Atlanta, GA – Conservative Rabbi Wins Fight Against Kosher Law

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    FILE - Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, Ga., filed a lawsuit on Aug. 7, 2009 challenging his state's kosher law on the grounds that it discriminates against non-Orthodox Judaism. (Courtesy Congregation Etz Chaim)Atlanta, GA – Governor Sonny Purdue signed into law a bill repealing the unconstitutional Kosher Food Labeling Act and replacing it with a new law mandating that consumers be fully informed about the standards under which any kosher food product is certified as being kosher. The bill, signed Thursday, was prompted by an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit and was passed by the Georgia legislature last month.

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    The previous Kosher Food Labeling Act required that any food sold as kosher in the state meet “Orthodox Hebrew religious rules and requirements,” delegitimizing alternative interpretations of kosher adhered to in other Jewish communities. The new law no longer institutionalizes an official definition of kosher and instead requires that all food and food establishments represented as being kosher clearly disclose to consumers the practices and standards by which the food was prepared.

    “The state should never be in the position of deciding which religious beliefs are ‘legitimate’ and which are not,” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “The state legislature did the right thing by making clear that the power to define what is religiously acceptable should never rest with the government. These are personal religious decisions.”

    The ACLU, ACLU of Georgia and cooperating attorneys from King & Spalding filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Cobb County challenging the constitutionality of the Kosher Food Labeling Act.

    “The Georgia legislature is to be commended for creating a law that affirms our nation’s bedrock American principle of respecting everyone’s religious beliefs,” said Rabbi Lewis who, as a Conservative Jew, had been unable to lawfully fulfill his rabbinical duties to supervise food establishments because his theological interpretation of the kosher laws differ from that of Orthodox Judaism. “It has been very gratifying working with the Orthodox community to achieve this result, which provides protection to consumers by enabling them to make informed choices about the food they buy and fosters enhanced respect and mutuality within the community.”

    One of the most vital services that Lewis provides to his congregants is serving as their mashgiach, the Hebrew term for a person who supervises any type of food service establishment – including restaurants, grocery stores and caterers – to ensure that food is acceptably kosher. But because Lewis cannot certify the preparation of food in accordance with Orthodox Hebrew requirements, he has been prohibited by law from serving as the mashgiach of any kosher food operation – a fact that jeopardized his ability to fulfill his calling as a duly ordained rabbi of the Jewish faith and impeded his religious freedom. If Lewis had violated the state’s previous kosher laws by supervising food establishments using a different interpretation of kosher than the law had required, the laws could have been enforced against him, damaging his reputation and subjecting him and others to criminal charges and fines.

    The ACLU’s lawsuit charged that the Kosher Food Labeling Act violated the religious liberty guarantees of both the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions by endorsing only “Orthodox Hebrew religious rules and requirements” and criminalizing the practices of the many people across the state who, while seeking kosher products, subscribe to interpretations of kosher that differ from those of Orthodox Jews.

    “Previous law in Georgia violated the fundamental pillars of religious liberty by endorsing one particular set of beliefs and impeding the free religious exercise of those who believe differently,” said Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The government should never take sides in theological debates.”

    The ACLU of Georgia and the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief were joined by the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding LLP as co-counsel for Rabbi Lewis.


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    133 Comments
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    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    This is the right outcome for both orthodox and conservative jews. We shouldn’t have the government providing the oversight of kosher establishments. Its a slipperly slope when the government decides whose hashgacha is sufficient to meet the test of “orthodox hebrew rules”. The next thing you know, they amend the law to say that only chassideshe hashgacha meets the standard and litvashe mashgichim aren’t really machmir enough. After that, only food prepared under Nikeslburg hashgacha could be sold in Georgia. Where will it end? It should be enough to disclose whose hashgacha is used and let the customers decide.

    Dag
    Dag
    14 years ago

    This won’t be popular, but this is the right thing for the Gov’t to do. That Kosher Law WAS Unconsitutional.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Can someone kindly explain what conservative Jews call Kosher?

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    i think this is fair as long as they disclose the exact (sub) standards of kashrus…

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    What does conservative kosher mean? What rules do they obey and which ones don’t they.

    Rabbi
    Rabbi
    14 years ago

    Kol Ha’Doresh, le’Atzmo Doresh.

    Avigdor Loeb
    Avigdor Loeb
    14 years ago

    No, biggy. So it’ll be just like in a number of other states, so the consumer will have the info he needs, and in more detail, than previously. People who are serious about their kashrus should be happy.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Kosher is a halachically defined criteria not a state one. Therefore, if there is to be a kosher standard it should be defined by halacha.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    This proports to be an Orthodox website.

