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

In an unprecedented move the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV) has come out against the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, demanding transparency in the Rabbi Meir Rabi kashrut debate.
The Galus Australis blog provides a copy of the COSV letter here.
Rabbi Rabi, a Melbourne rabbi, has started his own authority to certify products as kosher and has met with opposition and sometime open hostility from various members of the community.
The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) released a public statement alleging the standards that Rabbi Rabi had set were not sufficient in their eyes and that their congregants should not eat food prepared under his supervision.
This statement was highly problematic on a number of levels.
The RCV felt there was no need to articulate the actual problems with rabbi Rabi’s procedures. Instead, the RCV preferred to issue general and vague warnings that were intended to strip Rabbi Rabi’s authority of any legitimacy.
Such opaque behaviour only fanned the flames of speculation that powerful elements with the RCV who have their own certification authorities were defaming Rabi in order to protect their own turf from competition.
The president of the COSV, Paul Korbl was sufficiently disturbed by these events to write the unprecedented letter of rebuke to the RCV Rabbis. For this, he should be commended.
As disturbing as the RCV’s possible defamation in order to protect their own interests, is their refusal to provide concrete religious arguments for their campaign.
Such a refusal is entirely out of step with the role and expected behaviour of rabbis in Jewish life.
In Judaism, every rabbi is expected to provide answers to questions that include the logic and the process that they have used to reach the conclusion.
Even the greatest rabbis of each generation will give the reasons for his answers to the most simple of questioners. No question is off limits to the lay person and Judaism does not operate on the basis of blind trust.
Yet there are members of the RCV who have openly stated that they are not willing to publicise their logic. Their reasons are that there are many people who are not well versed in Jewish law and the rabbis therefore do not want such ignoramuses to dismiss the complex rabbinic reasoning because of misunderstanding, and subsequently eat Rabbi Rabi’s food.
Is the RCV proposing the end of the great Jewish traditions of debate, logic and transparency?
The Jews throughout history have lionised the educated layman. The rabbi is not supreme in the religion.
There is nothing from a religious standpoint that a rabbi can do that an educated layperson cannot.
This is our goal as a nation, to know what we must do and how to do it.
It is inevitable that people will make mistakes when given the responsibility of gathering the knowledge themselves instead of relying on the rabbis; but this is preferable to Jews’  mindless acceptance of unreasoned spoon feeding. The latter may ensure the average person keeps the laws in the short term, but it weakens the nation in the long term.
To be absolutely clear – the RCV’s missive was not a Jewish response, and their answer is not sufficient.
The ‘just because’ response has never been good enough in Judaism and it still isn’t. Until some concrete reasons are given for their pronouncement I will consider the RCV statement irrelevant.
Any proper RCV response must be public and transparent. Coming and explaining to me or someone else privately is not enough. What makes one person so much more important than others that that individual deserves a private consultation, while the rest of the community is asked to remain ignorant?
And if the food is really not at an acceptable level of kosher let the sins of those who eat it rest on RCV heads, because they have sat on information and refused to share it with the public.
So to the RCV, release your reasoning and let us see why you feel that Rabbi Rabi’s authority is not acceptable. If it stands up to scrutiny I will follow you. But at the moment you are failing the most basic of Jewish principles: that open debate will lead to the best outcomes.

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27 Responses to “”

  1. Sam says:

    Rabbi yaron – great article! But for the record – would you eat at places certified by rabbi rabi?

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Sam,
      Kosher certification comes down to trust and this debate has a lot of words and not much substance.
      The main question is can we trust Rabbi Rabi to ensure that only kosher ingredient and processes are used.
      Since at the moment there is no evidence to the contrary I rely on Rabbi Rabi’s authority and will eat products he certifies.
      This will be the case until a rational argument is presented that calls into question the trust I have in him.

  2. R says:

    Yaron, the letter from Korbl to RCV is dated 26 May 2010. There have been 2 letters from RCV clarifying their position since then, both in July, hasn’t this letter been addressed? why rehash old issues?

