After spending a few week away from the story, The Jewish Week’s Stuart Ain is covering the end of the Five Towns Vaad/ Gourmet Glatt Saga.in this Friday’s issue. Stewart spoke to Vaad Rabbis. One of them admitted that mistakes were made and also used the opportunity to spread more Loshen Hora. Ain also went back to guest writers he read on THIS BLOG, Asher Matathias and Rabbi Mark Greenspan, to get more of their insights into the Gourmet Glatt mess.
Ain’s entire article follows (the interspersed comments in red are mine not Stewart Ain’s):
Gourmet Glatt Reopens
Stewart Ain – Staff Writer
Gourmet Glatt Emporium in Cedarhurst, whose owners were forced to sell their store in a kosher dispute that prompted a boycott orchestrated by local rabbis, reopened Tuesday morning under new ownership. But the new deal didn’t stop some residents from voicing bitter feelings about the perceived strong-arm tactics and lack of transparency by the local rabbinic board that handles kosher supervision. And in a rare acknowledgment, one prominent Orthodox rabbi admitted there had been missteps by the board and that it should take stock in what we did. One area resident, Asher Matathias of Woodmere, [read Asher’s letter to the Vaad here]a professor of political science at St. John’s University, said of the board’s methods, It leaves a very sour taste in the mouth and poisons the atmosphere. This is an issue that will not go away simply because they refuse to talk. He was referring to the Vaad Harabonim of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, whose decision to withdraw its kosher certification from Glatt Emporium on Oct. 27 led to the boycott of the store. The Vaad said it acted after Glatt Emporium hired a second kosher supervisory agency. The Vaad’s lawyer, Franklyn Snitow, said that by bringing in another kosher supervisor, Glatt Gourmet had violated its contractual obligations. Rabbi Yosef Eisen, the Vaad’s administrator, said any further discussion about the Vaad’s action was up to each individual rabbi on the Vaad’s board to address. Since the controversy over Gourmet Glatt erupted, the Vaad has refused to discuss its actions or whether there were kosher violations. Mark Bolender, an owner of Gourmet Glatt, said the second kosher supervisor was hired because the Vaad had threatened to withdraw its certification by Feb. 1 unless the business was sold. Bolender insisted that there were no kosher violations that led to the Vaad’s decision. It stemmed, he said, purely from a personality dispute. Rabbi Mark Greenspan, a Conservative rabbi who is spiritual leader of Beth Shalom Oceanside Jewish Center, faulted the Vaad for refusing to discuss the reasons behind its action. “Be honest with people, he said. If there is a problem with a store, tell people what it is … There is a lot of distress over what has happened. Rabbi Greenspan said that had the Vaad let Conservative rabbis know what is happening, he might have spoken differently when he told his congregants in a sermon last Sabbath that what was happening in the Five Towns is a chillul hashem a desecration of God’s name. [that sermon was posted on this blog yesterday click here to read] Kashrut has become a blunt instrument for settling scores, he said. It is hard to convince people to practice kashrut when those who are vouchsafed with preserving this practice seem hell-bent on making it harder and even less savory to keep kosher and I don’t mean taste. But Rabbi Hershel Billet, a member of the Vaad, said he disagreed with the Vaad’s decision to say that the issue was simply a contract violation. In fact, he said, the real problem is that the Vaad didn’t trust the previous owners anymore. [I always thought that Rabbis were supposed to teach AGAINST Loshen Hora why is this Rabbi speaking it ?] The business was sold to a buyer we feel we can trust, he said. The Vaad was happy to retain some members of the [Bolender] family because it was not personal. In the area of kashrut, trust is everything.[Hey Rabbi —Trust IS personal] Rabbi Billet said the Vaad was under instructions from its lawyer not to talk because of a possible lawsuit by the Bolenders. But Matathias, the college professor from Woodmere, said in an open letter that the Vaad should come out of its shadowy existence to confront regular, and insistent, public scrutiny of its operations. And he said it should welcome other kashrut agencies. Competition is good, not only in the political arena but also, especially, in the marketplace, he said. [its called capitalism–the American way] 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 the black mark. Rabbi Billet agreed that the Vaad has a lot to learn and missteps were made. The whole organization has to take stock in how we did, and we have to be in touch with our lawyer because we are dealing with issues of libel and restraint of trade. We’re walking a fine line, but there are better ways of doing things like this where the community would feel less in the dark. You learn from your experiences. Chaim Bolender, Mark’s brother, said in a phone interview Tuesday that he and a sister, Andrea, would continue to work in the store. Bolender said he would be in charge of the store and that Andrea would continue to handle payroll. He said the new owner, Henry Chezky Kauftheil, had hired two new key people and that Mark and another sister, Marlene, no longer work at Gourmet Glatt. But all other employees will keep their jobs, he said. He doesn’t want any changes, Bolender said of Kauftheil, who was in Israel and could not be reached for comment. Kauftheil’s lawyer, Paul Sod, said he expects to complete the sale of the business by the end of the month. He declined to disclose the price, but cited a prepared statement from the Bolenders in which they said there had been a fair, in fact generous, arrangement for all sides. We feel that our personal interests and the interests of our community, which we love and which we have faithfully served for 27 years, are being well represented, the statement added. Chaim Bolender declined to discuss the actions of the Vaad because of an agreement he signed not to disparage the group. But he said he was hopeful that the store’s business, which he said had been cut almost in half by the boycott, would return. I would say that today we are maybe 20 percent down’ from the pre-boycott level, he said.
This should end the saga of the Five Towns Vaad (at least for now). Since October this blog has been reporting that the issue had nothing to do with Kashrut, and that the Vaad was making mistakes by not being forthcoming with information. Today the Vaad, at least one Rabbi who sits on the Vaad agreed with me.There is one thing that has disturbed me throughout this process. I have received some mail claiming that a Conservative Jew or even a Conservative Rabbi has no right to debate issues of Kashrut. Many of my friends and many of my readers are Orthodox ( my friend Chaim says I am a closet Ortho). I follow the minhag of my Rabbi just as Jews from other flavors follow theirs. That does not take away my right or that any other Jew to debate Halacha. In fact debating Halachic issues should be encouraged. That is how we learn, and how come together. It is the way that Jews have been learning since the time of the patriarchs. Always feel free to disagree with me– that is how I learn, but never tell me I don’t have the right to discuss any Jewish issues. Remember, my soul was at Sinai also.
The Bible calls the Jews “the House of Israel” or the “House of Jacob” meaning that the Jews are essentially and principally a family. This family began as the small group of the offspring of Abraham. With natural increase, we became a clan and then a tribe and ultimately a nation. But in spite of its extraordinary proliferation, this tribe, and eventually the nation remained what we have always been–a single family. We are not a religion or a nation; we are a single family.
—-Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, from his book “We Jews:”