Sharia Law, Halacha, Parliament, and a Supermarket Near You

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Kosher Scandal

Hi all.

Due to offline work commitments, Yaron and I have been scarce around here, but an extremely serious matter has brought us out of hibernation.

It even prompted Yaron to write to his Federal Member of Parliament, Kelly O’Dwyer. Below is an edited version of that letter:

“As a member of the Jewish community, it was with considerable angst that I read in this week’s Australian Jewish News that the Federal government is considering creating a centralised authority that will determine the status of what constitutes kosher food.

The AJN writes “the submission… calls for one body… to be given the legal right to endorse individual kashrut authorities, setting the guidelines they must adhere to.”

This seems to imply that the act of labelling a product as kosher without first attaining the approval of the central authority would become illegal. Halal foods are in the same position.

While this may ostensibly seem like yet another example of government over-regulation, the consequences of such an initiative are potentially grave for the following reasons:

1) As an ordained Orthodox Rabbi I feel that such an authority is simply untenable.

Jewish law deals as a matter of religious course in disputes in a multiplicity of areas. Judaism, like Islam is inherently decentralised and for government to centralise power in either religion is anathema. That a government certified authority could pronounce on these disputes for all Australian Jews and Muslims flies in the face of the nature of our religions.

2) The members of any Western democracy are wary of giving secular authority to religious bodies. This proposed legislation hands a select group, with no actual or verifiable mandate, the status of the conveners of ‘official Judaism’ or ‘official Islam’. They will then be able to legally accept or reject a product as definitively kosher or Halal, despite the wishes of other, significant sectors in their community.

This breaking down of the walls between religion and state also worries the broader electorate because they rightly view liberal democracy as a bulwark against sectarianism.

3) This is not a health issue.

While government labelling standards are an obvious necessity when it comes to matters such as health, extending their reach to religious issues simply makes no sense.

In Israel there are numerous kosher authorities, all legal, each with their level of religious observance. It is up to the consumer to check the kosher certificate before sitting for their meal or buying the product.

4) Whom will this legislation penalise?

I am Orthodox and philosophically disagree with other streams of Judaism; however, I accept their right to practice according to their conscience and defend their right to do so.

If a non-Orthodox Rabbi wishes to give his or her authorisation to a restaurant the proposed legislation would simply not allow for this.

It would seem that this legislation has been proposed to bolster the leadership of various communities rather than the very members of those communities. Ordinary families will suffer due to a restriction of choice and the free market that our society has been built on will suffer.

I feel that any move to introduce legislation such as this could open the door to similar legislation that would impact the Australian greater good for the sake of a narrow set of interests.

Yours Sincerely,
Rabbi Yaron Gottlieb”

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4 Responses to “Sharia Law, Halacha, Parliament, and a Supermarket Near You”

  1. Mohan says:

    Seems to be a valid point. The govt might as well let things alone so long as there is no crime or health issue.

    Though the walls between religion and state in Australia are quite porous with Christian prayers at the beginning of Parliament sessions and government funds to sectarian educational instutions.

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  2. Eye says:

    Check out Ajnwatch’s comments on this:
    http://ajnwatch.blogspot.com/2010/05/should-ora-be-official-arbiter-of.html

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  3. LN says:

    This might be of some interest:
    http://jewschool.com/2010/05/23/22834/kosher-law-in-georgia/

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