The Monsey Poultry Scandal – A Non-Response

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Rav Sheftel Neuberger shlit”a reminded me last week of a dramatic episode recounted by Rav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, the famed Magid of Yerushalayim. Those of us who had the privilege of once listening to him in person will have no trouble imagining him standing among us, and throwing out the punch line in his deep, gravely voice. (The story does not appear in any of Rav Pesach Krohn’s books, at least according to the recollection of his rebbetzin. Several others I spoke to, however, recall the story attributed to the Magid.)

Some people will not be satisfied without Cross-Currents enmeshing itself in every current controversy. They will not be satisfied with this piece. Others, hopefully, will find something in this tale to slake their curiosity, while still meeting the extra demands upon us during this week of Teshuva.

The war years – WWI that is – were the worst for the poor of Jerusalem. Much of the community subsisted on meager charitable contributions from European Jews. Most of those funds were choked off as the Allies fought the Axis, which included the Ottoman empire that had long controlled the Holy Land.

A poor couple sent a young child to the grocery store with a few coins for some basic supplies. Whem returned with them, plus some change, his parents realized that somehow he had taken a valuable gold coin that they had been saving as their next egg. They immediately ran to the grocer and explained. He denied ever receiving such a coin. The parents knew that he must have received it, and pushed their case. The grocer remained adamant, and passions grew.

There were charges and counter-charges, and batei-din (Jewish law panels) convened to consider them. The case became the talk of the town, and each side had its army of supporters. Nothing was resolved, but acrimony remained in ample measure.

Ten years later, a newcomer to Jerusalem sought out the grocer, and the parents. He could explain it all. He had lived in Jerusalem at the time, and had no food to offer his young family. When he saw a child walking in the street with a gold coin, he could not resist the temptation. He found a way to distract the child, and exchange another coin for the golden one.

Rav Schwadron then took charge of the story’s application. “By now, all the protagonists in the story have gone over to the Olam HaEmes (the World of Truth). Would you like to know where they all are? I will tell you. The grocer is in Gan Eden (Paradise). He was, after all, entirely blameless. His subsequent actions against his accusers were understandable, even if not perfect. The parents are there too. They were not unjustified in suspecting the grocer of theft. They were wrong, but not unreasonable. Even the thief is in Gan Eden. His repentance was long, thorough, and heart-felt.

“But there were others involved – all those who joined the fracas, who took sides in a dispute that was not really their concern. You want to know where they are? They all went to Gehinom (hell)!”

A pause, and many more decibels applied to the final line: “And they will never get out!”

Perhaps, on second thought, this is all the response that is necessary.

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93 Responses

  1. M. Cohen says:

    Although this issue is now recent history, I wanted to mention that a short book was published in 5741/1981 entitled “The City of Crakow” by Rabbi Sholom Yehuda Gross. It chronicles an event that took place during the time of Rabbi Noson Nota Shapiro, the “Megale Amukos”, when the butchers of Crakow supplied the city with non-kosher meat. Copies of this book were distributed in my community before Rosh Hashana both to remind people of the power of teshuva/repentance and the severity of the sin of eating non-kosher food. Although it is out of print, I highly recommend this book, especially in light of (not so) recent events.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Plus, a mashgiach may be in the facility all the time, but he can’t be everywhere in the facility all the time.

  3. SephardiLady says:

    Thanks for the link Baruch.
    A mashgiach temidi at every point would be far too costly and (in my opinion) would not give the same level of assurance as proper internal and external controls, like R. Genack alludes too.

  4. Baruch Horowitz says:

    SpherdiLady,

    From a JTA article, linked below, about an unnamed Kashrus agency:

    “The agency started the laborious process of checking invoice receipts against sales receipts the week after the Shevach Meat scandal was exposed, the rabbi said, adding that it could take several months to complete the initial check and that its stores would be subject to rolling, random checks in the future.”

    Rabbi Genack, of the OU, also talked about a global accounting system to trace meat products through the distribution chain.

    Auditors might design statistical sampling tests to detect Kashrus fraud based on levels of risk. There is no concept of materiality in Kashrus, but one can talk of audit procedures designed to provide consumers with a reasonable level of assurance. This would be cheaper then having a mashgiach temedi at every point in the distribution chain. Arthur Anderson(before Enron) originally had a contract with the FBI to a review management and recordkeeping practices, so accountants can also bring their expertise to the Kashrus industry, as Ori mentioned.

