Copyrighting Kosher

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Kosher Scandal

The proposal to legally hand over the rights to the word ‘kosher’ to the Jewish establishment is even more troubling than it initially appeared from the article in this week’s AJN.
Thankfully some in the blogosphere have stood up and spoken up against this proposal.
The AJN, on the other hand, only wrote about the need for people to submit their views on the proposed legislation after the May 14 deadline for submissions had long passed!
Of course, I have not seen the ECAJ/ORA submission to the relevant authorities, since it has not been posted on the submission page of the website. We have no way of knowing if this is due to a request not to make it public or because the government website is a bit slow.
The essential point in all of this is that we don’t even know the exact role of our leadership in this process. None of us even knew there was anything to know until last Thursday, when the AJN came out.
It was not on the ECAJ website. How would the average citizen who was not, “connected,” concerned know to look for something like this in the first place?
If the leaders wish to represent us, at the very least they should be letting us know what we need to know and what will impact our lives before it is a fait accompli.
I am not denying the right of these two organisations, or others like them, from making submissions to the government or representing themselves as Jewish voices. But by keeping this information to themselves they were preventing dissenting views from being expressed.
The next worry is why kosher food was part of this review in the first place.
In the mass of information about food labels, question 17 states:
“Is there a need to establish agreed definitions of terms such as ‘natural’, ‘lite’, ‘organic’, ‘free range’, ‘virgin’ (as regards olive oil), ‘kosher’ or ‘halal’? If so, should these definitions be included or referenced in the Food Standards Code? ”
What is kosher (or halal for that matter) doing here? Who slipped this into the review and what does it have to do with the terms that surround it? Will the government become halachic authorities, sitting down to argue disputes between Rashi and the Rambam or will this be going back to the rabbis who run the big kosher authorities?
We can only assume that if the words kosher and halal were in such a review that is otherwise so far removed from issues of religion, that there must have been encouragement on the matter from some source.
It can only be the Jews, Muslims, or both who are responsible for this.
Which leads us to the most troubling part of this affair.
What is ECAJ’s role in all of this?
Why is a roof body which is not religious attempting to gain control over the word kosher?
As Sir Humphrey would have said in Yes, Minister, the success of a minister or a civil servant can be measured by the departments he has control of and the size of his budget.
It would seem that there is an effort to centralise as much power as possible under the one banner. One danger among many is that private initiative will be restricted.
We are lead to believe that our welfare is taken care of and we have no need to take any action. But such a mentality always leads to stagnation.
Therefore, with the submissions formally closed, I encourage everyone to write to their MPs to have this proposal rejected.
The alternative is to have another piece of our Jewish lives centralise and closed to competition with the added insult of it all being subject to Government regulation..

Minister for Health: Nicola.Roxon.MP@aph.gov.au
The local MPs can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/whoswho/index.htm under ‘contact list of members’
Please note:  the comments on this article will be forwarded to people who are involved in this review.

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27 Responses to “Copyrighting Kosher”

  1. MK says:

    Because I’m one of the few people who are actually on the ECAJ mailing list and go to Jewish Board of Deputies meetings, I’ve been aware of this for months. ECAJ CEO Peter Wertheim always talks about it in his report.

    Before you start pointing fingers about lack of transparency, try attending something every once in a while. These meetings are open to the public, the public just can’t be bothered attending them. It’s almost as if you’re waiting for Peter to call you and let you know every time the ECAJ is dealing with something you’re interested in.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      MK, your comment does not answer any of the following – glaringly obvious – questions:

      1) If every Jew turned up to ECAJ meetings, could ECAJ actually function?
      2) What about those Jews who are – for whatever reason – unable to attend? Are they automatically not entitled to basic information that affects the community?
      3) What is it about those turning up to meetings that gives them an inalienable right to make decisions (opaquely) on the community’s behalf?
      4) It is reasonable to assume that the AJN is a community wide media outlet. Why then did ECAJ and ORA choose to wait till long after submissions had closed to publicise its activities in that paper?
      5) Can you – or any of the other majority secular members of ECAJ – speak knowledgably about the halachic intricacies of kashrut?
      6) If not, then what business do you or they have trying to influence legislation on the topic?
      7) What assurances can you give to the many, many religious Jews that this is not a monopolistic move, aimed at pushing out independent hashgachot?
      8 ) Why is ECAJ – which seeks to represent ALL Jews – advocating for exclusively orthodox hashgachot, thereby eliminating the possibility for non-orthodox participation?