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  3. R says:

    Frosh, sounds like Korbl has an agenda, does he represent COSV or just himself trying to get some publicity? He is willing to castigate the whole RCV representing practically all Orthodox Rabbis in Victoria, and defend an individual whose kashrut practices are obviously very questionable.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      What is “obviously very questionable” about Meir Rabi’s hashgacha?
      Why would Korbl need “publicity?”

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  4. R says:

    Alex, well if you read the RCV press release you will understand why Meir Rabi’s hashgacha is questionable.
    Publicity? I don’t know Korbl personally, but big ego, power=need for publicity. Again why attack the whole Rabbinate and defend one individual, if you don’t have ulterior motives? what is your motive?

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Not only have I read the RCV’s missives, but I have read Korbl’s and Yaron’s responses. The RCV provides absolutely no detail or evidence regarding Rabi’s misbehaviour. As Yaron wrote, they rely on the vaguest generalities.

      Similarly, you have no evidence to back up your slurs against Korbl. Is it entirely unprecedented or unthinkable that an organisation has targeted an individual unjustly? If not, then perhaps Korbl is acting according to his conscience.

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  5. R says:

    RCV said quite clearly that his kashrus procedures don’t match up to international kashrus standards. I think that is clear enough.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      R

      It is very clear. There is only the problem of trust remaining.
      Have the RCV presented any statement that brings into doubt the trust people have in Rabbi Rabi with the exception of a sweeping statement that they refuse to back up with any facts?
      Like I have said if they can prove that he does not meet with a reasonable standard I am happy to follow, but a “just because” is not sufficient.
      I would be glad to be proven wrong, but please present one great Rabbi who has refused to give the rationale behind an answer they gave someone?

  6. MA says:

    Either Yaron has read the RCV statement, in which case he being deliberately deceptive, or he hasn’t, in which case he has no right to comment.

    The statement did not say that Rabbi Rabi’s standards were “unacceptable in their eyes” but were unacceptable in the eyes of widely respected international authorities.

    Nor did it say that congregants should not eat food prepared under his supervision.

    Please stick to the facts!

    And why would it be so outrageous to suggest that Paul Korbl is seeking to boost his ego, but not so outrageous to suggest that the RCV statement is for the purpose of maintaining the existing monopoly rather than our of genuine concern for the integrity of halachic standards?

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      MA,
      I am unsure where you are going with this logic…
      Are you suggesting that the RCV state that the level of the certification is not up to international standards but that their congregants may continue to eat under that certification?

      It is also clear from the RCV letter that it is ‘international standards’ that are not met. The issue is what is missing – the proof or any facts to back up their statements.

  7. R says:

    Yaron, since you are a Rabbi, I am sure you appreciate the complexities of the laws of Issur V’Heter, they are complicated, and don’t think everyone needs all the details as what is acceptable and what is not. I and I’m sure most others trust the RCV which represents the majority of Orthodox Rabbis in Victoria. They understand these laws and have done due diligence before putting out any press releases against Meir Rabi. For some reason you don’t?

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      R,
      You are right, the laws are complex, so when presented with a document of multiple pages the average punter will simply accept what is written and not try to interpret it, but it will be in the open for all to see.

      If the average person on the street does want to try interpret it then I am pleased that they want to get so into their learning.

      And moreover, if the RCV’s arguments are as serious as their claims that this authority is not up to international standards, then I would assume that the arguments would be so watertight as to be clear to anyone.

      As for the ‘we can trust the Rabbis’ argument, it doesn’t hold up. No serious rabbi in history would have pushed the ‘just trust me’ argument, but would present the rationale behind each of their arguments.
      And I have learned over time never to trust anyone, especially someone who says trust me…

  8. MA says:

    Yaron.

    You wrote in your original post that the RCV statement said that Rabbi Rabi’s standards were not “sufficient in their eyes”.