    As an aside, one of the poskim in the kashrus field mentioned this past Motzoei Shabbos(NYC Zev Brenner Show) that one can not totally abandon the assumption of chezkas kashrus in the meat or any other food supervisory area.

    http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?intarticleid=17124&intcategoryid=4

  5. SephardiLady says:

    One poster here raised the issue of yashrus. Let’s do a thought experiment: imagine this same person had instead been caught in a financial crime, a stock swindle, maybe, or tax fraud. What would the reaction have been? The same, less or more? If less, why?

    Thank you Tal Benschar for brining my point back up. To me, this scandal is not a whole lot different than any other “white collar” crime of recent memory which has sadly occured in one of our communities. The only difference. . . . people are mad as heck that they ate trief. I personally experience great pain when I hear about financial fraud, and I experience even more pain when it is all excused as being for a “good cause.”

    ***In addition, Ori Pomerantz has excellent points. There is a concept in auditing called Professional Skepticism. It is a skill to develop such (I know what I’m speaking about here :). As a former auditor, and hopefully a future auditor or investigator, I will say that there are myriads of techniques that are already developed to improve internal controls and to detect impropriety.

    Does fraud still happen? Absolutely. And, when fraud shakes the foundations of the professional world, procedures are changed and regulated. But, a sound system in place tends to make it a whole lot harder to pull the wool over the eyes of a community.

    (There is also something called “peer review” where collegues review the work of each other to do “internal policing.” This also helps keep businesses on the straight and narrow).

    Are the Rabbonim bad guys? No. But, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t more that can be learned. And, there are plenty of people out there that could share their knowledge.

  6. Aryeh says:

    “so how you know that I lack kavod ha rabbonim is beyond me.”–Ein l’dayan elo ma she-einov roos. The only thing I have to go on is your comments which did not display kvod rabbonim.
    And I didn’t miss your point. My objection was not to the substance of your comments but to the style. That’s exactly what I was saying. Ein cholkin kovod l’rav doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to be disrespectful.

  7. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “R. Adlerstein’s attempt to tell us to keep quiet…”

    Maybe he was just urging caution and judicious discussion of the issue. There is an editorial in this week’s Jewish Press and it was in the NYT, so the issue is getting wide exposure in any event. However, if it needs to be discussed, it should be done in the best manner possible.

  8. Tzvi says:

    If this type of incident had happened at a Mikvah L’nashim, would Tal be allowed to voice protest and indignation and calls for responsibility and corrective procedures, or would it still be bizuiy rabbonim? (I guess I’m trying to extremitize/polarize the situation to get more definitive views; I don’t mean to imply anything).

  9. Tal Benschar says:

    R. Menken:

    One other point I feel compelled to mention. Your posts assume that I have already condemned the Rabbonim and held them at fault for the Chillul Hashem. But that is NOT what the gemara in Eruvin says.

    The case there is that a rebbe and talmid were walking somewhere, and they noticed someone violating an issur. The talmid spoke up and chastised the person, apparently effectively. The gemara asks, what happened to the halakha of ein morin halakha bifnei rabbo? The answer is bemakom chillul Hashem, ein cholkin kavod la Rav.

    The rebbe their certainly was not at fault, he was just a passerby. Yet when the issue was stopping or mitigating a Chillul shem Shomayim, the talmid was obligated to act, and was NOT ALLOWED to defer to his rebbe. That is the halakha.

    What amazes me is that you do not seem to grasp that the “Be Quiet” attitude is itself a major turnoff for many. The blogosphere is filled with cynical people, some of them who have almost a Korach-like attitude towards the rabbonim. I do not share that attitude, and when I respond at all usually push it aside forcefully. Most rabbonim sincerely act to uphold the kavod Shomayim and the needs of the tsibbur.

    But here we have had a major breakdown in an Orthodox public institution — the hasgacha of a major town. Thousands have been nichshal. To say the Rov whose name was on the hasgacha bears no responsibility — again not fault, responsibility — plays right into the hands of the cynics who view the rabbinate as a cabal looking out for its own interests. The tsibbur who was nichshal is entitled, IMO, to ask how this happened and how it will be prevented in the future. Answering those questions is part of the responsibility which comes with putting your name on a hasgacha.