      MK, these are only the starter questions. You’ve been reading this site since it began. You should know by now how flimsy the “turn up to the meetings and you’ll know everything” argument is.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      MK I agree with you completely, that we should all be more involved and then we wouldn’t shoot our mouths off like I did above.

      But just a few questions…

      1) Why is there no provisions on the ECAJ website for joining this mailing list

      2) Why is there no mention of this on the website anywhere. I’m sure that ECAJ denouncing UN resolutions and dealing with the Iran government is very important, but between the mountain of information I am sure that they could find a few moments to post a submission to the government that actually concerns their supposed constituents

      3) This has been around for a while and by your own admission ECAJ knew about it, and yet it only became newsworthy after the submission date had passed. How did this stay out of the AJN?

      As long as the submission is not on the ECAJ website or the review website we must assume that the content is exactly as was reported in the AJN.

      If you wish to change my view on things I would welcome an email from you with the submission or relevant information.

  2. MK says:

    I just get frustrated with this site sometimes because you make it sound like there’s some massive conspiracy going on in the upper echelons of the community to stifle the wider community from knowing anything about what they do or how they work. Being someone who works within these organisations, not only is this not the case, all they want is for more people to become involved.

    I have also been a leader in an albeit less important organisation, AUJS, and have experienced first hand a whole lot of people who deleted all the emails I sent them without reading them and then complained that I never told them about things that were in the emails.

    Are you suggesting that all communal organisations should have a weekly report in the AJN detailing everything they have been doing and asking for criticism? I don’t think that’s a productive way to work, especially on things like this submission where there could be policy issues at stake. Everyone who is interested in things like kashrut knows that the ORA and the ECAJ are two organisations who deal with these issues and as I said, they speak often enough in public forums for anyone to keep abreast of the issues. No, every Jew in Australia can’t attend these meetings, but more sure as hell could – including yourselves.

    And I promise you that it wasn’t deliberately withheld from the website to stifle debate. Obviously the volunteer who updates the website neglected to put it up for some reason.

    To answer Yaron’s last point, I don’t see why you’re not criticising the AJN more. They have reporters at all these meetings I spoke about and decided not to publish anything until last week. The reason it managed to stay out of the AJN is because obviously they decided it wasn’t newsworthy.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      MK
      That is fine, so just forward us a copy of the submission so that we can see what they wrote about.

      As for the weekly column in the AJN, AIJAC already do it, so why can’t ECAJ? And it could be filled with information that is useful (rather then reading about their environmental policy). If they want to represent us all, let them give us information on the website.

      The website has been updated very recently but someone decided not to upload the report submission.

      So once again, MK, please prove us wrong and send a copy of the submission that you are getting via email, or better yet post it here on the site for all to see.

  3. [...] of the review can be found on Galus Australis, the Sensible Jew, and AJN watch. Share and [...]

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  4. MK says:

    I don’t have a copy of it, I just knew that it existed and didn’t look into it further because it’s not an issue that interests me particularly. That said, have either of you emailed/called Peter Wertheim to ask about any of this?

    And AIJAC’s column doesn’t detail the day-to-day goings on of the organisation or any projects AIJAC is working on, it’s a summary of Jewish/Israel related media items, which is a completely different issue.

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  5. Phil O'Semetic says:

    …as legal representative for the incorporated authority responsible, we hereby demand that Ms. S.J cease and desist immediately from the illegal and unlicenced usage of the word “kosher”, T.M and copyright.

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  6. Alex Fein says:

    MK – You labour under dual misapprehensions:
    a) That the only way to be involved communally is through ECAJ or equivalent “official” bodies.
    b) That without such involvemen,t no one has the right to object to poor decisions made in one’s name by such organisations.

    With regards to a), you and I enjoyed private correspondence a few months ago.

    It resulted in an abject apology from you.

    Because I had not been high profile in the community, you had assumed that I had not contributed. When I gave you my communal CV, you were forced to withdraw your criticism. So much of the work that goes on that actually keeps this community functioning, has absolutely nothing to do with ECAJ or other official bodies. Many of us are already over-extended in our communal contributions and it is patently unreasonable to expect us to turn up to ECAJ meetings that we have had no hand in calling, and with the processes of which we do not agree.

    As for b), If any decision is being made in the name of a group of people, members of the group have the right to object if they disagree – especially if there has been such a paucity of consultation as there was in this case.

