Culture, Politics, Religion

Separation between… um… what was it again?

From JTA:

Lawmakers, Jewish leaders and kosher businesses are lobbying New York’s new governor Andrew Cuomo to restore the state’s kosher law-enforcement division.
Budget cuts and retirements over the last year have left the division with one employee, the division’s director, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The cuts in the department, which once employed 11 kosher inspectors, will save up to $1 million a year in salary, benefits and services, according to the newspaper, citing a state Department of Agriculture and Markets spokesperson.
Read more…

So New York can either save $1 million a year, or it can get back into the business of government-sponsored certification of religious claims. Is this a hard choice?

31 thoughts on “Separation between… um… what was it again?

  1. Someone reading the portion you quoted might think that state inspectors acted as mashgiachs, supervising kosher slaughter and certifying commercially manufactured food as up to kosher standards, which they did not.
    The department said last November that the jobs have become obsolete since a 2004 change in the state’s kosher law prevented state inspectors from enforcing Orthodox standards of kashrut.
    According to the new law, kosher establishments must disclose the standards they use and under whose authority they operate, but are not required to adhere to Orthodox regulations. State kosher inspectors may only ensure the establishments are doing what they purport to do.

    In other words, these jobs were created to monitor “truth in advertising”, not to adjudicate “government-sponsored certification of religious claims”.

  2. I’m from Chicago, we end sentences in prepositions and all that jazz. but fyi, I was directing that comment at DAMW, not yourself.

  3. That’s why I asked! 🙂 It could have been directed at either one of us, and sometimes you can be pretty snappy with the rhetorical questions.

  4. I don’t think it’s truth in advertising to any greater extent than state mashgiachs are.
    Whether the standards purport to be Glatt, OU, eco-Kosher, Tav HaYosher or some other form of kashrut, all are religious claims. If the job of the inspectors is to certify that businesses that claim to make kosher food are doing what they say, they will indeed be certifying that they are Glatt (etc.) if they say they are.
    So how is that not state-sponsored certification of religious claims?

  5. I disagree; these are not religious claims, they’re statements of fact – either the meat they serve conforms to Glatt specs or it doesn’t. I see this as similar to policing fat free or organic food – the state isn’t determining the standard, they’re enforcing truth in advertisement. I don’t see how a state “kosher inspector” would know one way or another, however. We don’t actually know what the responsibilities of these people were. Maybe they can do random inventory checks, to make sure that the meat is being delivered by kosher slaughterers, for example.
    That these positions were even created in the first place speaks to the very privileged bubble in which New York’s Jews live. How many kosher restaurants there must be in your fair state (or is this just the city?) to employ 11 full time kosher supervisors!

  6. DAMW,
    You can think that it is whatever you want but you may want to look at the article that you cited and at Victor’s comment above where it says “State kosher inspectors may only ensure the establishments are doing what they purport to do.” Sounds like truth in advertising to me. The State regulators are not mashgichim, they simply are there to ensure the mashgichim do what they say they are doing.
    I am no constitutional expert but this sounds like a very far cry from an incursion on separation of church and state. I imagine that there are state regulators for any number of religious functionaries and nobody cries church and state over that.

  7. simply put, DAMW, separation of church and state is based on this statement alone: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So how does this legislation infringe on that?

  8. It would obviously inappropriate (and unconstitutional) for state inspectors to serve as mashgiachs. That’s not what the kosher law-enforcement division does.
    Instead, as uzi said, they are there to prevent fraud–something being sold as x, but actually y.
    As a kid, my family would often stop at a kosher bakery to pick up a treat. Fortunately, we never bought pies. It was later discovered, only by accident when someone saw piles of empty Sara Lee apple pie boxes, that the bakery was selling Sara Lee pies CONTAINING LARD as if they were kosher, in-house baked pies.
    Kosher inspectors are intended to prevent non-kosher things from being sold as kosher, non-glatt items from being sold as glatt, and otherwise prevent this sort of fraud.

  9. I see where he’s coming from, in that the state appears to be facilitating expressions of faith by protecting against fraud and abuse. I’m surprised that jobs like this existed myself, as I would expect the Jewish community to self-regulate kosher standards. By which I don’t mean “The Jewish Community”, but Jewish patrons. Word tends to spread pretty fast when a kosher place is suspect. I wonder how many complaints it took to the state’s consumer protection division (or wherever) to get a unit like this set up.