  10. mycroft says:

    Am I correct in stating that the public concern seems to be more about halachic inquiries re Yoreh Deah as opposed to Choshen Mishpat? Even if the person in question was perceived as a Baal Chesed or Baal Tzedakah, the facts are that the means to do so were acquired via a defrauding of the residents of Monsey.

    Steve Brizel hits it on the nose of the problem-many people both MO and RW who believe that Yahadus is essentially Yoreah Deah. Read the Yom Kippur haftatrot and see if you get that impression.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    No system is foolproof, but since our personal sanctity depends on it, the implementation of the kashrus system should periodically be reviewed and upgraded as needed. As noted in comments above, there is some tension between our desire to prevent error or fraud and our desire to afford to buy the product. Now, a new consensus will develop.

    There will always be some role for small or one-man hashgachot, but clearly some situations (depending on the scale and complexity of the supervised operation, etc.) now require a top-level, large supervisory organization. I can see some value in having cooperatives of smaller hashgachot. A cooperative could create a central front office, database, uniform procedures, and outside audit team, so its members can deliver the level of service expected by consumers of products they supervise.

  12. Tal Benschar says:

    Aryeh:

    You do not know me nor my hanhagos, so how you know that I lack kavod ha rabbonim is beyond me.

    As for my comments, you seem to have missed the point so, let’s recap. R. Adlerstein told a maaseh from R. Schwadron, which you can read. His point was that there were many who got involved in that machlokes who had nothing to do with it and merely wanted to get involved for its own sake. That is a fair point. Other than the few persons involved, no one had any interest whatsoever in the machlokes. So they should have kept quiet.

    My point is that, here, in contrast, the entire tsibbur has been effected, not only in Monsey, but anyone who ate in Monsey. People were caused to be nichshal in an issur Torah. Repeatedly. An issur that Chazal say has serious and deleterious spiritual effects.

    Those people are entitled to ask serious questions about how it happened. R. Adlerstein’s attempt to tell us to keep quiet (with threats of gehennom yet) is resented, at least by me.

    As for the rabbonim involved, R. Menken seems to feel that they have no responsibility whatsoever. Not only no fault (which I agree, they were duped by a pious crook), but no responsibility. So the name Rabbi X on a hasgacha means nothing. You can end up feeding thousands neveilah under that name, but then kavod ha rabbonim means that those who ate neveilah for many years under your name are not permitted to even ask how it happened and what you intend to do in the future to prevent it. That position I find utterly amazing, and, IMO, contrary to the gemara that be makom Chillul Hashem ein cholkin kavod la Rav.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Aryeh, I agree that training all mashgichim in criminal investigation skills would be too expensive to be worth doing. In the real world, security is always balanced with cost.

    However, that does not mean that there are no improvements that can be done at a reasonable cost. Business processes can provide the benefit of skills to people who don’t have them. Having an auditor go over the process to improve it won’t cost that much.

  14. Tzvi says:

    Ori,
    I don’t see why one would necessarily cause the other and I don’t see the problem if it does.

    Aryeh,
    It seems that the Agencies are more vigilant and do keep more than just the shulchan aruch alone and people do pay the prices without complaining. See R Menken’s comments about R Heinemann and the Star K on this blog for an example.

    If I knew that a rav hamachshir was not visiting the site, auditing invoices or doing some sort of monitoring then I would balk at paying a higher price in order to subsidize the hashgacha. Why do I need a Rav to tell me that ‘eid echad neeman beissurin’? I can do that by myself and keep the change – especially in this case where the butcher was so well known – why did he even need a mashgiach?

  15. Aryeh says:

    As an interesting thought, did anyone wonder what would have happened had all of the US kashrus agencies NOT relied on “shulchan aruch alone,” and if all the mashgichim had criminal investigation skills. Why the price of meat would be so much higher! And the same people who are now complaining about how you can’t rely on shulchan aruch alone and how rabbanim were negligent would complain about “how the rabbis are imposing unnecessary chumras on the community and using kashrus to squeeze more money out of hard-working baalei batim to do things that shulchan aruch doesn’t require in order to provide failed kollel guys who couldn’t get a job in the real world cushy sinecures as mashgichim.” Isn’t that what most people who’re yapping away right now would say?