    Shalom Lewis may be a clergyman — a rabbi, even, perhaps — but he’s not Rabbi.

    Dave
    Dave
    14 years ago

    This is effectively the same rule as in New York, and for the same reasons.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    So “Rabbi” Lewis not only got himself a ton of free publicity, but made his agenda known to the Orthodox community so we know to avoid these places he supervises. Are there really a lot of them, anyhow?

    Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone
    Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone
    14 years ago

    The fact that this gentleman supervises food production will not impede Kashrus.
    Ever Yid who is commited to Torah MiSinai will see the product/services with his name attached and will not eat thereof.
    He can say and do whatever he wants that will never effect his lack of neemonus, he dwells outside the camp of Bnei Yisroel when and if he usurps the Toras Yisroel.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    It’d be interesting to know if the law was written and consequently always understood to use the term ‘orthodox’ as “ordinary or usual” as opposed to referring to Orthodox Judaism.

    Either way, this rabbi seems to have a lot of time on his hands. Did he really fear prosecution or was he just bored?

    Been there
    Been there
    14 years ago

    There are certain products which some Conservative ‘rabbis’ deem kosher–for example, swordfish–which are clearly not considered kosher by any orthodox rabbi.

    This is all about power and money. The Conservative ‘rabbi’ wanted to make money as a ‘mashgiach.’

    fine, but....
    fine, but....
    14 years ago

    what is their code of Jewish law? Do they have one?

    Microsoft 2D Barcode
    Microsoft 2D Barcode
    14 years ago

    Hashgacha’s should start using Microsoft’s interactive 2D bar codes instead of old fashioned symbols. If you snap a picture of it with your PDA phone, it connects to more information online. You probably saw them already and didn’t realize, for instance I just saw it on a bottle of Zyrtec, In addition to giving you more information on the Hashgacha, they could give you kashrus updates in real time, instead of waiting for an ad in the Yated or the Jewish Press.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    This law is probably for the best. How would the state choose which standard to use? Glatt, non-Glatt, or Beis Yakov Glatt? Cholov Yisroel or Cholov Stam? And many other issues like this. It’s best to just require them to say which standards they are using and then the consumers can choose for themselves whether or not to eat there.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Does this law require that an establishment state specifically whether the mashgiach is orthodox, conservative or whatever? That would be great! If so, then the establishment should also be required to state whether the meat is Sephardi shchita or Ashkenazi shchita because of the differences in halacha. Maybe it should also state glat versus not glat…

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    B”H
    I think its better for the conservative rabbi to supervise then no one… I would not personally eat anything that he supervised but for his congregation or other non orthodox better than nothing
    everyone needs to stop being so negative
    I am very frum (chasid with full beard) and would encourage the guy instead of discouraging him.
    he may one day become totally frum if we treat him with respect etc

    Nebach
    Nebach
    14 years ago

    Besides, Seriously speaking since when does the State know who is Orthodox or not? Maybe Conservative is more kosher than Orthodox! How can the State define something that is or isn’t kosher?

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Where was the ortodox union and the Agudah?

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    My understanding is that conservatives consider all processed food as kosher as long as the product had the words “Made In” next to the country of origin.

    They originally wanted the OK symbol to say that all food ok to eat but that was taken and not all products.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Anyone who keeps Kosher should Not Eat/Buy food unless he knows the Rav Hamachshir and what his standards are we don’t need the State for this

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    The court has no more business defining what constitutes orthodox standards that it does defining kosher. This law is no more constitutional than the first.

    goodilan
    goodilan
    14 years ago

    Whatever the conservative movement’s official statement is on kashrus, how they act in practice is appalling. When I was a student at the American Jewish University, what I saw of the standards shocked me, and I was not even frum at the time. Rabbinical students would openly eat McDonald’s in the cafeteria. Their homes had no separation of meat and milk and just as much assur kinds of meat as any gentiles. When I asked about it, the late Dr. David Leiber, former Dean of the University and a major figure in the old school conservative movement, told me rather sadly that for most of the current generations of Rabbis kashrus wasn’t even something they thought about. Although within the frum world we might have different standards, what the average conservative Jew has, and I include how I was back then, is nowhere near even basic kashrus.

    Alan
    Alan
    14 years ago

    How ironic: The state’s duty is to prevent mislabeling, a type of fraud. It is not the duty of the state to act as super nanny for Jews (or non Jews) as many in these posts seem to think. Many frum Jews vote for and support right-wing candidates, but hop on the left’s bus of having government support their (admittedly correct) agenda. Please Yiddin take responsibility for reading food labels, following up with ALL products claiming Kosher supervision. Once my Rabbi called a colleague in Brooklyn (where the time was 2 AM) to verify kashrus, The awakened Rabbi was happy to comply

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

     #21 – Cool idea, but not practical. Not everyone carries internet enabled devices with them at all times. Perhaps the stores could have an internet enabled scanner in every aisle with a display. I’ve seen this before in regards to prices of items. Scan your item to see the price. Now, show the hechser too.

