Less than a day before the start of Passover, the phone rang at the Brooklyn home of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky. On the line were concerned members of the Rabbinical Council of California, a rabbinical association in Los Angeles that provides kosher certification, among other services.
The RCC had just discovered that Mike Engelman, the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meats, had smuggled uncertified meat into his store, and the West Coast rabbis needed the guidance of their East Coast colleague.
“It was obvious to all of us that we needed an unbiased decision from an expert outside the community, with vast knowledge and experience, to give an authoritative decision that the members of this community would rely upon,” Rabbi Avrohom Union, the rabbinic administrator of the RCC, told JTA in an email.
Belsky, a well-respected arbiter of religious law, had a big decision on his plate. If he determined that all the meat was tainted, observant Angelenos might be forced to toss all the foods they prepared for Passover, which started on the evening of March 25.
“People would have been served salad on Passover night,” said Rabbi Meyer May, the RCC president.
After weighing the information, Belsky made a ruling: All meat sold prior to March 24, the day news of the alleged transgressions came to light, was kosher – even though a small portion was not properly certified. Passover was saved – barely.
Kosher violations like this are rare but not unheard of. News emerges occasionally that a trusted vendor has sold clients food products that either intentionally or unintentionally did not comply with the strict dietary stipulations of Jewish law.
Police in London in 1928 had to prevent an angry mob from storming a cafe that sold unkosher meat as kosher. In 1986, a court fined Rachleff Kosher Provisions in Brooklyn more than $1 million for selling thousands of pounds of non-kosher tongue and brisket. In 2006, in one of the worst violations in recent memory, Shevach Meats, a supermarket in the largely Orthodox community of Monsey, N.Y., was discovered to have intentionally sold non-kosher items to its unsuspecting clientele.