    Tal–“We’ve got to have all those derashos about kavod ha rabbonim.”
    Based on your comments, they’re necessary for you.
    If you want to be machmir and not rely on “shulchan aruch alone,” that’s fine. If the entire community wants to, that’s also fine. But it always struck me as very odd that I’ve never heard people adopting chumras in Loshon hora. Your comments weren’t constructive criticism, they were disrespectful criticism, which is loshon hora m’ikar hadin.

  16. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Tzvi, wouldn’t tighter Kashrut standards to prevent this kind of cheating be considered a fence around the Torah? If the Torah leaders of Monsey were to decide that standards need to be tighter, wouldn’t all Rabbis in Monsey have to follow the tigher standard from now on?

  17. Tzvi says:

    R Adlerstein makes a big fuss about his non-comment and insinuates that all who comment on the scandal or take a side in it will soon need strong suntan lotion.

    Well then, why did he bother to post and allow comments? What did he think would happen? Chacham eiynav b’rosho. Lifnei eever lo seatin michshol. Avak lashon horah b’kulom.

  18. Tzvi says:

    Is there a difference between a Kashrus agency and this specific hechsher? I think so. While the agencies, like the Star K run by R Heinemann, will tighten their procedures, the local machshirim will continue to rely on the shulchan aruch alone.

    Would this decade-long fraud have been perpetrated if the Rav Hamachshir had used stronger measures similar to the agencies?

    That is why we have agencies. Let’s see some real unanimity from the Monsey Rabbonim and let’s see them centralize the Kashrus field.

  19. Tal Benschar says:

    “What caused the butcher to sell treif meat? Greed! The real avairah is dishonesty. That is where we must look to do teshuvah. That Monsey ate treif was the ‘potch’ to shock us out of our complacency with dishonesty.”

    Well said, charedilite.

  20. Tal Benschar says:

    Even if the person in question was perceived as a Baal Chesed or Baal Tzedakah, the facts are that the means to do so were acquired via a defrauding of the residents of Monsey.

    I am reminded of a story of the Chafetz Chaim. Someone asked him, Chazal say that maachalos assuros are metamtem es ha lev — that keeping kosher ensures a spiritual purity. Yet we see many families who kept strictly kosher homes, yet their children went off the derech. How do we explain that?

    Answered the Chofetz Chaim, yes, the meat may have been glatt kosher, but was the money which purchased it glatt kosher? If not you still have a potential for timtum ha lev.

    Even if the person in question was perceived as a Baal Chesed or Baal Tzedakah, the facts are that the means to do so were acquired via a defrauding of the residents of Monsey.

    Nope. No time. We’ve got to have all those derashos about kavod ha rabbonim.

    This whole scandel was a potch from Avinu SheBaShamayim. Perhaps now we (on both a personal and communal level) will all take the requirement of honesty a little more seriously, lest we be potched again.

    Comment by charedilite

    charedilite, I wholeheartely agree. Not holding my breathe, though.

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    RYBS pointed out that the Chachamim questioneed the Kohen Gadol to ascertain whether he was loyal to the Mesorah, as opposed to just the Torah Shebicsav even if he was viewed as faithful .This was not an instance of distrusting his chezkas kashrus and being chosed bksherim. Rather, the Kohen Gadol, when he entered the Kodesh Kodashim, had to have the proper kavanos, etc because all of Klal Yisrael was dependent upon him.

    There is no doubt that those aspects of the Monsey community, including but not limited to his own family that depended upon this individual trusted him with the chezkas kashrus of the meat, etc that that they purchased, cooked and ate, etc have a right to feel betrayed and even angry at what they perceive as a lack of neemanus as opposed to the basic halachic issues of hagalas kelim. Am I correct in stating that the public concern seems to be more about halachic inquiries re Yoreh Deah as opposed to Choshen Mishpat? Even if the person in question was perceived as a Baal Chesed or Baal Tzedakah, the facts are that the means to do so were acquired via a defrauding of the residents of Monsey. One would hope that we would see some shiurim or drashos on the importance of dealing properly in business as an element of Kiddush HaShem.

  22. Ori Pomerantz says:

    charedilite, may I add to your point? If store keepers had to keep accurate financial records and submit them to the Kashrut authorities, it would be easier to detect this kind of violation and therefore they would be less likely to do it.

    1. If they pay the treif meat provider “above the table”, the Kashrut agency will be able to see that they bought treif meat. “Yosef, why does your Kosher grocery store pay so much to Joe’s Treif Meat butchery?”