    Still a cool idea, still not practical.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    everyone has the right to make their own kosher product according to their own standards, but that is important to mention “conservative, modern orthodox, orthodox, chasidish” affiliation with the name of Rabbi, so people can choose without problem
    but so many hechsherim, people will get lost !!!

    Meir
    Meir
    14 years ago

    Conservative Smicha: Vsamach et yado al rosh hapar, candidates must deny Torah mi’ Sinai, be willing to eat treif and be mechallel shabbos, must not keep taharat hamispacha and be egalitarian, being gay gets extra points, being a gay woman even more and being a gay black woman gets you automatic papers
    Conservative kosher, killed humanely, grown humanely, processed in a clean factory by workers who are paid well, treated well and the last factor is that it tastes good
    no need to go by the Shulchan Aruch, no need for a real mashgiach, PETA inspectors will do

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Why shouldn’t the headline say “conservative priest”? Or maybe “conservative clown”? He is not a Rabbi (probably even not a real jew).

    yehud
    yehud
    14 years ago

    everybody knows that just sefardik hashgacha and kashrut meets Torah requirements since our great principle : safek safeka lo lehakel !

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    The fact is that many mainstream, even chassidish hashgochot allow peeling of minor sirchot and still market the meat as “glatt”. I’ve been there, I’ve watched the peeling. It aint Bait Yosef glatt, but they still call it glatt.

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Re: # 10 and # 26

    MO are genuine Orthodox Jews and your placing them in a lesser category is highly objectionable.

    The same for casting aspirsions on the Triange K.

    Being machmir is supposedly an aspect of Chassidus – taking on chumras to effect improvement in mitzah observance – including middos.

    The writers of the postings numbered 10 and 26 apparently require more chumras in hilchos lashon harah.

    Tanya
    Tanya
    14 years ago

    Next thing, the Gov’t wiil arrest all those that say the BP Erev is Kosher, since, Reb Moshe Feinstein holds that carrying in Brooklyn, is Osur Min Hatorah.

    The Gov’t will also fine, all those that say, you don’t need to filter your water.

    How about the stores that sell salmon with all those worms, they should be arrested.

    What is the Govt Shittah regarding the Kashrus of a Mikveh?

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    F.Y.I – surprised that no one mentioned that one of the senior partners of King & Spaulding is frum Yid, graduate of YU & Harvard law.

    Israeli
    Israeli
    14 years ago

    All this reminds me of Belz/Eida Chareidis in the 1970’s. The Eida paskened then, and has never retracted, that Belzer shechita is dinom k’neveilos utreifos.
    Milhouse – you get my point, don’t you?
    P.S. I eat both!

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Why shouldn’t the headline say “conservative priest”? Or maybe “conservative clown”? He is not a Rabbi (probably even not a real jew).

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    This law poses a bigger problem for goyim that rely on kosher certification for allergy or vegetarian/vegan reasons, ultimately effecting the bottom line of kosher certified products and establishments which will no longer be trusted

    Ralbag
    Ralbag
    14 years ago

    maybe Hebrew Nation will finally get the recognitionit deserves

    Paskunyak
    Paskunyak
    14 years ago

    This article was written and widely published over 20 years ago. It is still true today:
    The REFORMulation of Judaism

    This is the Jewish year 5770. We received the Torah at Mount Sinai approximately 3300 years ago. The Torah is our “Bible”, the “Word of G-D”, and our “Law”. Traditional Judaism continues until
    now but not without its detractors and reformers.

    In the late 1800’s a group of assimilated Jews in Germany decided to do to Judaism what Coca-Cola
    did (to their formula) a few years ago, they REFORMulated Judaism. They threw out the old and brought in the new!

    The changes were so drastic that many of the followers of the new religion didn’t recognize any of
    the practices as the Judaism they knew. A group of reformers separated to become the “Conservative” members of reform “Judaism” and eventually broke away to form their own “Conservative” movement of Judaism which is closer to Traditional Judaism but falls short on observance as they are not quite sure if the Torah is given by G-D or written by man.

    The REFORMulated Jews or “Reform” as they call themselves decided that one need not believe in G-D to be a Jew. They decided that the manner to become a rabbi was to take some history courses
    in a University and become involved in social issues. Traditionally to become a Rabbi a man must believe in G-d, know that the Torah is the word of G-d and abide by & perform the precepts in the Torah. He must have expert knowledge in a multitude of subjects relating to Jewish law, customs
    & history and must be deemed to have a high moral character. A proficiency examination is then administered by a Torah observant Rabbi or a Torah observant Institution in order to obtain his S’micha (ordination).

