B”H 7 Tevet 5767 December 28, 2006 Festering Issue Shakes Confidence in Institution A few nights ago, and following Arvit, evening, worship services, a congregant approached beseeching me to read An Open Letter to the Vaad Harabanim of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, reflect on its contents, and, trusting my judgment, fashion a reasonable response, even propose an exit from our communal impasse. The encounter forced me to revisit the unsolicited Vaad HaKashrus Five Towns-Far Rockaway letter I received more than two months ago. Addressed to our community, it announced the organization’s intention to withdraw its kashruth supervision of Gourmet Glatt, one of the triad premier kosher area establishments (along with Brach’s and Supersol), serving our gastronomic needs, as of 4:00 PM, Friday, October 27, 2006.
The unanimous decision of 37 signatories, mostly an obscure motley, but including several well-known and distinguished pulpit rabbis, alleged the Gourmet’s threat to compromise the Vaad’s “reputable standing for its kashruth standards, integrity and reliability.” The Vaad’s website, however, lists 77 reliable certification agencies, and the assertion that Gourmet Glatt’s acquisition of a second Hashgacha posed a challenge “to the uniform standards we have all worked so hard to achieve” is prima facie not credible.
More, the statement is as patently disingenuous as the concluding hope and prayer “that we all come together as one for the sake of Heaven and for the sake of our wonderful community.” Thus, after setting up a false, transparent issue with a local business enterprise, sowing division in its wake, our vaunted Five Towns continues on a seemingly irreversible downslide, earlier highlighted by the culture clashes in Lawrence School Board proceedings, and the narrow intra-sectarian perspectives taken by local newspapers The Jewish Star, and The 5T Jewish Times (the latter increasingly a vanity press).
The Vaad’s action precipitated a round of layoffs among the Gourmet’s most vulnerable personnel — Central American immigrants in the produce and check-out counters — even speculation of an eventual, if not imminent, bankruptcy of this Cedarhurst landmark.
There is a way out of the mess, and I implore the rabanim to seek it. Let there be constituted a Beth Din, a religious court, to air the charges of wrongdoing by the management of Gourmet Glatt. Such is the way among Jews, a mechanism to resolve questions of kashruth, but even of personal egregious conduct.
(In a case against a liturgical miscreant, a Manhattan-based Orthodox Beth Din issued a summons; the defendant indicated contempt by refusing to honor it, prompting the unit to enter a default judgment against him. I have every expectation the current docket will be vacated more satisfactorily.)
With resolution at hand, long-term reform must beckon us. The Vaad should come out of its shadowy existence to confront regular, and insistent public scrutiny of its operations. It would help to invite for membership local Conservative rabbis who are known to maintain the Orthodox observance of the Vaad’s founders.
Finally, let the Vaad itself take the initiative to request the participation of other kashruth authorities; competition is good not only in the political arena, but also, especially, in the market place. In taking this last step, the Vaad would be seen not blackballing a store, but courageously making an effort to restore its good name while removing a black mark!
May we be blessed for laboring on behalf of HaShem, for sure, but being ever mindful that His work on earth must be our own! And, may the secular New Year find us of good health, pursuing prosperity, enjoying happiness in shalom. Amen.
Sincerely, and with fraternal affection, Asher Prof. Asher J. Matathias 312 Longacre Avenue, Woodmere, NY 11598-2530 516-374-2958 Mobile: 369-5799 [email protected]