    2. If they pay the treif meat provider “under the table”, the Kashrut agency will be able to see unreasonable profits on meat. It appears you sold 400 chickens last month, even though you only bought 200. Would you mind teaching us your method of keeping inventory?”

  23. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken: “Ori could not be more mistaken, because everyone “knew” this fellow wasn’t a criminal.”

    Ori: I did not explain myself properly. May I try again?

    The history of business is full of people that everybody knew to be honest and trust worthy, who at some point turned out to be crooks. Enron and MCI are recent examples. Therefore, accounting procedures are developed under the assumption that everybody is a potential criminal. Auditors do not look for people who appear dishonest to audit. Auditors audit people randomly. In a well run business, nobody should ever think: “everybody trusts me, nobody will ever waste their time auditing me, so I can steal money and get away with it”.

    It would be unreasonable to expect a Kashrut agency to know that a specific apparently upstanding member of the community is serving treif meat. The only way to reduce this risk is to make sure EVERYBODY knows he or she might be audited, not as the result of suspicion, but just because the randon number generator picked a particular number.

    If King David could commit adultery, King Solomon worship idols, and Miryam utter Leshon Hara then none of us is above suspicion.

    Baruch Horowitz: “This illustrates the need for understanding the facts on the ground(“metzius”), and also for keeping up to date with the facts and circumstances , as opposed to just theory.”

    Ori: I agree. As I said, this is my analysis as an outsider. It’s quite possible that stores are randomly audited, for example, and there are no possible improvements to the process that are worth the cost.

    My point was that thinking like a criminal is a separate skill from Torah, and requires special expertise. It is possible that Kashrut organizations already employ such experts.

  24. Barzilai says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Adlerstein, for the R’ Schwadron story about the dangers of being “machzik b’machlokes.” Even people with the most superficial connection to Monsey will, with a moment’s thought, realize how germane and important the story is to current and recent events.

    I would like to add that the Gra says that the judgment of the yomim noro’im is a determination of whether we will have siyata dishmaya to fulfil the mitzvos and avoid issurim. One can try as much as he wants, but without divine assistance, his tzedakah will go to the undeserving, he will be distracted during davenning, his mezuzos and tefillin will fade, and he will unwittingly eat treifus. May our prayers for Hashem’s assistance in keeping the mitzvos be accepted.

  25. charedilite says:

    “When in the last several decades have the Rabbonim of an entire city the size of Monsey declared a Taanis Tzibbur?”

    Rabbi Menken-
    I think that what you said reveals the essence of the matter, but perhaps with a different conclusion. In my opinion, the communal consumption of treif was the onesh, not the avairah. What caused the butcher to sell treif meat? Greed! The real avairah is dishonesty. That is where we must look to do teshuvah. That Monsey ate treif was the ‘potch’ to shock us out of our complacency with dishonesty.

    There have been money scandels for years in Monsey and related frum communities. The scandel involving President Clinton’s pardon of several frum Jews. Or the greed behind the cheaply constructed multi-family housing units (rather than normal apartment buildings conforming to normative building codes)going up all over, violating any good sense in community planning and just waiting for disaster to strike (just imagine a fire truck trying to get through the narrow clogged streets to reach one of the massive multi-family additions to homes on properties never intended for such). Or the prominent frum builder in Monsey, who wouldn’t sell unless he was paid money under the table- and all those who cooperated and thus cheated on their property taxes, like the Monsey Rosh Yeshiva who told my relative that he didn’t see anything wrong with the scheme. Or the local political scandals involving frum politicians and frum staff engaged in illegal fund raising. Many incidents and scandels- all driven by monetary greed.

    There was no taanis tzibur declared for any of them. The general attidude was- shhh, don’t do anything to draw attention to it, just cover it up. Only when the greed led to people eating treif did we feel the need to do teshuva. Evidently, only when violating such a minor and unimportant lav (Lo Sigzol) led to violating a “real” lav did the community feel any angst.

    This whole scandel was a potch from Avinu SheBaShamayim. Perhaps now we (on both a personal and communal level) will all take the requirement of honesty a little more seriously, lest we be potched again.

  26. Michoel says:

    Yaakov,
    Point well taken. What can I do? I like telling that story!

  27. Yaakov Menken says:

    Michoel,

    There are two such yeshivos in Monsey; given the proximity of his shul to “the other” yeshiva, it is likely that you and I didn’t go to the same one. But we did both experience Monsey hospitality, and I hesitate to use your example as a demonstration of his outstanding middos. Let me explain why.