    1. The important thing here is that the state doesn’t define “kosher” (which would be an establishment of religion, since it would privilege some Jewish streams over others), but only checks for consistency with self-reported definitions.

  10. I don’t think its a first amendment violation, per se- but I do think it sounds like a very sensible way to trim the budget. I am happy to have state inspectors check for fraud, but why should the state invest resources for claims like glatt kosher, or halal, or anything else that is not a concern for the general public? If there is a group of consumers that want this, they should feel free to pay private organizations like the OU or their local clergy to check this out (or food establishments can pay these organizations so that they receive more business from these consumers). Using non glatt meat in your supposedly glatt product is just as much of a fraud violation in my mind as putting corn syrup in a product that says 100% juice- but why should the state pay for kashrut inspectors any more than they should pay for separate classes of food inspectors?

  11. I’m still stuck on the Sara Lee comment – there are still people out there who bake pies with lard? That’s disgusting. I mean, would someone bake a pie with schmaltz? Ew!

  12. Victor: these are not religious claims, they’re statements of fact – either the meat they serve conforms to Glatt specs or it doesn’t.
    uzi: you may want to look at the article that you cited and at Victor’s comment above where it says “State kosher inspectors may only ensure the establishments are doing what they purport to do.” Sounds like truth in advertising to me.
    What it means for something to be Glatt is defined by religious professionals in religious terms. We don’t have state officials going about certifying whether a church that calls itself Methodist is sufficiently Methodist to ensure that they are being truthful in how they advertise themselves. This is no different.
    uzi: I am no constitutional expert but this sounds like a very far cry from an incursion on separation of church and state.
    Justin: separation of church and state is based on this statement alone: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So how does this legislation infringe on that? (emphasis mine)
    Consider this: In kashrut, as in all areas of halachah, there are bound to be disagreements. By employing state officials to certify one thing as kosher and proclaiming that another thing is not, the state would be effectively making a “law respecting an establishment of religion.”
    Yes, I am perfectly literate and can see that the article says that they can only certify that a restaurant is doing what it says, but if they say that they’re one sort of kosher and the state says, “but we thought that sort of kosher was more like X, so you’re not kosher,” we’ve got problems.
    uzi: I imagine that there are state regulators for any number of religious functionaries and nobody cries church and state over that.
    Examples?
    Jed S-A: Kosher inspectors are intended to prevent non-kosher things from being sold as kosher, non-glatt items from being sold as glatt, and otherwise prevent this sort of fraud.
    Someone should be doing this, agreed. Why is it the job of the state to regulate this certification of something as religiously permissible? Why is the burden of this not on the rabbis and organizations that provide the heksher in the first place? And if a business falsely uses a heksher, the owner of that heksher should sue them.
    BZ: The important thing here is that the state doesn’t define “kosher” (which would be an establishment of religion, since it would privilege some Jewish streams over others), but only checks for consistency with self-reported definitions.
    The important thing here is that it is not the state’s business that check up on religious claims, whether they are self-defined or not.

  13. “What it means for something to be Glatt is defined by religious professionals in religious terms. We don’t have state officials going about certifying whether a church that calls itself Methodist is sufficiently Methodist to ensure that they are being truthful in how they advertise themselves. This is no different.”
    This is very different. A Methodist church is not a product in the same way that food is. And it’s pretty clear to anyone who wants a Methodist church which church they should go to. Consumers of kosher food expect that the standard that is attached is being upheld. It is not outrageous to ask an outside party to make sure that they are doing what they say they are doing.
    “but if they say that they’re one sort of kosher and the state says, “but we thought that sort of kosher was more like X, so you’re not kosher,” we’ve got problems.”
    Seems like a big if to me.
    “Examples?”
    I can’t think of any, I was just imagining that there could be. Like maybe there is a state agency that regulates whether the wine that the Catholic church produces for mass indeed adheres to their own standards. I don’t know if this exists or not but I am sure that you would incorrectly label it as a violation of the separation of church and state.
    I understand where you are coming from but I think you are using the wrong category. Maybe you’re real problem is that people don’t trust labels on food products?