    You now write that “it is clear from the RCV letter that it is ‘international standards’ that are not met” – which is quite different from “their eyes”.

    This misinformation on your part was precisely my point.

    Furthermore, the RCV did not tell their congregants not to eat from Rabbi Rabi’s hashgacha. They were very careful not to be paskening in such a way, merely informing.

    You may think that the implication is that congregants should not eat such products but that’s not what they said!

    Does your post above confirm that your allegations stated as fact in your original post were in fact insinuations, and therefore were incorrect and unjust?

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      MA,

      Honestly, you are arguing semantics, but for the sake of an answer to your question:
      The RCV spoke to international kashrut authorities who according to the RCV said that Rabbi Rabi’s organisation did not meet with their standards. They then put out an open letter that they felt their congregants should not eat under that particular authority.
      I hope that clears that up.

      As for your second point, these are the exact words of the RCV’s letter:
      “Whilst the RCV is not in a position to control the activities of kashrus businesses, the RCV can caution and urge consumers to take heed of this matter and strongly recommend reliance upon communal authorities which conform to standards that are deemed acceptable by reputable international halachic and kashrus authorities.”

      OK so they ’strongly recommend’ not to eat it but do not say it is not permitted. How would you like to interpret that?

  9. your brother says:

    great article HaRav.
    although I think the COSV have backed down from their original stance and have aligned with the RCV (politics….)

    http://kosherveyosher.com.au/modx/index.php?id=331

    As for the RCV’s comments, I agree that they need to be transparent with their findings. However, I disagree with your arguments and believe our initial stance must be to stand behind our Rabbi’s verdicts. The community must follow the rabbinate (which to this day, has been the status quo), until the incumbent can prove beyond any doubt that his practices are acceptable. This is particularly relevant in this case, where the mashgiach has made controversial decisions in the past.

    As a consumer, I am frustrated by the lack of communication and transparency on both sides. If both parties mission statements are to ensure that kosher food is made accessible to consumers than they should sit down, outline all the issues and come up with a compromise that suits all parties.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      My brother,

      Well I agree with you that this debate seems eerily like the election in the wider community – a lot of talking without much content.

      However the question is raised who we should listen to?
      Rabbi Rabi has provided opinions for everything he does on his website, but we don’t know which of these the debate is on. How do we know where to start our research if we want to make an informed decision.

      And you say we have to trust our rabbis, but our grandfather used to say ‘never trust anyone in the food industry’. That means no matter how holy the RCV and Rabbi Rabi are, the fact that they are involved in the Kashrut industry (and it is an industry) we do not trust them. Instead we demand transparency.

      As for your first point regarding the position the esteemed Mr Korbl has taken… well I will defer to you on that point

  10. MA says:

    Incidently, there are numerous cases of gedolim issuing a p’sak without giving the reason. Sometimes because it was too sensitive to be discussed or because they knew that the reason would not be understood and hence would be rejected by the general population.

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  11. MA says:

    Yaron,

    “You’re arguing semantics” is the usual excuse for someone who’s been caught up misrepresenting (or lying) for the sake of polemics.

    The RCV is fully entitled (and maybe even obliged) to advise its congregants to rely of hashgachos with internationally recognised standards. That is not the same as telling congregants not to eat from Rabbi Rabi’s hechsher. For the third time of trying – they did not say that and it’s false (not semantics) of you to say that they did.

    If you can’t trust anyone in the food business, then by your definition you cannot trust any Rabbi who gives a hechsher. I don’t therefore understand why you trust Rabbi Rabi, or how you understand any concept of rabbinic authority.

    “Rabbi Rabi has provided opinions for everything he does on his website”. Really? His oft-repeated comment that Rabbi Shechter approved his “laffa matzos” is referenced on his website to an anonymous blog that quotes an undocumented offhand comment. This is not serious halacha. He quotes Rabbi Wosner as saying that there are no halachic problems with the “Laffa matza” and then prints a letter quoting Rabbi Wosner saying “there are grave concerns with the kashrus of this Matza”. I could go on.