    I once had a similar experience due to a medical emergency in my intended host family. Given the dark house, I adjourned to the residence of one of the Rabbis of my yeshiva who lived several blocks away, whom I knew was having two other bochurim as his guests and thus would find my presence a minimal inconvenience.

    Two doors away from the first house lived another family whose hospitality I had enjoyed several times, most recently just the previous week. When the father of the family found out that I had walked past his house on the way to the Rabbi’s, he was almost offended that I had failed to barge in uninvited during the middle of his seudah.

    The gadlus of the Rav HaMachshir is reflected in the fact that his middos and yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven) are known to be outstanding, even in a community where behavior like what we experienced is that of a stam Baal HaBayis, a “regular Joe.”

    Bob, the answer is a conditional yes on your first line item. Meaning, of course there was an error. I think that what you wrote earlier puts it amazingly well:

    “Our imaginations have now been jolted, and fewer things are beyond our imagination.”

    What happened was so far beyond anyone’s expectation, or even imagination, that we cannot demand that anyone other than the vendor “take responsibility” for what happened — blog commenters and their boich sevaros (gut reactions) notwithstanding. But our imaginations have now been jolted, and of course what kashrus agencies will do in the future has changed permanently.

    Honestly, having lived in Monsey and Yerushalayim, I was shocked when I first heard that the deli to which I refer here in Baltimore has no hechsher. But that only shows what I know, or at least what I knew — I probably ate at the place in Yerushalayim mentioned by Boruch several times. When you walk into a restaurant in Meah Shearim packed with chassidim and yeshivaleit, are you going to look for a Teudah (certification) before you order?

    I imagine that when the deli owner retires, this situation — at least in Baltimore — will retire with him and likely never return ad biyas go’el. What happened, as you said, changes our perception of what is conceivable. But as far as that deli — I’ll still eat there. What was unimaginable yesterday is only barely imaginable today.

  28. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken, did you mean to say that:

    1. There was no error connected to the Monsey supervision.

    2. As a result of the Monsey event, kashrus agencies are tightening up supervision.

    3. It’s not odd for a prudent individual to decide to buy meat from a butcher shop with no outside supervision at all.

    If so, are these statements consistent?

  29. Michoel says:

    I have cute baal t’shuvah story that perhaps is pertinent.

    My first Shabbos as a frum Jew, I was set up by the BT yeshiva I was studying in to eat at a particular family on Shabbos night. Another bochur and myself went to the family’s home after davening. They weren’t home. We waited a while thinking (implausibly) that the entire family had gone to shul. After a little while, the other bochur (who had been frum for a while) suggested we go next door and ask if they know where the family is. They weren’t certain but thought that maybe they were out of town. Apparently there was more than one “Rosenberg” in Monsey that hosted boys from that yeshiva, and some confusion had occured. In any case, this very kindly neighbor said, “If they don’t show up soon, why don’t you come and make kiddush with us?” After a few more minutes of waiting, this more experience bochur says to me “Ok, let’s go next door and have the seudah there.” Well, being entirely new to the frum community, I was very distressed. “Wait! He said we should come for kiddush. We can’t just invite ourselves for the entire meal!” This bochur tried to explain to me that the neighbor meant we are invited for the meal but he was just being understated. Having little choice, I reluctantly joined him.

    Well, fortunately the bochur was right. That, neighbor, the Rav Hamachsir, was simply displaying his amazingly fine middos. He and his rebbetzin treated us with very great kavod. It was a kavod that was natural and sincere. Not a display of best behavior as a kiruv exercise. I had the pleasure of speaking to him several times in the subsequent years.

  30. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “There’s a butcher here in Baltimore who has no supervision at all, just as you say—and everyone uses him.”

    I had a similar situation in Eretz Yisrael. I was told that people eat from a certain take-out place that didn’t have a hashgacha, because the person was well known to be an eirleche(honest)and upstanding Shomer Torah U’mitzvos.

