Passover Kosher Meat Scandal in Los Angeles Latest in String of Mishaps

Shocking Violations of Jewish Law Are Rare

By JTA

Published April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

jta

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.

Some rabbis in Monsey and nearby Spring Valley – though not all – told followers they had to rekosherize their kitchens, an arduous process that involves boiling pots and pans and passing utensils over an open flame. Some kitchenware that comes into contact with unkosher food is considered irredeemable and must be thrown out.

“It was extremely shocking because many, many people really viewed this grocery as the most reliable place to get your chicken,” said Rikki Davidson, a 28-year-old homemaker who lived in Monsey at the time. “All the caterers purchased chicken from him.” What exactly happened at Doheny Market in Los Angeles is still unclear. One day in early March, Engelman was caught on videotape directing his employees to unload boxes of meat from his car while the market’s kosher supervisor was absent. Engelman reportedly claimed the meat wasn’t unkosher, just not glatt – a higher kosher standard. But the meat was labeled as glatt.

On March 24, the RCC revoked the shop’s kosher certification. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched an investigation. And on Sunday, the store was sold to businessman Shlomo Rechnitz, Belsky’s son-in-law, who vowed to ensure it strictly complied with dietary laws.

For the untold numbers who bought meat from Engelman, the scandal constituted a profound betrayal of trust.

“I’d say hello to Engelman if I saw him on the street, but I would not invite him to dinner,” said May, who also is the executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “I don’t have people I don’t trust in my life.”

Avrom Pollak, the president of Star K, a kosher certifier in Baltimore, said his outfit frequently dealt with clients who tried to cut corners. His supervisors recently caught a caterer trying to sell non-kosher turkey to clients.

“The rabbi remembered the kosher butchers in the area don’t kill turkeys that size,” Pollak said. “We asked to see the invoices and saw the top was torn off, so the name was not available.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division, the largest kosher certifier in the world, said his organization was looking at new technology to help uphold dietary regulations.

“Over the last few months we’ve been talking to people about whether products at slaughterhouses can be given a unique label,” he said. “There is a specific scanner that will be able to check each number assigned to each piece of meat.”

The RCC said Doheny Market will reopen with new management and increased scrutiny over the next couple of days. But May cautioned that errors can occur even with the best practices in place.

“Greed exists in the world, so you always have the potential for it, and anyone can circumvent the system and make a little bit of money,” he said. “The system was very good and exceeded the national standard. But we had a human failure.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.