UC Berkeley opens public system’s first kosher dining station


A dining station at the University of California, Berkeley will be certified kosher, the first in the public university system.

The dining station by Cal Dining is also designed to appeal to Muslims who eat halal, the local Berkeleyside news website reported.

“A lot of people don’t know what ‘kosher’ means or what the criteria is that dictates it,” Josh Woznica, president of the Jewish Student Union, told the news website. The dining station “could be a place where people could learn more about different values and cultures. It has the potential to be an intersection of ideas – a station that’s open to everyone.”

The meat served at the station will be kosher certified. Muslims who observe halal generally can eat meat slaughtered according to Jewish dietary laws, since theirs is a fellow Abrahamic religion. All the kosher food at the station also will meet halal standards, according to the report.

“The implementation of the new food station also relieves a lot of food security concerns for students who eat kosher or halal,” Sarah Bellal, external vice president for the Muslim Student Association, told Berkeleyside. “Moving to Berkeley and starting college already requires adjustment in terms of academics and social life. No longer being able to eat the food you used to eat at home is yet another way students may need to adjust.”

She said she is pleased that Jewish and Muslim students will have the opportunity to eat together on campus.

“Our communities coming together to share meals at Berkeley is symbolic of a centuries-long shared tradition between Jews and Muslims — a tradition that includes many other religious commonalities,” Bellal said.

South Korea wants to boost its kosher food market


South Korea has seen the future — and it’s kosher.

The Korean government announced plans Thursday to attract new businesses and boost international sales by educating producers about kosher and halal foods.

Following a meeting with President Park Guen-hye, officials announced plans to provide “administrative and technical support” to help kosher and halal food and cosmetics makers set up shop in Korea and qualify for kosher and halal supervision, the Korea Times reported.

The Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance said that the global halal market, serving observant Muslims, is growing swiftly and is expected to reach $5.2 trillion globally by 2020, and values the global kosher market at around $250 billion.

The first phase in the plan is to educate companies about the requirements of the Jewish and Muslim markets. Only about 25 companies in South Korea have earned kosher certification on items such as kimchi, rice pasta and salt, according to the Korea Times.

The government plans to provide food makers with kosher glossaries and encourage them to attend Kosherfest, the massive kosher products trade show held each year in New York.

Their halal initiatives seem to be a little further along. According to the ministry, nearly 300 Korean companies have earned halal certification, primarily granted by the Korean Muslim Federation.

Kosher food is hard to come by even in Seoul, the capital city, although the Chabad of Korea says it sells “hundreds of items … from all over the world” for residents and visitors.

Albany kosher cheese maker charged with defrauding investors


The owner of an Albany, New York kosher cheese business has been charged with fraud.

Lawrence Rosenbaum, 64, of Albany, was arraigned on Monday. He is accused of promising investors in Saratoga Cheese Corporation, his kosher and halal cheese business, high returns and shares of stock in his corporation. He never developed the production lines or facilities for which he solicited the money, the local ABC affiliate reported.

Rosenbaum also is accused of writing checks to himself from the business accounts and using some of the investment funds to pay for an apartment with his mistress in Costa Rica. He also did not file his personal income taxes for several years.

 

He is charged on 27 counts including grand larceny, securities fraud and tax fraud.

Rosenbaum looked for investors for a plant to process the cheese and also to create alternative bio-energies from the manure from his milk-producing cows. The $40 million cheese factory announced in 2008 was slated to be built in the Cayuga County Industrial Development Agency industrial park, which was predicted to be an economic boon to the area. He ran his business from the porch of his Albany home.

In 2009, he spoke to Chabad.org of his plans to headquarter his cheese business in rural Cayuga County, and use it as a base to “found a yeshiva, revolutionize the national kosher and Halal cheese industry, and establish a Jewish community in the New York countryside.” In 2014, Rosenbaum told an interfaith gathering in Morristown, New Jersey that his production of cheeses for the Jewish and Muslim markets was part of an effort he called “Cheese for Peace.”

Rosenbaum pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, Rosenbaum faces up to 15 years in state prison. He is currently being held on $200,000 bail.

French school identifies non-pork, non-meat eaters with yellow tags


A French municipality launched a probe into an elementary school’s use of red and yellow tags to identify pupils who do not eat pork and meat, respectively.

The city of Auxerre, located 105 miles southeast of Paris, opened the investigation on Friday after parents complained to local media about the school’s initiative, in which neck strings bearing red and yellow plastic discs were placed on pupils ahead of lunchtime at the school cafeteria.

