RCC: Don’t Throw Out the Baby With the Bathwater

This past Pesach week has been a horrible one for the Los Angeles Jewish Community.  The butcher it relied on for decades violated his moral, ethical and religious obligations to the public by surreptitiously bringing meat or poultry that was not supervised into his store.  His was a monumental breach of trust and the community should not forgive him for his deceit.

While certainly not a culprit in the scheme, the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) was responsible to certify the delivery to Doheny of approved meat and poultry.  We failed to do this and we let the community down.  As President of the RCC, I apologize to the community for this monumental failure.

There is no way to sugarcoat this fiasco.  But let’s be certain of the facts, too!  All Pesach long people have asked me, “What did you know and when did you know it?” Here are the facts. 

I was informed at 1:00pm on Sunday March 24, a day and a half before Pesach, that there was credible and damning video surveillance of Doheny’s owner.  I immediately left my office on Pico Blvd. and sped to Fairfax to see the video along with a number of other prominent rabbis.  That Sunday was the first time any RCC Rabbi was informed of the deceit.   Within two hours we studied the material and came to the conclusion that the RCC approval (hechsher) should be summarily removed!

Thus, at 3:00pm, RCC rabbis asked the on-site Mashgiach to remove the official RCC Kashruth seal from the store and stand outside to advise shoppers that the store was no longer under RCC supervision.  Later that afternoon, a larger group of rabbis and some highly respected communal lay-leaders were shown the video and reinforced our decision to remove our hechsher.  We also gave Doheny’s owner an opportunity to come clean or explain the apparent deception. RCC rabbis then called Rav Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah V'Daas and legal authority for the OU Kashrut Division, to help us rule on the complex Halachic (Jewish Law) matter.  Rabbi Belsky unequivocally permitted any meat or poultry that was purchased up until 3pm that day, the time we removed our hechsher. 

The rabbis of the RCC’s immediate and only concern was the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of the community.  Consider the weight of the problem we confronted.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands of families had already cooked their entire Pesach meat and poultry menus.  Pesach programs and caterers were serving thousands of customers in a day’s time.  At stake were the possible disposal of all that meat and poultry and the koshering of dishes and pots!  I don’t wish the burden of that decision on any one! 

Thankfully, the permitting ruling was issued based on complex Jewish Law principles relating to the concept of majority kosher vs. a minority of unsupervised products.  Those knowledgeable of the “Halachic Universe” could get their arms around that concept.  Unfortunately, for the average layperson the ruling was mystifying, almost hocus pocus — for instance, how could the same piece of meat be kosher at 2:59pm but no longer edible at 3:00pm?  Yet, the end of the day, despite the difficult rationale of the ruling, all were able to enjoy the delicious food that was prepared.

So how bad is the RCC and what is the RCC?  The RCC is made up of our community’s pulpit rabbis, heads of yeshivot, community kollels and community outreach organizations.  These distinguished Orthodox rabbis, almost 100 of them, joined the RCC because it serves them and the community.  The RCC supervises the community Eruv, has a highly respected Beit Din dealing with monetary disputes and family law.  The RCC insures that patients at Cedars Sinai Hospital enjoy fresh kosher food.  The RCC partnered with local agencies to create the nationally respected protocol to deal with school and communal pedophiles.  The RCC supervises a local hospice care provider advising on the complex end-of-life issues.

None of these RCC rabbis are paid!  Some of my colleagues are on-call to the community 24/7 and are busy with the weightiest issues of the community for hundreds of hours each year.  I am proud to work along side them and to glean from their wisdom and dedication.  Yes, there are committed and hard-working salaried professional staff members, who give their heart and soul to their supervision duties, but they do not receive one penny more or less based on the volume of work they solicit or supervise.  This is the beauty of and impetus for a community kashruth not vulnerable to any profit motive. 

To be sure, numerous RCC rabbis and administrators have not rested from the moment we were notified about this subterfuge.  While numerous complaints previously leveled at Doheny, mainly by competitors, were thoroughly investigated and found to be false, this time he was caught in violation of our protocols and we were caught flat-footed! 

And so, we know, that our work is just beginning.  Soon after Pesach, we will undergo a top to bottom review of every aspect of our operation to ensure that we not fail in the future.  We will invite disinterested parties to join the review. 

But, please do not confuse Doheny’s owner with the RCC rabbis and the sophisticated kashruth systems in place.  Please, do not throw the baby out with the bath water. 

What the community needs is an even stronger and improved RCC.  The Rabbis of RCC need community support now more than ever.  Let’s learn from this together and go forward for our community’s betterment.