we were to apply the stringencies of Kosher certification to an upcoming nuclear deal with Iran, what would that include? In other words, if Iran were seeking kosher certification that it wasn’t building nuclear weapons, what would that deal look like?

According to Jewish law, factories or establishments that want certification of providing kosher food must agree to two major areas of verification. The first is on-site inspections of facilities by representatives of the agency, which includes unhindered and unannounced visits. Additionally, some facilities or establishments, owing to the nature of what they produce, require full-time kosher supervision and the use of kosher seals. The second is the kosher certification contract. This contract is based on the legal concept that a professional does not compromise their professionalism because they have an interest in maintaining their reputation and credibility. In this way factories and restaurants are able to enter into agreements with kosher certification organizations to provide kosher food.

Accordingly, a kosher deal with Iran meant to ensure that it doesn’t produce nuclear weapons would have to include unhindered and unannounced on-site inspections. Since nuclear weapons verification is a serious and complicated matter, a kosher supervision agency would likely require full-time supervision. Therefore, the use of seals, remotely operated cameras and detection equipment, would be needed at every possible site. The Vienna based IAEA, responsible for monitoring and inspecting nuclear sites worldwide, must have the ability to not only inspect in person whenever they want, but install technology to allow constant verification.

While this might seem overly intrusive, if we are to apply the needs of kosher food verification to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we need to use the strongest means of verification and inspection possible. Getting inspectors to a site without alerting the Iranians would be hard. So the IAEA need to be there all the time, just like a kosher supervisor needs to be on-hand at places that handle the most complicated kosher products.

The second part is the written contract, a detailed agreement between the parties. At minimum a kosher certification contract includes all the agreed upon ingredients, manufacturing procedures, and significant monetary penalties to the company should any of the terms of the agreement be broken.

Let us put to the side for the moment that fact that Iran has shown an ongoing unwillingness to act professionally to preserve their reputation and lack credibility because of nondisclosure of nuclear sites and other broken agreements.

What would a contract with Iran need to include? It’s likely more complicated than a kosher recipe for bread.

According to experts in non-proliferation, a deal would need to include:

1. Dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure, including enrichment or reprocessing capacities.
2. Material Accountability. This includes tracking and testing all inward and outward transfers and the flow of materials in any approved nuclear facility.
3. Lengthy and phased relief from sanctions applied by the international community.

4. Tough, “snap-back” sanctions should the agreement be violated.

5. A long deal. This deal has to do with the safety of the world, and it must include safeguards in terms of decades, not years.

Thankfully congress now has the power to review any final agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran and they need to ensure any deal with Iran uses even more rigorous standards than we need for kosher bread or a restaurant. If a company messes up with the bread recipe, they can always recall the products from the markets. If an unscrupulous restaurant owner sneaks in non-kosher meat, the kosher certification can be immediately revoked and the public warned.

However, If Iran gets a nuclear bomb, there is no recall of the product. The most volatile region of the world will be caught-up in a nuclear arms race. The safety and security of Israel and the world will be in jeopardy.


Teavana: Chai Chai V’Kayam

From JTA:

Having conquered coffee, Starbucks is now moving into tea. The coffee giant’s newest venture, Teavana, launched with a tea bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he doesn’t expect the new venture to be as big as the coffeehouse chain (“tea lacks the major caffeine count,” he explains). But he is hoping to draw in kashrut-keeping consumers.

“It will be [kosher]. It hasn’t been certified,” Schultz told Forbes. “No rabbi has come in to bless it yet!”

It looks like Schultz, who is Jewish, has fallen prey to the common misconception that kosher status is conveyed via a blessing. But if Teavana is to succeed by peddling its drinks at $4.95 a cup, it will need the blessing of luxury tea fans.

This very active Jewish leader has no idea what it means to be kosher. He awaits a “rabbi to bless” his tea. I mean I will be happy to bless his tea, but it won’t move the kosher needle. There is however already a good Jewish song for tea: “David melech Yisrael, chai chai v’kayam…”

No Justice, No Meat: Polish Parliament Reaffirms Antisemitism

polish meat storesWith great chutzpah and an undercurrent of antisemitism the Polish Parliament has rejected a bill proposed by the government to permit Kosher and Halal ritual slaughter. As has been the case in other European countries that have banned kosher slaughter, the process is deemed “inhumane”. All this has happened during the saddest days on the Jewish calendar and has led to Poland’s esteemed Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, the architect of post-Communist Jewish revival and a lifelong vegetarian, to threaten resignation. Having helped Rabbi Schudrich to reestablish kosher slaughter in Poland in the 1990’s through the importation of a ritual slaughterer form Hungry, and personally supervising kosher meat production, this ban is particularly personal.