  31. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Ori,

    With regards to your comment # 51, I agree that we should not assign blame to the Rav Hamachsir, as we were not in his place. Regarding your point #2, that is indeed the practical side of Kashrus. There is a famous story about the “heilege kurkavan”, which I heard when I was studying Chullin(I copied this from a May 1996 Mail Jewish Post by Eli Turkel):

    “There is a story of a famous rabbi (rosh yeshiva) who was walking down the street with the dayan (judge) of the town when a woman approached with a question about a chicken. The rabbi looked at the chicken and said he didn’t know if it was kosher. The dayan looked at the chicken and said there was a hole in the “kurkavan”(crop of a bird) which is explicitly not kosher. The rosh yeshiva looked at the chicken and exclaimed, “thats the holy kurkavan?” and then proceeded to give novella (chiddushim) of the laws of the kurkavan.”

    This illustrates the need for understanding the facts on the ground(“metzius”), and also for keeping up to date with the facts and circumstances , as opposed to just theory. All Mashgichim and Kashrus organizations are indeed aware of, and focus on this need(again, I am not judging this specific case).

  32. DMZ says:

    “There’s a butcher here in Baltimore who has no supervision at all, just as you say—and everyone uses him.”

    I never used him, made no secret that I thought his not having Star-K supervision (any supervision besides his own, even) was a problem, and now you know why. You cannot be mashgiach and business owner at the same time, because the conflict of interests is simply too great. This isn’t to say his meat is bad, G-d forbid, or anything else – only that I am personally uncomfortable (and always have been) with people who give their own hasgachos to themselves. I’d certainly like to believe that the individual you’re referring to would never do such a thing as happened in Monsey (I’d be shocked, honestly), but then again, wasn’t the fellow in this scandal a similarly upright yid, except for that whole “feeding traife meat to entire community” thing?

    I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this entire unfortunate incident, but first and foremost is that communities need to tighten up their kashrus standards and supervision. Even the Baltimore-Washington area, with our excellent regional kashrus authorities, can do more.

    -DMZ

  33. Porthos says:

    >You are sadly mistaken.

    No I’m not. I agree with you. My point is that to justify the rav’s hechsher on the minimalist grounds that R. Menken did is mistaken. Just like the rav hamachshir “knew” he was ehrliche, and relied on that, anyone in Monsey who had the exact same information could have eliminated the middleman.

    The point is that things ARE more complex and that is why a rav relying on ed echad is too simple. As I said, who needs the rav if that is all he is doing? And it seems like in this case that is essentially what the hashgacha amounted to.

  34. Bob Miller says:

    Our imaginations have now been jolted, and fewer things are beyond our imagination.

  35. Yaakov Menken says:

    Bob, I took an “aggressive line” on Kavod HaRav. Reread Rav Adlerstein’s post three times, then read some of the comments with the image of one of the most trustworthy and knowledgeable people you can imagine as the Rav in question — as anyone who knows him will agree that he is. The comments here are simply frightening.

    There is little to disclose that has not already been disclosed. It is without doubt that major changes will now be made in the way Kashrus examinations are conducted. Ori could not be more mistaken, because everyone “knew” this fellow wasn’t a criminal. We still don’t know why he did it — it’s extremely hard for those who know him to imagine he did all this just to make an extra buck. Did he end up in debt to the mafia? Did they threaten his family? I don’t know. Do you?

    Hillel zeroed in on exactly the point. When you have a small butcher who is known to be reliable, and the only question is whether he will intentionally serve you treif, very little supervision is required. There’s a butcher here in Baltimore who has no supervision at all, just as you say — and everyone uses him. It’s just beyond imagining that a person of his character will serve you treif.

    Even after this scandal, I’ll still eat there. Tal will grow his own vegetables and scan them for bugs under a microscope. The rest of the world will follow reliable hechshers, knowing that they cannot guarantee perfection — and do, nonetheless, learn from their mistakes.

  36. Tal Benschar says:

    “May I suggest we dump the term “incompetence” in this discussion? It is a judgement about people. Instead, we should talk about failure, which is a judgement about a specific event.”

    Fair enough. I withdraw my charge of incompetence. Failure is a good term.

    So is responsibility. That is what being a Rov ha Machshir means. Otherwise, who needs it?

  37. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken, you said;

    “There are Halachos of Kashrus, and those Halachos were followed. We already know this…

    …Everything was done correctly as far as the Rav HaMachshir was concerned, as I’ll elaborate.”

    You later said simply that Rav Heinemann had concluded that “you cannot fault the Rav HaMachshir” (I accept that), BUT you provided no specific investigative findings or ways to access these.

