[This is a scam if ever there was. Jan]
Seanna Fenner, aka Odinia, is an Odinist gyðja (priestess), a völva, and the founder of the native European religious organization, Odinia International. She resides in the United States, and she is a fervent follower of the ancient European religion of Odinism. Unlike most Americans today, especially the Christian majority, Ms. Fenner can probably pick out a “hekhsher” (kosher seal) or two on a packaging label. Her spiritual and religious faith likely finds these kosher seals offensive, if not reprehensible. But if she had to buy food from an American supermarket today to survive, she’d have little choice but to submit to Talmudic and Torah laws that keep her under alien religious bondage.
In the course of investigating the kosher certification industry, I have learned of an American history riddled with crime-tainted rackets and kosher price gouging from the earliest decades of the twentieth century. Protests and riots led to the formation of organizations defending Jewish rights and their dietary laws, Kashruth. Thenceforth, the movement to reform and regulate the kosher meat market gained strength, state laws were adopted that would give the kosher keeper robust legal protection.
But what if you’re the simple consumer who does not keep kosher, or wishes to avoid products and companies that are patronizing the religious kosher agencies for their certification services? Our surveys indicate that almost 40% of consumers object to this religious intrusion in food manufacturing. If you are a Christian, a Hindu, an Odinist, an agnostic, are there any protections in American society that help you avoid an unwitting donation to Jewish interests if that’s not your cup of kosher tea?
When Daughters of the American Revolution member Marian Strack boldly gave a speech renouncing the burgeoning practice in 1954, her peers scolded her and instructed her to just go buy products that are “not kosher certified” (henceforth, “NKC”). While that may have been possible sixty-seven years ago, the now colossal worldwide industry includes over 600 American kosher agencies certifying well over one million products, and for many categories of food and kitchen products there are no choices other than “kosher certified.” After a perusal of most supermarket aisles, one could easily conclude that kosher certification has been imposed on us by the system.
So with the preceding being the background in a nutshell, let’s examine the problem and potential avenues of protection. Are there any existing laws that may be applicable? Keep in mind that, as a layman in the subject-matter of our Constitution and the law, our discussion here is merely to introduce the issue and invite our true experts from our audience to help develop strategies that may protect the rights of consumers who wish to refrain from buying “kosher,” avoid the ubiquitous kosher seal, or have fair access to products free from this rabbinical intervention. Because even the most apolitical citizen should know that the largest kosher agency in the world, based in New York City, was a staunch supporter of spy Jonathan Pollard, who caused untold damage to our nation.
Typical situation: a consumer walks into a supermarket and wishes to buy a few needed items, including milk and eggs (for breakfast), peanut butter (for the kid’s lunch), and dry spaghetti (for the family dinner). Our experience has shown that if the shopper’s supermarket was a Costco big box store, this would yield no option other than kosher certified goods. The same goes for other national supermarket chains, including federally funded military commissaries: a great many product categories that fail to offer any NKC brand options—NOT Kosher Certified.
So does a consumer have any religious rights to avoid “kosher” when they walk in to a general retail store under such circumstances, just as the kosher keeper certainly has laws protecting him/her when shopping at a kosher retail market? Or better phrased, does the retailer, the distributor that supplies the store, or the food manufacturers have a duty not to discriminate in favor of the religion of Judaism, for the privilege of Jewish consumers, when presenting their selection of diverse edible and inedible offerings to the general marketplace? Note: there are countless inedible products certified kosher that we buy every day, including aluminum foil, food storage bags, dish soap, food wrap, laundry detergent, and dishwashing detergent to name a few.
The Civil Rights Act
When I approached this problem by inquiring into laws regarding fair access and consumer and religious rights for the kosher-avoiding consumer, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came to mind. Title II of this law is titled “Injunctive Relief Against Discrimination in Places of Public Accommodations.” Well, the supermarket is a place that accommodates the public when they shop for groceries, so maybe there’s something that will help here. Section 201 states:
All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. [my emphasis]
Okay, the supermarket or retail store is selling food products, which are goods. But then there’s this on what constitutes a place of public accommodation:
(b) Each of the following establishments which serves the public is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of this title if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action: …
(2) any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including, but not limited to, any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment; or any gasoline station;
It was clear that retail stores like supermarkets, whose primary business is selling food to be consumed at home, did not fall under part (2)’s definition. One might argue that most supermarket chains have deli style lunch counters, but these ready-to-eat sandwiches or meals are not typically eaten on premises, as is required for qualification in this law. More searching needed.
My search turned up numerous articles covering Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Upon reading many of these, it was clear that, while this section focused on “contracts” (and retail transactions are considered a contract), this law was clearly all about race, and provided no protections under religious freedom. On further examination, we read
All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.
Section 1981’s primary goal was to protect non-Whites. Even hypothetically in a far-out scenario, if Whites were institutionally discriminated against by a systemic Kosher Supremacy racket that wanted to ethnically suppress them and extract their wealth as insidious vengeance for European pogroms of centuries past, it appears that this law works in support of any ethnicity but Whites, given the legal text. We move on…
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) begins with Congressional Findings that
(1) the framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable right, secured its protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and (2) laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise, and (3) governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification.
This Act restores a “compelling interest test” that grants exceptions for government interests, and “it provides a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.” Many states have adopted their own RFRAs—this law has brought legal relief to Native American Indians, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and even the Floridian Orthodox Jewish prisoner, Bruce Rich, who demanded kosher food. Our first potential angle here might be supermarkets that are operated and controlled by the government. This, obviously, would not include your private grocery chain, but rather the hundreds of military commissaries found on Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine bases. Since the company founder behind www.TheKosherQuestion.com is a retired veteran, I can attest that when grocery shopping on these military installations, one finds that they eschew the very small food companies that might be NKC and free from kosher certification in favor of major national brands.
While at one of these commissaries, I searched for dry pasta and found one brand named “Freedom’s Choice,” produced by The Defense Commissary Agency, which was strictly kosher certified. Is it too much of a burden for Freedom’s Choice to produce dry pasta without rabbinical supervision? Does this preferential bias favoring the laws of just one religion, Judaism, constitute religious discrimination when there are no similar products sold neutral of religion—NKC? Where’s the freedom from contributing to a religious organization for which you may not belong? Perhaps this is the ideal case for RFRA; perhaps just the First Amendment alone might suffice if a Navy sailor filed suit in Federal court claiming that his religious freedom was infringed due to the single choice of this or that product, all strictly kosher certified. This might be worth further investigation.
Freedom’s Choice Macaroni Products – All kosher-certified by Orthodox Union
Even in a military commissary, all this dry pasta was exclusively kosher-certified
The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act
But what about laws that are “neutral” to religion? How about the law behind the two government agencies which are supposed to protect the American consumer—the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? These are two large government bureaucracies that fall under the supposedly religiously neutral Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967 (FPLA). Besides its role in regulating labels for consumer commodities, disclosing net contents, identifying name and place of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor, this Act further authorizes regulations where necessary to “prevent unfair or deceptive packaging and labeling.” Finally, I may have a law that will work for the kosher-avoiding consumer!
After performing our own research study on kosher seals, the statistical analysis suggested that there was a deceptive trade practice in play industry-wide, and it involves low transparency. I submitted not just one, but two FTC complaints that point towards labeling practices that keep consumers from easily recognizing a product’s kosher certification seal for what it is. Many are so small—averaging just 10% the size of most other food certification seals—that people simply don’t see them, mistake what they are, or overlook their meaning. Others, like the circled “U” of OU Kosher or the “CRC” symbol of Chicago Rabbinical Council are just symbolically too obscure. Certainly a complaint as well researched and explained as ours might pique the interests of the FTC, and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act should have proceeded to grant us religious justice! But instead, the government agency message I received back was one of indifference, a boiler plate email instructing us how to avoid fraud!
In reviewing the purpose of FPLA, it does seem that it is the most viable legal option to force companies into displaying very large, easily understood kosher symbols with the text “KOSHER CERTIFIED” stamped beside alongside, a transparency that might cause food companies one way or another into producing NKC options on their own for many products. Such a strategy might create a natural market-driven track towards religious freedom from kosher intrusion as the general consumer base becomes kosher aware.
However, our realistic view from this agency’s response to our complaints and the ubiquity of kosher certification suggests that the FTC has a bias in favor of the kosher industry. Otherwise, I don’t believe kosher labeling could have ever become so absurdly obfuscated with the FPLA in place for fifty-four years. I invite interested parties to press harder with this law. Perhaps the government’s continued disregard and purposeful inaction will trigger rights under the RFRA!
One of our company’s own goals is to enact state-wide protectionist laws for consumers who refrain from keeping kosher, equal in power to the numerous existing laws protecting kosher keepers. Since only minute percentage of the shopping public is even aware of ubiquitous kosher certification, it is the low transparency that produces this lack of awareness; state laws could perhaps help. Interestingly, the Jewish community insists on mandated high transparency for themselves, as is evident in this California Penal Code 383b:
Every person…who sells or exposes for sale in the same place of business both kosher and nonkosher meat or meat preparations, either raw or prepared for human consumption, who fails to indicate on his [sic!] window signs in all display advertising in block letters at least four inches in height ‘kosher and nonkosher meats sold here’” (my emphasis).
Just for comparison sake, with no laws protecting the general consumer from deception or mandating four-inch block letters, see the kosher-certified dishwashing detergent below. If you didn’t notice the registered trademark symbol beside the “e” in Cascade, you might have thought the OU Kosher seal was just that, a registered trademark symbol.
Yellow arrow points to OU Kosher Seal
Writing laws that would be fair to the kosher-refraining consumer might be fairly simple, and this would definitely be a strategy to promote kosher awareness while respecting religious freedom for all. However, getting such laws passed by the state legislatures would likely be difficult, requiring considerable time, effort, money and human resources—i.e., a movement. Furthermore, the largest kosher agency, OU, financially supports numerous programs for Jewish interests, and OU Advocacy is one of them. One could expect firm resistance as lobby groups like this, the ADL, and other Jewish organizations would presumably attempt to smear any legislative campaign that would disrupt the current kosher money spigot; they would likely label such a proposed law as “anti-Semitic.” One need only look at the media after the Dutch banned kosher slaughter as an example. An interesting statement from this footnoted article by the ADL is this:
We call upon the Dutch Senate to prevent this action from leading to a clear violation of religious freedom that has a disproportionate impact on the Jewish community.
Only approximately 22% of the American Jewish Community strictly follow the kosher laws—about 0.3% of our entire population. And yet the food industry is almost completely kosher certified. So where are the organizations clamoring on behalf of religious freedom for the 99.7%, disproportionately impacted, disproportionately subsidizing the costs of the entire affair? Maybe The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will go to bat for our cause!
Fair and Non-Discriminatory Access in the General Marketplace
There is a need for new laws to protect the religious rights of those outside the Jewish faith when they shop for food and kitchen supplies, their first source for sustenance. It is our view that beyond the transparency in labeling, prime importance should be given to regulating “access” to NKC products in the general marketplace (i.e., not specializing in Kosher). Our best example of “access” legislation would be the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here we find a robust set of regulations protecting a particular minority in America, those with disabilities, from discrimination and prejudice so that they may enjoy the fruits of society like all others:
Congress finds that the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.
With all due respect to helping minorities that are harmed by the system, we implore Congress to find once…just once…from the goodness in their heart, the motivation to protect the majority when a minority religion has immeasurable and possibly detrimental institutional power. We would ask them to write into law the framework to regulate “NKC access” for the great majority, an access unavailable to hard-working men and women of many faiths and identities, most of whom are not kosher keepers. It took over two hundred years for the disabled to get fair access, giving them legal recourse if discriminated against. And their time has come. Let us now move to address American religious freedom vs. the kosher industry, an industry that even in holy Jerusalem has problems with under-the-table bribery payments and requirements for businesses to buy from specific suppliers.
An orthodox Christian—one who believes that Jesus abrogated the laws of Kashrus for his sect—goes to his grocery store to buy garlic salt to flavor his meal for the evening. He is presented three choices: McCormick, Lawry’s and It’s Delish. All three are kosher-certified. Similar findings would occur at any of the other local stores in his town. The man needs his salt, but to purchase any of these would impact his religious belief. He even thinks “What would Jesus do?,” and recalls John 2:16 where Jesus said in anger “Stop turning my father’s house into a marketplace!” But today, the marketplace is almost completely supervised by the rabbis. They control the ingredients, oversee the production, make surprise inspections, often install Machgichim (kosher supervisors) on plant sites, close production lines down for 24 hours for Talmud-prescribed cleaning, they even issue kosher alerts and “take corrective action” when companies miss a step. Finally, they collect tax-exempt fees for their services and travel, revenue that is unaccountable to the public. This particular Christian man wants none of this, but he is left no choice if his meat is to be flavored tonight. He could protest, like those many disabled in wheel chairs seeking ramp access, only to be rudely offered stairs to contend with. The ADA bureaucracy and an army of lawyers are prepared to help them. Instead, this lonely man prays to God and asks forgiveness for having to contribute to this growing menace, an infringement on his religious freedom.
Will there ever be legal recourse that mandates NKC access, kosher seal and kosher cost transparency, or reasonable reform on restricting the intersectional religious-secular industry in so much that they impact our liberty? We must realistically frame such possibilities in this current system with the old saying “Cum Grano Salis.”