As with most Jewish communities, the vast majority of Polish Jews do not keep kosher. Yet, the news that the ban on Kosher meat production in Poland will continue indefinitely is of profound symbolic importance. For a country that is trying to revive its image as being hopelessly anti-Semitic, where a small, nascent Jewish community is rebuilding itself, the renewal of the ban on kosher slaughter is just the latest sign that perhaps Poland has not really changed.

Ironically, Poland is a major supplier of kosher food around the world, including a growing export of kosher meat to Israel. The OU, the largest supervisory agency for kosher products worldwide, certifies production in over two dozen Polish factories. Products under supervision include, bakeries, vegetables, fish and milk and more.

The Polish parliament for its part is going against the obvious economic benefits pertaining to the production of Kosher food, and especially meat. A constitutional court has upheld the ban on kosher slaughter which echoes back to the days during pre-war Poland when a full-blown economic assault was waged against its Jewish citizens. The ruling by most accounts goes counter to the Polish constitution. With this one move Poland’s parliment undermines its relations with the world-wide Jewish community.

Polish Prime Minister Tusk’s enemies are capitalizing on a right-wing shift in the countries political climate. The unpopular Prime-Minister is being hounded by the opposition who have seized upon his weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is his pro-Jewish stance. In addition, the opposition have decried the export of Polish meat which should stay in Poland and not be exported to Israel and to Muslim countries. With unabashed chutzpah, Tusk’s opposition is using the issue of Kosher and Halal slaughter as part of their campaign to wrest control of a government.

Not all of Poland’s politicians are bending. Poland’s agricultural minister for example has decried the decision in sharply worded term calling the ban unconstitutional infringement on the rights of minorities in Poland. However, the Prime Minister stated that the government will not attempt to introduce new legislation making kosher and halal slaughter permitted.

The decision of the Polish Parliament coincides with the days of sorrow for the Jewish communities. This period of national mourning called the “Nine Days” leads up to the largest day of national mourning, Tisha B’Av. These days are known for sorrow and persecution. From the times of the destruction of the Second Temple until today, many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time including the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), World War I (1914), and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942).

While the decision to ban kosher meat production and ritual slaughter are not on the scale of these tragedies, its timing could not be more profound. At a milestone in Polish Jewish and Christian rapprochement, the completion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in the heart of Warsaw, Poland has found itself once again a flashpoint of intolerance. This is not to lessen the intolerance and racism found in other European countries that have enacted a similar bans on kosher and halal slaughter. Yet, because of Poland’s unique history as having the largest Jewish community in the world prior to WWII, and the country that suffered the largest percentage of annihilation of its Jewish community during the war, this turn of events is highly unfortunate.

In the early 1990’s, when we were able to resume the production of kosher meat in Poland, it was sign that Poland’s Jewish community had a future. In a country that prides itself on meat dishes, the availability of Kosher meat to the Jewish community was another step in the direction of communal rebirth. While a vegetarian at the time, I was keenly aware that a lack of readily available kosher meat was critical to a sense of self-sufficiency that is part of the Polish psyche. No longer was it necessary to import canned meat from Israel for use in the Jewish soup kitchens. No longer did families have to settle for un-kosher meat to create Friday Night Dinners, Passover seders, and holiday meals.

With the resurgence of Polish anti-semitism, the reemergence of Polish Jewish life has been dealt another serious setback. On these days of introspection and mourning, the Jewish world has been dealt another blow. We should not look at this as an isolated infringement on Jewish religious practice on a small Jewish community, but as a global Jewish community issue and a harbinger of the winds of change.


Who is to Blame for the Doheny Meat Scandal?

blog_doheny_meatWe are.

Let me explain.

Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the current Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, England, spoke in the aftermath of a major kashrut scandal which rocked Monsey, NY, in 2006. He recalled the story of the Prophet Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon. The story describes a huge storm that was capable of overturning the ship. Everyone on the boat was frightened and took out their idols. They started praying to the idols. When that didn’t work they woke up Jonah. What did he say about the raging storm? “It’s because of me.”

Jonah could have easily blamed the storm on the boat full of idol worshippers. Perhaps his presence on the boat was a mere accident, and the boat was destined for doom. No, Jonah said that responsibility is mine.

Today, in the wake of the Doheny “Kosher” Meat scandal, it is also our responsibility.

Of course people are mad and want to find someone to blame. After all anyone who ate Doheny meat, whether bought from the store, or eaten through of the many restaurants and caterers that sourced their meat there, consumed food that was potentially trief.

Yet, let’s remember that the Prophet Jonah says, “it’s because of me.” We read this on Yom Kippur to remind us that we need to take responsibility, and need to do a soul searching.

As it says in the Talmud, it is not the mouse that is the thief, it is the hole.
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