Brooklyn, NY – Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) and Mr. Alexander Rapaport of Masbia Soup Kitchen have joined forces to draft a religious ban prohibiting Passover price gouging in the Orthodox Jewish community. This decree, known as a kol koreh or a public pronouncement, is not a new phenomenon in the religious Jewish community. There is a great deal of precedent in Jewish law for rabbis to issue edicts against monopolies or other situations which are deemed spiritually reckless.
Signed by 30 prominent rabbis, this kol koreh employs strong language. The headline declares, “One must be extra careful in circumstances where a monetary loss will be incurred.” States the edict, “Now before Passover, especially when the economy is so bad, we are reminding people of the Jewish law concerning monopolies.” The rabbis further caution store owners to have mercy on the consumer all year around, but particularly at Passover when there is so much need. “And it is forbidden to take advantage of market prices before the holiday and to raise prices without a justifiable reason,” warns the decree.
In addition to the edict, Hikind has secured commitments from major distributors to sell Passover items at or below cost. Golden Flow, Mehadrin Dairy, Ahava Foods, and World Cheese Co., Inc. (Ha’Olam) have all agreed to maintain their year-round pricing for Passover. Reisman Bakery and Materna (the Israeli baby formula and food company) have each announced a 15 percent discount on all their kosher-for-Passover products.
These distributors are among those praised in the ban by the rabbis. “We were happy to hear that some stores and manufacturers listened to the poor in our community, and have either brought down prices or agreed not to raise them. The Almighty should bless their efforts and people should learn from them and replicate their actions.”
In explaining his reasoning behind the need for this ban, Hikind said, “I do not begrudge any store owner from making a living. I am just asking owners to have compassion and not to take advantage of people just because they can get away with it. I am hoping those who determine the prices will adhere to the kol koreh.”
Unlike many rabbinical decrees where rabbis’ names are added without their perusal or consent, this kol koreh was read and signed personally by each rabbi listed. Following is the list of rabbis who have affixed their name to the ban:
Rabbi Moshe Freidman, Satmar Dayen; Rabbi Yechiel Mechil Steinmetz, Skver Dayen; Rabbi Shlomo Gross, Belz Dayen; Rabbi Yecheskel Roth, Karlesburg Rov; Rabbi Yitzchok Stein, Foltishan Dayen; Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Friedlander, Liske Rov; Rabbi Avroham Friedlander, Hivnover Rov; Rabbi Pinchas Shulom Hager, Viznitz Rov; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Rosenberg, Viznitz Dayen; Rabbi Shrage Favish Hager, Kosov Rebbe; Rabbi Moshe Fogel, Ger Dayen; Rabbi Elye Fischer, Ger Rosh Hakollel; Rabbi Yakkov Miller, Eizenshtater Rov; Rabbi Avroham Chaim Schteinwurtzel, Matei Efrayim Rov; Rabbi Gavriel Tzinner, Neitei Gavriel Rov; Rabbi Chaim Eluzer Freidman, Tenke Rov; Rabbi Aron Glick, Kameniz Rov; Rabbi Chaim Yeshuah Konig, Yokeh Rov; Rabbi Moshe Menachem Weiss, Pupe Dayen; Rabbi Yechiel Kaufman, Sfardish Shul Rov and Executive Director of BPJCC; Rabbi Yakov Perlow, Noviminsker Rebbe; Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, Emunas Yisroel Rov and Mashgiach of Torah Voda’as; Rabbi Yakov Yisroel Rubin Brizdovitz Rov; Rabbi Psachaya Fried, Bnei Yisroel Rov; Rabbi Shulem Yosef Chaim Hacohen Fried Krasne Rov; Rabbi Aron Wieder, Linzer Rov; Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Bik, Nachlas Moshe; Rabbi Bezion Hacohen Strasser, Neitre Dayen; Rabbi Gershon Tenenbaum, Linben Hights Rov; and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Rosh Yeshivas Beis Meir Rov of Telzer Minyan.
As part of his ongoing campaign to fight Passover price inflation, Hikind’s office also conducted a survey over the last six weeks to determine if store owners are capitalizing on consumers in one of the worst financial climates in recent history. Basic Passover items such as sugar, coffee, and quartered chicken, among other products were surveyed.
In Brooklyn, a 5lb bag of kosher-for-Passover Domino sugar sold from $2.79 to $3.69, while Gefen, CRC, and Lieber’s sugar sold for as much as $6.99 a bag depending on the store and the certification. The same held true for a 7oz. can of coffee. Under its own label, the price for kosher-for-Passover Taster’s Choice ranges between $7.49 and $9.99. On cans which feature an added certification, the price jumped to as high as $14.45 per container. Other brands like Maxwell House, Elite, and Lieber’s were even cheaper than either Taster’s Choice options at most Brooklyn stores.
Surprisingly, the price for quartered chicken remained fairly static from February to March in Brooklyn with prices hovering near $2.69/lb or slightly higher. Some stores even dropped their prices by as much as 50 to 70 cents per pound in March. Queens residents saw a forty cent increase per pound in three of their major stores, with a much smaller, per-pound increase in the Five Towns.
“My advice to every consumer shopping this Passover is ‘buyer beware,’ said Hikind. “While it may be inconvenient to patronize several different stores this Passover, the overall savings will definitely add up.”