    The RCV is quite correct not to engage in a halachic discussion with someone who plays fast and loose with his “sources” in this manner.

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  12. Yaron Gottlieb says:

    MA,

    1) The semantics are in relation to your point of whether it was the RCV stating that Rabbi Rabi was not up to standard or they were publicising the international bodies to their congregations. It does not matter much they have ’strongly recommended’ not to eat from this authority. Politically how this came about is somewhat irrelevant.
    It was only on this point that I claimed semantics not all of your points.

    2) I will concede the point that ’strongly recommend’ is not ‘not permitted’ if you will concede that to the average person reading the RCV letter, it would have appeared to them to be ‘not permitted’ and ‘not kosher’.

    3) The not trusting anyone statement is not an absolute, rather it was a statement on the relative authority of the two groups. There is no reason that has been presented that would lead me to trust the RCV any more then Rabbi Rabi
    In reality it is a matter of who do you trust, but not absolutely. The wise kosher consumer knows which questions to ask and who to ask them of. This is part of the educated layman I was talking of earlier.
    If you know what you are looking for, speak to the owners or the mashgiach before you sit down to eat and make up your own mind.

    4) Rav Wosner was not commenting on the Australian floppy matzah specifically and he did not say they were not permitted. Hence they are entirely legitimate. However, I would suggest that anyone who follows Rav Wosner’s rulings should not eat those matzahs based on this statement.
    But floppy matzahs are permitted. If you wish to say otherwise, you then cast aspersions on Rav Ovadiah Yosef who has floppy matzahs under his authority.

  13. Daniel Levy says:

    MA,

    Your naivety is as frustrating for me as it is embarrassing for you. Your blind faith in the rabbinate is absurd. Did you hear about the rabbis in the US who got done for an illegal organ and fake gucci handbag trafficking ring?!?! I’m sure in your eyes they were good boystchiks who just made a small error of judgment :)

    A critical analysis of the COSV/RCV behaviour leads to the following conclusion:

    THEY’RE BLUFFING

    Surely in the face of such backlash fromt he community, the learned elders of the people of the book would provide intellectual reasoning for their stance. We are a religion primarily based on intellectual study and critique. Since when has “just because” EVER BEEN A VALID REASON WHEN CHALLENGED?

    No. It’s a flimsy cop-out.

    Like pathetic cowards, they hide behind other people. You can’t really go after something as vague as the “international community”. So Meir Rabi can’t really get his ‘day in court’ to prove his innocence, as there have only been implications. And the COSV/RCV know this. They’re using their privileged influence to attack a man whilst leaving him with no recourse to clear his name. Pure cowardice if ever I’ve seen it.

    Imagine, if you will, seven street vendors all selling churros in a marketplace oversaturated with churro vendors and not enough consumers. A new churro vendor comes into the marketplace trying to sell. They all decide to light the newcomer’s stand on fire. One of them sneaks up behind him whilst the others ensure nobody can witness what he’s doing. The obnoxious douchenozzle then lights a match and throws it under the stand and walks off. It is about 20 seconds before the vendor realises his stall is on fire. At which point, he looks to the other 7 who are giggling mischievously and say “WHAT?! US?! PROVE IT!!!!”

    Hint: RCV/COSV are the douchnozzles. They’re the ones torching Rabi’s churro stall whilst ensuring they receive zero blame for it.

    They’re never going to overtly say “we oppose him” because then it would be incumbent upon them to have to provide some actual evidence for their claims. That would leave them liable to looking petty and/or looking to be in the pockets of special interests. So, like cowards, they wipe their hands clean by blending into the crowd and absolving themselves of blame with the facelessness of “the international community”.

    What shining beacons of moral authority :)

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  14. MA says:

    Daniel,

    If SJ is just another site for people flaming each other then I’m not playing.