    They decided that you can be considered Jewish if your father is Jewish even if your mother is not. Traditionally, the method of determining if someone is Jewish is either he or she was born of a Jewish MOTHER or he or she had a “KOSHER” conversion according to the requirements of the universal Halachah (traditional Jewish law) administered by a Torah observant Rabbinical Court.

    And the REFORMulation continues.

    Torah Observant/Orthodox Jews don’t usually associate (in religious matters) with the breakaway groups or any other deviant forms of practices calling themselves “streams”, “branches” or “movements” of Judaism. Those groups then whine that we are separating ourselves from them (!)
    or that we are somehow to blame for their problems.

    There are some “Modern Orthodox” Rabbi’s who will associate with the other groups and some may even sit on their boards for matters relating to community or civic affairs but nobody recognizes or approves of their religious practices and views.

    We have nothing in common with their so called Rabbis. They do not represent us. Their idea of Jewish practice is different than ours. Their laws and practices can arbitrarily change and are regularly changed at their annual convention. Our Traditional laws cannot and are not changed but are applicable to everyday life throughout the generations.

    The reformulated Coke was a short-lived failure but Coke Classic is still around. “It’s the Real Thing!”

    What legally defines "kosher"?
    What legally defines "kosher"?
    14 years ago

    Can a goy decide what he considers “kosher” and give such legal “hashgocha”?

    And if for some odd reason (since it would be discriminatory to insist that) it must be someone from the Jewish people (which itself raises the question – what legally defines someone as “Jewish” – does it include Jews for J? One with only a Jewish father? One who “feels” Jewish? Or members of Islam who consider themselves “true” Jews?), can an atheist (Jewish, of course) decide his standard of “kosher”?

    If anyone can legally call anything “kosher”, then yes, why not a Conservative or Reform heretic? I guess kosher can legally apply to bacon and shrimp since it has no enforceable meaning.

    Indeed, why should “kosher” even require the designation by a “clergy” – after all, even a bonafide mashgiach need not be a “musmach” or an official member of the clergy? Let the company itself certify that the product is “kosher” in their opinion!

    This is simply bad law and it was improperly argued in court. Unfortunately it sets a bad precedent until it is (hopefully) it is properly appealed.

    Some of you are too blinded by the smokescreen from the left liberal position of the state “deciding” religious standards

    Anonymous
    Anonymous
    14 years ago

    Consider the alternative though. In France there’s only Conservative meat slaughterhouse allowed, no Orthodox. It’s better that the government doesn’t get involved in matters like this.

    Paskunyak
    Paskunyak
    14 years ago

    FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES:

    Go onto the websites of the Conservative Organizations higherarchy or Reform for that matter, and see what their philosophy is.

    No need to argue about something you know so little about as is obvious in many of the comments I’ve read.

    You will see that the Reforms are chazer fressers and that the Conservative while many won’t eat actual chazer are treif fressers. LOOK IT UP!

    Make sure your brain is in gear before putting your jaw into drive!

    Bubbemaysses
    Bubbemaysses
    14 years ago

    Getting smicha simply means that one has learnt the various sections of the Shulchan Aruch regarding kashrus and treifus, hilchois Shabbos and has been tested by a qualified and authentic Rov. Anything less than that is nonsense. A proper rabbi should be well versed in hilchos Yom Tov, niddah, as well.

    Lee Smith
    Lee Smith
    14 years ago

    As much as I have grimaced when the Conservative committment to Kashruth is not recognized, I wonder if this isn’t a pyrric victory.

    A Pyrrhic victory (pronounced /ˈpɪrɪk/) is a victory with devastating cost to the victor

    In our community, in Central New York, once the NY State Dept of Agriculture regulations were declared unconstitutional, it became “anything goes”. Our last “Kosher deli” became Kosher style (like a little pregnant?) had some kosher stuff mixed in with the trief, and anyone who enquired learned that the owner was a self declared expert in Kashruth. True, anyone in the community with an interest in Kashruth knew that place was as trief as could be (I tried to explain to one of the staff there that the word Kosher, even Kosher style, ought not be associated with a place that sold shrimp salad and clam choweder) —- what about visitors to the community who saw “KOSHER” in big letters with a small trailing “style”. The owners claimed that XXX Kosher Deli was their name, not a description of the food. So the Conservative movement has now established that the word Kosher has no meaning, and let the buyer beware! As I see it, Orthodox supervision is generally a