When Kosher Isn’t Quite Kosher

How many Jews in the UK? Somewhere between three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand? How many of those are kosher observant? As a most optimistic guess perhaps fifty percent? So we are looking at best at 175,000 kosher observant Jews in the UK. How many kashrut authorities? Certainly four main ones in London, another one or two in Manchester, and a smidgen of smaller enterprises throughout. That’s an average of one kashrut authority for every 30,000 Jews. Hardly enough business to go around. Hence the stiff competition for restaurants, caterers etc.

However, some authorities have an unfair advantage. Take the recent case that happened in my Synagogue. As a United Synagogue we are under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din. A function was booked with a caterer under a different authority. This prompted phone calls, threats and what not to pull the caterer even as it was just days before the function.

So here’s my conundrum: Is it a specific kashrut concern? If so, surely the Rabbi of an individual community is the authority over the kitchens in his synagogue and can be safely trusted to determine what is and what is not acceptable to be brought in. It’s not as if the London Beth Din come scrutinising every Kiddush every Shabbat! If the Rabbi is trusted in regard to all other halachic matters in his community why would he not be trusted regarding the kashrut?

Obviously then it is not to do with kashrut and all about maintaining the aforementioned advantage in an apparent cutthroat industry. In other words it’s about politics more than anything else. To be sure, I get the logic. The KLBD (Kosher London Beth Din) operates under the same authority as the United Synagogues. It makes only sense therefore to keep the money circulating internally. The more KLBD caterers are used the more money the KLBD makes which in turn spills over into the wider United Synagogue family.

But what of the membership? What if a family who have been paying their annual membership fees of near £1000 want to use a different caterer while also supporting their community by using the local hall? Shouldn’t they have that basic right? Furthermore, the preference is usually more the caterer than the hall so when they are being told they can’t use their choice caterer in a particular hall, they’ll take their function elsewhere and the Synagogue loses out on the hall rental. So while restricting caterers thus ensuring more money to the “Centre” the local Synagogue is defaulted. Where’s the logic in that?

I recently determined that we turned away seven functions from our own hall during the past year on account of this power-play. That’s significant income that we are being denied. I think it is imperative that kashrut authorities in such a small community ought to come together and work out a mutual agreement and understanding. Surely it is after all about encouraging more people keeping kosher than anything else. Indeed, the system as it stands – there’s something not quite kosher about it.