    Indeed, your best idea is the one you provide dismissively: it would be an excellent initiative for any communal body that acts in the communal name to provide abriddged minutes to the AJN for publication.

    This would provide true transparency and you would then have a a defence against criticism of central authorities’ opacity. As a young member of ECAJ, I strongly advise you to push for this. It would be a boon for the community and an initiative that would go some way to repairing the tarnished image from which Jewish central authority suffers in many quarters.

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  7. MK says:

    I do not think that the only way to be involved is through communal organisations, that is putting words in my mouth. Not only do I believe that there are non-traditional ways to be involved, but I am a strong advocate for them and I am working hard to change the approach that the communal institutions take with regards to these kinds of things.

    But I think my pont is illustrated by this. Peter Wertheim spoke tonight to the JBOD and clarified this issue. Far from what you have been accusing him of, the idea of a unified code for kashrut in Australia was an idea floated and he said that there is a lot of work to be done to nut it out, there was not a comprehensive proposal in the submission to the government. The AJN decided to sensationalise it, but that’s all it really is.

    This information could have been discovered through a simple phone call to his office the ECAJ was not hiding it from anyone. You decided that the appropriate action was to write an extensive post criticising the ECAJ and even writing an open letter to a government minister because of what you had read in the AJN. To me, that is a completely unwarranted response.

    My point is not that you have to be involved in the ECAJ to be involved in Jewish life, it’s that it is unfair to be constantly criticising these organisations, as you do, without being a part of them or understanding how they work. This is coming from personal frustration of having been involved in the Jewish community and heard hundreds of people who can complain for hours but never do anything constructive. If you have a problem with the way the JCCV, the SZC or anyone operate, it is VERY easy to become involved and start changing things. They are practically begging people like you to do that.

    And in the conversation you referred to, I apologised because I had made the assumption that you had never been involved in the organised Jewish community and were criticising it from the outside, while I apologised as this was not the case, the assumption was based on the fact that you seemed to be unaware of some basic facts about how these organisations operate.

    I do want to apologise finally. I come across very critical in comments like this because that’s my nature, but I do actually appreciate a lot of what your blog does. I should be more supportive in all of your other posts, it’s just this particular issue that I have a problem with.

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  8. Liam says:

    So you have to be part of an organisation to criticise it? That’s counter-intuitive. If the ECAJ says something I disagree with, regardless of whether I was involved in it, I have the right (and even the obligation!) to say I disagree with its decision.

    The Jewish community isn’t/can’t/shouldn’t be a monolithic beast that outputs press releases and submissions. Healthy debate is essential. Criticism is essential. Crying out that you can’t be apprehensive about a decision made by a communal body because you didn’t vote on it isn’t the way representative bodies work, or the way our community should be run.

    Representative bodies should take into account the views of all — via public submission through an open process — not just those that sit in the room.

    Having said all that, I don’t understand enough about this issue or the process by which the submission was achieved (also as someone who sits on the ECAJ CoM) to comment on it specifically. As a principle though, I think these community umbrella bodies need many more invitations and opportunities for community involvement (almost all meetings aren’t open to the public).

    L.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Great comment, Liam…
      If only there was more openness at the beginning of the process we could have avoided the uproar and public dissent at this end.

  9. Rachsd says:

    Hi,

    I’ve put a petition up online so that people can voice their opposition to this proposal as a group. If you oppose the proposal, please sign and pass to friends: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/koshermonopoly/

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  10. Melina Smith says:

    Wow… as a secular person of orthodox backgroud these well written,mature and thoughtful debates are important,thanks Alex much apppreciated.!

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  11. Wolf says:

    I see the Jewish News is behaving quite childishly. In their issue of today they report on Yoram’s statement but fail to mention that it is on this blog. They seem to have an aversion to other Jewish media.

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    • Liam says:

      Untrue.

      It reads: “Rabbi Gottlieb, who is not a member of ORA, expressed a number of concerns … which was also published on the blog The Sensible Jew.” (Page 8 in the Melbourne edition.)

      Credit where credit’s due.

      L.

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  12. Johnno says:

    Rabbi G,

    I agree entirely. Interesting, I note that you and none of the people against copyrighting kosher have signed the petition linked to above, other than the person linking to it.

    I’m curious as to why. Apathy of my fellow youth?