    If you want a dialogue please stop telling me that my naivete is embarrassing for me, or what I am thinking.

    If your arguement boils down to some rabbis trade in fake handbags therefore all rabbis should be treated as crooks then please go and waste someone else’s time.

    I don’t know what a “douchnozzle” is but let’s not use it to talk about people, let alone rabbis.

    If you want to continue the dialogue in a civilised and respectful way, let me know.

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    • Daniel Levy says:

      You see the thing is, MA, I addressed all of your points intellectually.

      Why are rabbis so impervious to criticism? If you say my calling you naive is a flame, then you should shield your eyes from the intertubes because that is possibly the WEAKEST insult anyone could dole out to you.

      You’ve cottoned onto one tiny thing that’s entirely irrelevant to the point I was making and used it as a flimsy copout to say “LOLZ NOT GONNA ARGUE WITH YOU WHEN UR FLAMIN ME”

      but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t flame you in the slightest.

      Also, your argument is patently illogical. I was not saying we should treat all rabbis as crooks. I was actually arguing the converse. We should not put all rabbis on a pedestal. Evaluate each one on their merits. Respect is earnt, not assumed.

      I’m hoping you can actually rebut my positive material. Somehow, though, I think you’re simply going to grasp at more straws in an attempt to avoid the issue, just like you did in the previous post.

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  15. your brother says:

    Rabbi
    as for all the sources on Rabbi Rabi’s website, I (as an uneducated layman) am sure those sources are correct, however I am not sure what the more mainstream opinions (which i’m sure there are) would say about those sources.

    I have recently seen inception, so hear me out on my hypothetical ‘dream within a dream’ scenario….

    Get the two parties together and discussing all issues and coming to some sort of compromise (as I mentioned in my earlier post).
    Following this (hypothetical) discussion, the RCV and Rabi can then outline what issues they compromised in order to provide the community with an opportunity to learn from our rabbanim the halacha and the process of determining the appropriate p’sak.

    obviously never going to happen. therefore, my personal opinion is to stay on the ’safe’ side and with status quo (ie. the RCV and associated established kashrut agencies). Unfortunate situation.

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  16. Isaac Balbin says:

    Hi Yaron, Mazel Tov on your engagement. I got to this website to see who you were engaged to :-)

    Whilst reading the comments, I’ll just make the following observations.

    There is a respected Posek called Rabbi Abadi. He used to be the Posek at Lakewood. He paskens on Issur V’Hetter and is of course in a different league to Meir Rabi (who would also admit that fact). Yet, his Psakim, whilst accepted by those who go to his website and thereabouts, are not considered consonant with mainstream standards. Does it make them invalid? No. Does it make them acceptable? Yes and No. Yes to those for whom R’ Abadi is their Posek, no to the rest of us. We don’t, for example, rely on his Heterim for Bitul.

    R’ Chaim Ozer paskened that Gelatin from treyf cows was okay. Is that a valid Psak? Yes. Is it acceptable? No. There is almost no Kashrus Authority that accepts this today except as a Shaas Hadchak. There were some who did, even recently, but not now.

    The RCV were commenting, as I understand it, on the fact that practices and views that Rabi relies on and that are known, are not acceptable. They might be valid, even well considered opinions, but they aren’t allegedly the standards of the OU and other authorities.

    It makes little sense to attack the RCV for their stance. They have absolutely no need to go into the details of the matters at hand because the outcome will simply be that there will be an opinion that is consonant with Meir Rabi’s views and many will therefore conclude that it is acceptable. Acceptable versus Valid. Take note.

    By the way, the Halacha is that if you do use Meir Rabi’s Kashrus standards, and you bring such food into your house, you must disclose this fact to anyone who eats in your house lest you transgress Lifnei Iver. Whether the Kelim become Ossur to others is complex and depends on specifics and can’t be generalised. On Pesach, however, it is a big problem.

    Regards and Mazel Tov

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