Hebrew National Getting Grilled

Recent headlines casting doubt on the kosher status of Hebrew National at first came as somewhat of a relief. To those like myself who have avoided Hebrew National for years – first because they never allowed outside rabbinic supervision, but did all the supervision themselves, and then starting in the early 2000′s because they chose Triangle K — the lawsuit was a long time coming.

However ironically, instead of the lawsuit bringing about any kind of justice, the big loser in the end might be the kosher consumer. When the kosher supervision industry – and there are many reasons to be skeptical – receives a blow to its credibility, it affects everything that is under kosher supervision, not just meat. This may mean fewer companies choosing supervision down the road and fewer choices.

Triangle-K is a huge company. Sadly, unscrupulous companies and individuals have taken advantage of the consumer need for high level kosher supervision. As long as there is money to be made, there will be charlatans at play. Is Triangle-K one of them? It will be interesting to see how this plays out, to say the least.

Hebrew National. Even the name sounds authoritative. They have been named by Consumer Reports as the nation’s best tasting hot dog. They have won numerous other awards and accolades. They are feted as one of great kosher additions to modern American cuisine.

However the “higher authority” they answer to might be called profits.

The lawsuit does not claim that Con Agra is “passing off pork as kosher products,” said Hart L. Robinovitch, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the American Jewish World. “. … And based on our investigation, there were certain things that weren’t conducted properly, in a systematic way—from the way cows were slaughtered, to the way the lungs were inspected or not inspected for imperfections—as is required to meet the standard that the meat is 100 percent kosher.”

If I were the lead attorney on this case I would not argue about something being “100% kosher.” Among kosher consumers there is no unanimity about what is 100% kosher at all. In fact, one of the arguments that defendants ConAgra can make is that they represented their “level” of kosher supervision honestly by employing the Triangle-K.

The plaintiffs may need to show that Triangle-K were compli

cit somehow in fraudulently representing the status of their meat as complying with basic standards of orthodox supervision.

“This is an invisible fraud,” the lead attorney in the case told told Reuters. “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.”

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Jewish Innovation’s Obstacle Course

Jewish organizations that are on the cutting edge are having a hard time making it to the next level. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Instead of getting to sustainability, they cannot access bridge or mezzanine funding to take themselves out of start-up mode.

As anyone in business will tell you: you can’t stay in start-up mode. It’s sink or swim.

In a brilliant article in the Forward, Dana Raucher the executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, demonstrates the significant challenges that Jewish innovation is facing, and a solution. “Organizations on the cusp of this “second stage” must find a way to professionalize their systems and staff, and to do this they often need additional financial resources just at the moment when the luster of their novelty is dimming/”

Raucher’s article also highlights a comprehensive study commissioned by Bikkurim, From First Fruits to Abundant Harvest: Maximizing the Potential of Innovative Jewish Start-Ups. The study was overseen by an impressive study group and list of partners including The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, NATAN, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, PELIE, and the UJA Federation of New York.

I wish that I could say that here at Jewlicious we know nothing of these obstacles. However, that is not the case. In fact, there are the exact issues that Jewlicious is facing now.

Over the past decade, the Jewish community has fostered these types of organizations, which often try out groundbreaking forms of outreach and mix contemporary culture with tradition. But ironically, especially when these initiatives become successful, they encounter new obstacles that demand they rethink how they can best achieve their missions….

This also echoes my own experience at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, where we make long term, deep investments in nonprofit organizations. We have learned again and again that no organization’s life cycle is completely linear. There are key points of inflection that present unique challenges and opportunities. Because we have been able to witness our grantees as they evolve, we have been involved in identifying and addressing these moments….

Second-stage growth requires nimbleness on the part of funders and organizations. By focusing on the mission and not the form through which it is driven, organizations are able to promote their institutional goals during each phase of their development. A commitment to a consistent set of core values may require shifts over time in both program orientation and organizational structures.

It is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including funders, professionals and lay leaders, to engage more publicly in this conversation. Today we are confronted with an opportunity to address an important need in the Jewish community, and together we must exchange ideas, share best practices and continue our support for this sector. Through collaboration and adaptability, we can better equip these organizations so that they don’t falter as they transition to their next stage.

Read the whole article here: