Posts Tagged Melbourne

How the ‘Kashrut Racket’ drives Jews away from practicing Judaism

Olive Oil

Olive Oil (Photo credit: desegura89)

Note for my non-Jewish readers: please refer to the glossary at the end if you don’t understand any of the Hebrew/Yiddish terms.

I would say it’s time to blow the whistle on this, but what I am about to write about is such an ‘open secret’ in Australia at least that the whistle has been well and truly blown by now. What has not really been considered enough are the ramifications of what has been going on.

I’ll begin with a personal story.

A few years ago, I was organising an overnight event for young Jews in NSW. As a matter of practice, all such events should be kosher-catered – clearly, not to do so would exclude all of the more practicing members of the community, which is not something that Jewish organisations should be in the business of doing.

For some background: the extremely stringent standard of kashrut kept by Judaism’s current brand of Orthodoxy (which is not the same as has always been practiced) mandates that people like the leadership of Jewish communal organisations cannot be trusted to make sure that the cooking is done correctly. Instead, all food preparation must be officially certified by, in this case, Sydney’s Kashrut Authority (‘KA’).

This meant that in organising the camp, I had the extreme displeasure of having to gain approval from the KA. Fortunately for me, a friend of mine at the time was a certified moshgiach with the KA and he had agreed to supervise the camp’s kitchen on a pro bono basis.

Of course, having a certified moshgiach is still not sufficient for Orthodoxy Inc., which requires the KA’s actual stamp of approval.

That left me with the task of calling the KA and asking for approval to call the camp ‘kosher’. Naturally, the woman on the other end of the line was *shocked* that we were contemplating having a kosher event with a moshgiach and not paying the KA. It wouldn’t stand, she quote a figure of several hundred dollars and hung up the phone.

The organisation that I was working for is not particularly wealthy. Those several hundred dollars were much more than we could afford if we hoped to charge a cover fee that our members would actually pay. I had to call back and practically beg for an exception to be made, given the service we were doing for the community and the fact that we were doing this in order that Orthodox Jews not be excluded etc. etc. I think we got away with it in the end, but I left the affair with a very sour taste in my mouth.

This story was far from unique. It is, in fact, just a tiny example of the extortion racket that the KAs in Sydney and elsewhere have become.

There is a vegan restaurant that I know of in Bondi, which pays thousands of dollars each year to the Melbourne KA in order to be kosher certified and so appeal to the large Jewish clientele in the area (the Sydney KA were outside their budget). Now, kosher laws only really govern meat/seafood. If there is a restaurant that is completely vegetarian, you can be more or less certain that all of the food it serves is kosher. Vegan, even more so.

Anything that is vegan necessarily complies with every single law of kashrut bar one. What one would that be? The one requiring large cash payoffs to the KA. This is how there are such arbitrary differences between what different KAs will and will not accept as kosher.

For example, for those following the Melbourne KA, here are the Australian oils you can buy this Pesach:

ADELPHIA (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
BANABAN (www.naturepacific.com)
*Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, *Virgin Coconut Oil
BENEVITA (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
CECCONI’S CANTINA
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COBRAM ESTATE
+Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Rich & Robust Extra Virgin Olive
Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Pictual Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Premiere Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COCKATOO GROVE (www.cockatoogrove.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COLES
+Australian Extra Virgin Olive oil
COORONG
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DIANA
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DISSEGNA (dissegna@activ8.net.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
FRATTALI (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra VirginOlive Oil
OLIVE GROVE
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OLLO
+Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity, +Mild & Mellow
OZOLIO
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PROCHEF
+Extra Virgin Coconut Oil Spray, +Extra VirginOliveOil Spray
PUREHARVEST
+Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
THE BIG OLIVE (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray

As for Sydney, you can pick from this list:

ALTO OLIVES
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Delicate
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Lemon Infused
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Robust
BENEVITA
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COORONG
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
MACADAMIA OILS OF AUSTRALIA
P Macadamia Oil
OLLO
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Fresh and Fruity
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Mild and Mellow
OZOLIO
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PRESSED PURITY BY PROTECO
P Cold Pressed Almond Oil
P Cold Pressed Apricot Oil
P Cold Pressed Avocado Oil
P Cold Pressed Macadamia Oil
P Cold Pressed Olive Oil
P Cold Pressed Walnut Oil
PROCHEF
P Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray
R SOLOMON & CO
P Cottonseed Oil ONLY when bearing a Diamond KA – Kosher for Pesach Logo
THE BIG OLIVE
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil

So why exactly are, for example, Adelphia and Banaban oils kosher in Melbourne but not in Sydney? This is conjecture, but my bet would be that, similar to the vegan restaurant in Bondi, they could afford the Melbourne KA’s fees, but not those of the Sydney KA. I don’t believe for one second that it’s about ‘higher standards’ and not higher fees.

Why does this matter?

I’m glad you asked.

Essentially, keeping kosher these days is not an easy thing to do. If you live any distance away from the Jewish population centres in the major cities, you had better get used to eating plain chips and the tiny selection of chocolates and other goods with the official KA stamp. If you want to eat anything that can vaguely be described as ‘interesting’ – especially any meat products – you need to be prepared to spend 2-3 times what you would pay for the same item without the kosher stamp.

More to the point, if you want to go out for a meal, you are essentially restricted to four overpriced restaurants in Bondi. When you are at functions or parties, you have to either bring your own food or make sure that the host has ordered you a ready-to-microwave meal from Lewis’ Kosher Kitchen. For this reason, most of my friends who intend to keep kosher will still go out and eat a vegetarian meal at a non-kosher restaurant. Also for this reason, most of my other friends do not keep kosher.

The exorbitant costs of being kosher-certified ensure that there is little competition in the kosher catering industry. In order to remain officially kosher, new restaurants or caterers have to increase their prices and push-down their profit margins so that they remain competitive in an already difficult market.

Further, the arbitrary way in which products are designated ‘kosher’ or ‘non-kosher’ – not much to do with the preparation of the food, but everything to do with who the company has paid-off – makes the whole kosher enterprise lose credibility in many eyes.

In essence, thanks to the KAs, being kosher in Australia is both expensive and unappetising. The KA extortion racket is reducing the culinary choices for practicing Jews in Australia and, in doing so, ensuring that fewer Jews in Australia could be described as ‘practicing.’

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Kashrut: refers to Jewish dietary laws. You probably know the word ‘kosher’ – same kind of idea.

Moshgiach: a person who is employed to supervise the preparation of the food in order to ensure that it is being done in accordance with kashrut.

 

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Outdated industrial relations dampening Sydney’s “life”

Ross Gittins thinks it’s a horrible idea to give up our penalty rates and allow for more flexible working hours because those nasty “bosses” will stop workers from seeing their families and because having access to goods and services during “non-business” hours is bad for us because it stops us from doing things like kicking a football.

Thanks Ross, I love when people tell me that I shouldn’t be doing what I want to do because that would be “commercialising leisure”, which is bad, because “commercial” means bad and anything that doesn’t involve commerce must be good. Right?

Workers pay the penalty for one-way flexibility.

It’s not hard to see why there’s been so little public questioning of this push towards a 24/7 economy. It’s highly convenient to be able to shop whenever we have the time. The more two-income families we have, the more we value the ability to shop throughout the weekend.

It also fits with the trend towards leisure being commercialised – becoming something we buy (a meal out, a show) rather than something we do (kick a football in the park with our kids).

But this belief that life would be better if shops, restaurants and places of entertainment were open all hours rests on the assumption you and I won’t be among those required to work unsociable hours to make it happen. An even less obvious assumption is that the push for a 24/7 economy will stop when it has captured shopping and entertainment; it won’t continue and reach those of us who work in factories and offices.

As usual, the ”flexibility” being sought is one-sided. Employers gain the ability to require people to work – or not work – at times that suit their firm’s efforts to maximise its profits.

If those times don’t fit with your family responsibilities – or just with your desire to enjoy your life (you selfish person, you) – or if the boss’s requirements keep changing in unpredictable ways, that’s just too bad.

Gittins is a columnist, which is not necessarily a 9-5 job. I am willing to bet he has the chance to sleep in some days and that he can get things done during the week.

I can’t.

Like most people, I have a job that goes 9-5, Monday-Friday and more often than not, this ends up being 8:30-6:30. With the current industrial relations regime in Australia, as soon as 5pm hits shops and restaurants need to start paying their staff more, which means it becomes less viable for them to be open and the city all but dies after 6. That means all of the shops and cafes that I would go to in the evenings are closed, as are other service I’d access like doctors etc — meaning that I don’t ever go to them.

Ironically, one by-product is that, since I never have time to shop (except on Thursday nights, when everything is so busy that it’s unpleasant anyway), I have even more reason to buy things online, from overseas and hence help kill Australia’s retail sector, putting the people working until 6pm out of their jobs. Of course, there are other factors at play (hint: protectionist trade barriers, high wages and high property prices), but this is definitely significant.

Similarly, the fact that cafes can’t afford to open on Sundays mean that the people who would otherwise be working on Sundays and enjoying my patronage are instead not working. Rather than having a job, the penalty rates are giving them no job. That’s great for workers!

It also puts Australia at odds with the rest of the world. I love being in places like New York or Tel Aviv where you can get access to anything at any time and the city feels alive at all hours. Sydney and Melbourne will never feel like this so long as penalty rates turn the cities into ghost towns after 6pm.  I think this has a very negative effect on the social aspects of the cities in general.

Finally, as always, it’s really about choice. Mr Gittins can go to the park and kick a football on weekends if he wants to, as can I, but why should I not be allowed to also go shopping after dark? Especially if there are uni students willing to work a 1pm-9pm shift and serve me because they get to sleep in? Why should that be banned?

Oh, that’s right, because if it’s “commercial” it’s not really leisure.

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