    Is there at least an executive summary of the failure investigation in the Monsey case that covers the key points? Shouldn’t something like this be released now to the Orthodox public, or at least to their local Rabbonim as intermediaries, to end fruitless or destructive speculation?

    A publication of “lessons learned” would also be constructive.

    The aggressive line you’ve taken here bothers me. What can anyone have against proper disclosure?

  38. Tal Benschar says:

    “Tal, what a wonderful hora’as heter (ruling to permit)! Why didn’t I think of that? Since we all know that the chilul Hashem was the Rav’s fault, now we can say whatever we want! I’m sorry that I let things like the Shulchan Aruch obstruct my recognition of the presumption of guilt. In these days before Y”K, it’s exactly the right time to change course and start condemning people, especially outstanding Rabbonim. ”

    Your sarcasm is noted. For the record, I never called the Rav guilty, just duped. You are also confusing fault and responsibility. It’s not the Rabbis fault. It is his responsibility.

    Now can you find somewhere to note my distress at having been nichshal (repeatedly!) in an issur Torah by what is supposed to be a “holy” community and its rabbonim? Or am I just supposed to sit quietly and say, “Oh Rabbi, you are so holy and learned, thank you for telling me that that treif chicken is kosher. I so enjoyed it at the chasuna of the daughter of the chosuveh Rov I went to last year.”

  39. joel rich says:

    Just to doublecheck, I went upstairs this morning before posting this comment. Rav Heinemann himself, who (as I previously mentioned) requires someone other than the owner check all shipments, also said that you cannot fault the Rav HaMachshir.
    =======================================

    Interesting, did R’ Heinemann explain why he has this requirement? Do other national hashgachot also have it?

    GCT

  40. Tal Benschar says:

    “Frankly, the fact that you ate treif is no more his fault that it is yours.”

    Really? Whose name was on the hechsher? Does any responsibility come with that? Or do we just fall korei to the rabbonim and klap a few al cheits.

    “Your question five seems to be aimed at the Rav not the meat vendor—because someone caught in a financial scandal would not face nearly the communal censure of the salesman, unless he swindled a similar number of people. You just assume the Rav did something wrong, despite a full Shulchan Aruch, all five chalakim, to the contrary.”

    No, my question was aimed at a communal mentality where frumkeit is emphasized far more than ehrlichkeit.

    I do not “assume the Rav did something wrong.” His actions may have been in complete technical conformity with every seif in SA. Nevertheless there was a complete breakdown with the unfortunate results we see. As one among the thousands who was nichshal, I am entiteld to ask tough questions and try to avoid this in the future.

  41. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I suggest we dump the term “incompetence” in this discussion? It is a judgement about people. Instead, we should talk about failure, which is a judgement about a specific event. Moshe Rabbenu was not incompetent, but he failed on one occassion by losing his patience. Rabbi Akiva was not incompetent, but he failed to recognize that Bar Kochva was not Mashiach. We should assume that the Rabbis duped in this case are in the same category – imperfect human beings, who make mistakes.

    Having said that, a failure definitely occured. Here’s my analysis as an outsider.

    Kashrut supervision works in two ways:

    1. Provide Kashrut expertise to people who want to produce Kosher food but don’t know how. Ho Chin who works in a cheese factory in China has no idea that there’s anything wrong with mixing lard into the cheese. The current system seems to do this job very well, which makes sense – Rabbis are usually Halacha experts who know how to teach.

    2. Catch crooks who know what is Kosher and do something else because it makes them more money.

    I think Rabbis are not ideal for #2 because they are not trained to think like criminals. It might be a good idea to bring in an expert auditor to review the Kashrut process that failed and see how to make it tighter. Auditors ARE trained to think like criminals.

  1. September 28, 2006

    […] Rabbi Adlerstein’s non-response to the “Monsey chicken story” resulted in the largest comment thread in recent memory—thanks to people responding to the story. Something about fools rushing in comes to mind, but still more apropos and timely is a Mishnah in the first chapter of Maseches Yoma. […]

  2. September 29, 2006

    […] A second follow-up to Rabbi Adlerstein’s non-response to the “Monsey chicken story:” In the comments thread, I wrote that there is a butcher here in Baltimore who carries no hechsher (Kosher certification). I also said that “I imagine that when the deli owner retires, this situation—at least in Baltimore—will retire with him.” […]