A Look at Society’s Attitudes toward Kashrus

Respectable Virtues Off 13

On a cold Sunday in November, New York Jets fans watched their team struggle on the gridiron. They were losing—again—this time to the Baltimore Ravens, by a score of 19 to 3. During a break in the action, fans headed for the stadium’s many food outlets, which include a kosher hot-dog stand. By a quick look at the lines, the kosher venue was ahead of its non-kosher counterpart by a score of 11 to 9.

 

You may wonder how there could be such great interest in kosher hot dogs. Well, the truth is that it’s a national trend. Only 1.5 million Jews keep a kosher home in the U.S. but the kosher market has doubled to six million in the last several years. While many consumers buy kosher for religious reasons, a large percentage look for kosher foods because they believe the foods are more wholesome. This is even more common with ground beef and chicken products, where the consumer can’t even read the list of ingredients.

There’s good reason for the average American to be suspicious of chicken and meat products. Researchers recently sampled chicken nuggets from two national chains and found that less than 40 percent was actually chicken. The rest was fat, cartilage, skin tissue, and sometimes bone fragments. Although kosher doesn’t guarantee higher quality, there is certainly greater scrutiny of the product.

When I learned of this positive view of kosher food, including meat and chicken, I thought of how this perception has varied throughout history. The widespread acceptance of kosher products in the U.S. today stands in stark contrast to the European attitude of the previous generation—which continues to be an issue in parts of the world.

Less than a century ago, the Nazis were successful in portraying the Jews as untermentschen (subhumans) and their religious practices as backwards and primitive. On April 21, 1933, almost immediately after the Nazis came to power, the regime began to pass laws regulating methods of animal slaughter. In the words of Herman Göring, this was intended to end the “unbearable torture and suffering in animal experiments.” He added that those who “still think they can continue to treat animals as inanimate property” would be sent to concentration camps (!).

In addition to a ban on shechitah, Göring prohibited commercial animal trapping, imposed severe restrictions on hunting, and regulated the shoeing of horses. He imposed regulations even on the boiling of lobsters and crabs. In one incident, he sent a fisherman to a concentration camp for cutting up a bait frog.

The German population had no trouble accepting these “moral improvements” while their fellow citizens were being rounded up and murdered. And by now, there is clear evidence that the average German citizen was aware of the fate that awaited his Jewish neighbors who were rapidly disappearing.

How can an entire country support such hypocritical and murderous policies? This is not simply a symptom of the shifting winds of a fickle society. The Holocaust was the product of a long history of European anti-Antisemitism that reached its horrible zenith under the Third Reich. However, the great disparity on this issue illustrates how easily people’s attitudes are molded by societal trends.

Coors Brewery is an example of a huge company that successfully tapped into the kosher market. When the Colorado brew hit supermarket shelves in 1990 with its brand-new kosher certification, demand for it shot up 15 percent in New York and 35 percent in Philadelphia. “Kosher certification represents quality in its purest form,” explained Gary Schmitz, Coors’ corporate communications manager. “The ‘purity’ angle played strongly in our decision to seek certification.”

But it’s not surprising that when Coors began sporting the OU symbol, there were a few voices of hatred that had to make themselves heard. Hans Schmidt, founder of a neo-Nazi group in California, fired off a letter to Peter Coors stating that “as someone of German descent, you ought to be ashamed to acquiesce to this scheme” of financing a Zionist spy operation.
That accusation may sound amusing, but it is important for us to remember that even today, even in America, such extremist views still exist in our society. Fortunately, they represent only a small minority, as is evident by the exploding kosher food market. One thing is for sure —you won’t find Mr. Schmidt standing on the kosher hot-dog line. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he downs a Coors when nobody’s looking.

About the author / 

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann is a Talmid of Rabbi Leib Bakst זצ"ל, of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai, Detroit, Michigan. After learning in the yeshivah and kollel, Rabbi Friedmann moved to the British colony of Gibraltar and studied in the Gateshead Kollel for three more years, at which time he received rabbinical ordination. From there, Rabbi Friedmann moved to London, England. In London, Rabbi Friedmann taught in the Menorah Grammar School, and was appointed the communal Rov of Kehilas Kol Yaakov, Edgware, London. Rabbi Friedmann was awarded Qualified Teaching Status by the British Board of Education in 2002, and a diploma in educational psychology by the Tavistock clinic (London) in 2006. In 2005, Rabbi Friedmann was accepted as a Fellow in Holocaust Education by the prestigious Imperial War Museum, London. Rabbi Friedmann relocated to New York in 2008 to become the Director of Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education division of Torah Umesorah. While occupying that position, Rabbi Friedmann created teaching materials, videos, and teacher training programs, including the ZYO Holocaust education fellowship program. In April 2012, Rabbi Friedmann was appointed as the director of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. The museum founded by Elly Kleinman will carry on the legacy of holocaust history. For more info about when it is expected to open read this article.

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