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Johnno,

      Nothing sinister, I have not visited the site in a few days, but I will be getting around to it

  13. eye says:

    Well, well, well, it didn’t take long.

    Have a look at the extensive bagging of Melbourne’s shechita standards by Sydney’s KA. (The statement has ‘Rabbi Moshe Gutnick’ stamped all over it).

    Why?

    Because Rabbi Silberberg is thinking of establishing an alternative Kashrut authority there.

    http://ajnwatch.blogspot.com/2010/05/community-unity-sydney-ka-gives.html

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  14. Daniel says:

    I was shocked to read that the Federal government is considering creating a centralised authority that will determine the status of what constitutes kosher food. How can the government even consider this measure? It is a blatant attempt to rob independent kashrut organisations as well as potential kashrut organisations of the Reform and Conservative movements. Since when does halacha have one correct answer? In the words of Rav Yuval Cherlow, a leading Religious Zionist Rabbi in Israel in his book ‘The Halacha is according to Beit Hillel’ there are very few objective truths in halacha and this is true in regard to kashrut. In Israel and America there are many organisations, they are all deemed legal and yet, with varying levels of religious observance. In the United States, there is even Conservative kashrut organisation, the orthodox do not keep by this organisation however they do not impose their own interpretation and understanding of kashrut on other sects and people. The complexities of kashrut is not for one organisation to determine, for instance, the status of gelatine, there are rabbis on both sides as to whether it is kosher or not, so why should the Melbourne orthodox community have any right to make a definitive decision on whether something is kosher?

    It is reprehensible for any part of the Jewish community to impose their beliefs on others. The Western World cannot comprehend when the countries in the Arab world impose Sharia Law on their citizens. How can the orthodox community do the same thing now? I understand it is on a smaller scale however it is despicable for Orthodoxy to impose their beliefs and views on the understanding of kashrut.

    I am shocked and appalled as to the new low Orthodox Judaism has stooped. This proposal has no connection to health or legal labelling which is required to appear on a product, but rather it is an attempt to concentrate the large amounts of money in the kashrut industry in Australia into as few hands as possible.

    There is a need for a separation of Church and State, and if this proposal is passed, it will pave the way for orthodoxy to impose their beliefs and understandings on the different sects in Judaism and the Jews of many different religious levels within orthodoxy and the wider Jewish community.

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  15. Norman Kabak says:

    I enter the fray, because we in New Zealand have just been given a slap in the face by our government.
    You may know that kosher shchita is no longer available here by dictat of a minister who has not been guided by reason. Having said that, in an article in Friday’s Otago Daily Times, an unnamed person was quoted as saying the Auckland Community has accepted the shchita of the Melbourne Vaad and that in Melbourne, stunning is done prior to shechting. Can this really be true?

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  16. Bob Levesh says:

    Norman that statement is untrue

    Stunning is done in Australia AFTER the shechita

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  17. Mute Point says:

    this is all a mute point now, some of you made such a big deal over nothing–are you bored souls looking for excitment or something? look here:
    http://www.jwire.com.au/news/all-is-not-kosher-in-the-land-of-oz/9480

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Not entirely true, Having a debate in the community is still not getting to the ears of the lawmakers and the review panel, in whose hands this now resides, since the deadline for submissions has passed.

      Having said that the communal debate that is going on here is a positive development even without the ability to influence the final decision.

  18. Legal Eagle says:

    Disclaimer: I’m not religious, nor am I Jewish. I do have many Jewish friends ranging from very Orthodox to totally secular.

    The bottom line, to me, seems to be that the government should get out of regulating areas like this – it’s for individual religious people and groups to decide what rules they decide to impose. And when governments start trying to regulate something like this, they provoke precisely the kinds of arguments within a group which are happening here, because it brings up the issue of who has authority to speak for a group and whose rules are “best” or the norm. Unless there is some kind of health concern, or some widespread concern within the particular religious group, I think the government should butt out, because it’s not for them to decide what is kashrut and what is not. There’s just too much regulation of this kind of stuff.

    I’ve written a post on it if you are interested:
    http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2010/05/31/stop-policing-our-food-already/

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Legal Eagle,

      It would seem that the NZ government also agrees with us.

      The relevant statement in their submission was:
      New Zealand does not consider it appropriate to include food standards relating to religious beliefs (kosher, halal etc) in the Food Standards Code.

      Unfortunately the Australian governments and MPs who made submissions ignored the point.

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