How Kosher Meat Scandal Exploded in Los Angeles

'Monumental' Failure Rocks Community on Eve of Passover

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By Jonah Lowenfeld (Jewish Journal)

Published April 04, 2013.
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If Engelman intentionally circumvented his mashgiach, as the videos appear to indicate, Engelman’s business, which he has owned for 28 years, will likely never regain the RCC’s imprimatur, let alone the trust of kosher consumers, and could be forced to close. The case is also a black eye for the RCC, in part because its protocols appear to have been breached on multiple occasions, and also because the breach was not discovered by the rabbis themselves, but by a private investigator who says he was working independently.

Further complicating the matter, the RCC also had received tips about suspicious practices at Doheny years before this scandal broke — the agency says its own investigations turned up no evidence of wrongdoing — a fact that leaves many local observant Jews questioning whether the RCC is up to the task of supervising the approximately 100 kosher restaurants, markets and caterers that bear its hechsher (seal of approval) across the city.

Eric Agaki, the private investigator who shot the footage that has brought Doheny to its knees, said that it was complaints from disgruntled local distributors and a few rabbis that led him to start investigating, beginning around Rosh Hashanah 2012.

On May 24, a group of rabbis who sit on the RCC’s Vaad Hakashrut, the committee dedicated to Jewish dietary law, watched Agaki’s footage. Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City was among them.

“You see [Engelman] talking to the mashgiach; you see him waiting until the mashgiach leaves,” Muskin said of the video. “And the damaging evidence is that once the mashgiach leaves, that’s when he has his helpers empty out his SUV, bringing the boxes into his establishment.”

At some point during the meeting, Engelman himself was brought into the room. The shopkeeper initially denied the allegations, but eventually admitted he had brought boxes of unsupervised food into the store, according to people present at the meeting.

“He did claim that it was kosher — I think that the way he put it was that he ‘never brought non-kosher meat into the store,’ and that he ‘never sold something not kosher,’” an individual who attended the meeting told the Journal. “But he did acknowledge bringing in boxes — he claimed it was poultry — into the store.”

The group decided to revoke Doheny’s certification that day but said that all meat purchased before 3 p.m. that day was still considered kosher. The rabbis reached this decision after consulting with Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, head of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn, N.Y., the legal authority for the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division. They relied on the principle of rov, which states that in certain cases in which a majority of a set of items are known to be kosher, the entire set can be declared kosher.


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