  14. uzi: I understand where you are coming from but I think you are using the wrong category. Maybe you’re real problem is that people don’t trust labels on food products?
    Then you don’t understand where I’m coming from. I have no problem, for example, with the idea of a government agency creating a definition of organic and then enforcing it because organic is a secular term.
    The problem here–I’ll say it again–is that we have a group of state officials assisting a religious group in determining whether claims of religious certification are true or not.
    I have been thinking all day, trying to come up with a suitable example of a similar group or a similar situation that lacks such state officials. I can think of none. This is a unique case, it seems. And it’s still not the state’s business to tell consumers whether a claim of this nature is true or not.
    I suppose Halal is an OK comparison, actually.

  15. DAMW, do you understand what Glatt meat is? I’ll assume you do, because you’re using the term.
    Kosher meat could really be viewed through progressive, secular terms. Kosher slaughter ensures the animal is in good health – as a result of proper diet and living conditions – aims to inflict no pain and minimal suffering to the animal, and so on.
    There may be health benefits from eating kosher versus non-kosher meat, though studies haven’t shown any to date. Similarly, studies haven’t shown organic food to be any healthier than non-organic food, though it’s possible.
    It’s true that we Jews don’t eat kosher meat because it’s healthy, but because G-d told us to. Organic food has not been shown to have any health benefits either, so people who eat it also do so on the basis of private belief, not scientific fact.
    If these were organic inspectors – and of course, there isn’t a single definition of “organic” food – would you mind for there to be state inspectors verifying if the food is really organic?

  16. DAMW, establishing a religion means that the congress cannot establish a national religion. it doesn’t mean what you clearly think it means. otherwise christmas and new year’s wouldn’t be federal holidays…

    1. Justin-
      We’re not constitutional Karaites. “An eye for an eye” doesn’t mean an eye for an eye, and the establishment clause has been interpreted to encompass much more than the literal meaning of the text. E.g. in Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that the establishment clause applies to state (and therefore local) governments too, not only Congress. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, they ruled that, to be constitutional, legislation must have a secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion. In Kiryas Joel v. Grumet, they held that “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”
      I think the case could still be made that kashrut enforcement is constitutional under certain circumstances, but it’s not the slam dunk you make it out to be.

  17. @BZ, if you look at DAMW’s comment directed at what I said earlier, he cited the constitutional phrase “establishment of religion” claiming that this issues constitutes such, which is does not. constitutional literalism aside, this case simply does not relate to what Jefferson meant when he wrote of the inability of congress to establish a religion or to legislate preventative measures against the practice of any religion.

    1. But what Jefferson meant doesn’t matter either; what matters is the subsequent two centuries of interpretation and precedent. That determines what “establishment of religion” means in a legal context.

  18. But Justin, you wrote:
    “Consumers of kosher food expect that the standard that is attached is being upheld. It is not outrageous to ask an outside party to make sure that they are doing what they say they are doing.”
    That is precisely the mashgiach’s job. He is the outside party.
    And Victor, A smooth lung does not equal good health nor a proper diet and living conditions.

  19. ML, assuming there’s no correlation between blemished lungs and disease (are you really willing to make that statement?), that doesn’t really subtract from my point. There is no scientific basis for thinking that organic food, which DAWM seems to have no problem being inspected by government agents, is anymore beneficial than non-organic food. Yet, based on the belief that it is superior, some are willing to have government enforce organic standards to prevent fraud and abuse.

  20. But Justin, you wrote:
    “Consumers of kosher food expect that the standard that is attached is being upheld. It is not outrageous to ask an outside party to make sure that they are doing what they say they are doing.”

    no… i didn’t.

  21. DAMW, you live in New Jersey, right? Have you been to a kosher establishment in that fine state?
    They have govt-mandated form signs printed up that self-report standards and styles of kashrut, parameters of the food in the establishment, and who the certifying rabbi/mashgiach is and how to to contact them.
    It’s not enforcement of religion, it’s consumer protection. You don’t establish religion by making businesses tell their customers what they mean by “kosher” and who to check with about it.

  22. …Consumers of kosher food expect that the standard that is attached is being upheld. It is not outrageous to ask an outside party to make sure that they are doing what they say they are doing…
    —uzi · January 5th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

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