A Ben & Jerry's assembly line by the Forward

Kosher certification should not be a political weapon

The recent uproar over Ben & Jerry’s’ decision to stop sales of its products in the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria has many in the Jewish community enraged — along with the board of Ben & Jerry’s’ parent company, Unilever — and rightfully so.

This blatant targeting of Israel and Jews is nothing new, but it is a somewhat successful example of the dangers of the hateful boycott, divestment and sanctions movement’s push to delegitimize the Jewish State.

Within hours of the announcement, a growing number of supermarkets in the United States (mostly kosher ones — but not exclusively) had pulled Ben & Jerry’s products from their shelves. As economic boycotts go, this makes logical sense: private companies have a right not to stock products that conflict with their values just as individual consumers have the right not to buy them.

I support these moves. But some have taken it a step further, and this is where things can get dangerous.

There has been a significant push amongst some to revoke the brand’s kosher certification altogether. Ben & Jerry’s is certified as kosher in the United States by the Kof-K, a large international certifying agency. In the days since Ben & Jerry’s made their announcement, Kof-K has fielded many calls from upset consumers who have been asking them to pull their certification.

In an informal reader poll, approximately 75% of Yeshiva World News respondents likewise shared that they want the Kof-K to stop certifying the brand. Moshe Arbel, an Israeli member of Knesset representing the haredi Orthodox Shas party, likewise called on the Orthodox Union, which certifies Ben & Jerry’s in Israel, to drop its kosher certification on a morning radio show this week.

These calls trouble me. Kashrut agencies should be making decisions based on Jewish law, not on politics. It is their responsibility to focus on the ingredients that go into products and the processes by which they are manufactured, not where the companies choose to distribute those products — although we know that’s not always been the case. The Orthodox community generally gets upset when local (or national) kashrut organizations make rulings on businesses that have nothing to do with the food or ingredients. We have seen countless cases of this recently, including a certification agency requiring a restaurant to change its “scandalous” name; pushback against having televisions in a restaurant, or serving alcohol, or even having tables and chairs in a kosher pizzeria; the famous Glatt Yacht mixed dancing situation in the late 1980s.

If we complain when kosher certification agencies mix politics and personal beliefs into kashrut, we can’t also be the ones adding politics into the mix.

Kashrut organizations should be in the business of deciding what products and restaurants are kosher. It is a slippery slope for kosher certifications to be invalidated based on public pressure, especially when that pressure has nothing to do with food.

Mob rule has been historically unkind to the Jews. If we ourselves then use mob rule to pressure kosher certification agencies because of politics, then we’ve lost the plot.

Where does it end? Only when it’s good for us, right?

We can’t speak out of both sides of our mouth here. Either politics and kashrut are intertwined or they should be kept separate.

Let’s leave the Israel advocacy to the amazing Israel advocates and groups we have today, and leave the kosher certification to the kosher certification agencies.

Dani Klein is founder of YeahThatsKosher, a website and digital resource on kosher restaurants and travel.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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Kosher certification should not be a political weapon

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