The pupils wore the tags for one day before the faculty was instructed to stop using them.

The debate on the availability in public schools of pork-free dishes is a divisive issue in France, where rightist parties and other politicians advocating strict separation between religion and state see it as proof of a creeping influence on the public sphere, mostly by Muslims immigrants.

Malika Ounes, a conservative member of the Auxerre city council, told the news website Creusot-Infos.com: “It’s revolting. It brings back memories of dark times,” in reference to the requirement in Nazi-occupied France that Jews wear yellow stars on their clothes.

Among the pupils instructed to wear the tags were Muslims and vegetarians. Reports in French media did not mention any Jewish pupils.

Some parents also complained about the tags, whose use Mayor Guy Perez of the Socialist Party termed “unfortunate.”

But other parents said they were the result of good intentions.

One Muslim mother of two boys attending the school, identified by the RTL broadcaster only as Sonia, said: “The yellow tag doesn’t even correspond with the yellow star. I don’t think there’s a scandal here, just an error that doesn’t require all this rebuke.”

CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, has remained neutral in the debate about pork in cafeterias, largely because observant Jews refrain from eating anything that doesn’t comply to kashrut standards, whether it contains pork or not.

But French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia in March weighed in on the debate, labeling the removal of pork-free dishes “heresy that contradicts the separation of religion and state.”

British right-wing party backs ban on religious slaughter


Britain’s right-wing UKIP party has come out in support of legislation that would ban the production of ritually slaughtered meat.

The United Kingdom Independence Party  became the first major political party in the country to call for a ban on religious slaughter for halal and kosher meat.

“Animal and veterinary science has long concluded that cutting the throats of animals whilst they are fully conscious can cause significant distress and pain,” a UKIP statement sent to the media said. Stunning before slaughter must occur as it is “fully compatible with all world religions,” the text also said.

Jewish religious law, or halachah, requires that animals be conscious when they are slaughtered – a principle that is accepted by the major denominations of Judaism in certifying food as kosher. A similar requirement exists in Islam, though it is less strictly observed, according to some accounts.

Many Jewish professional slaughterers and rabbis claim that kosher slaughter, or shechitah, is as quick, painless and compassionate as any other method used in Western commercial slaughterhouses.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed several times to ensure ritual slaughter remains legal in Britain out of respect for religious groups that require it.

UKIP’s statement said, “We find the government response to this issue is weak, lazy and bordering on spineless.” It added, “We find the rights and demands of groups within those religions override the UK’s compassionate traditions of animal welfare.”

At least one senior representative of UKIP, European Parliament member Stuart Agnew, opposed the policy announcement, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

Shimon Cohen, an adviser to Britain’s Jewish communities on how to defend the practice and campaign director for the Shechita UK not-for-profit, said UKIP’s new position is based on “weak, agenda-driven science” as well as “an opportunistic and a disappointing shift” that “returned UKIP to the fringes of mainstream politics.”

British lawmaker calls for labeling of non-stunned animal’s meat


Meat sold in Britain should be labeled if the animal has not been stunned before slaughter, a British lawmaker said.

Neil Parish, who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb, made the call on Monday for the increased stunning of animals undergoing ritual slaughter during a parliamentary meeting of the group, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

Parish, of the Conservative Party, told the meeting that the government should continue to research shechitah, or Jewish ritual slaughter, and halal, Muslim ritual slaughter.

He also said he would hold discussions with Jewish religious officials over stunning before slaughter. Parish added that he wanted labels to indicate whether or not an animal had been stunned before slaughter, not whether it was slaughtered kosher or halal.

Muslim and Jewish ritual slaughter require that animals be conscious before their necks are cut.

“There is a danger that an outright ban on religious slaughter would not improve animal welfare,” Parish said.

Jewish lawmakers and those representing large Jewish constituencies defended shechitah during the meeting.

Louise Ellman of the Labor Party called a ban on kosher meat production a “gross infringement” of the Jewish community’s civil rights, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

In recent years, kosher and halal slaughter has come under attack in many European countries by animal welfare activists and secularists, but also by right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign.

Since 2010, slaughter that does not involve stunning has been banned in Poland and Denmark. The lower house of the parliament of the Netherlands also banned the practice, but the ban was reversed in 2012 by the senate.

In May, the then-president-elect of the British Veterinary Association called for a ban on slaughtering cattle without first stunning it, which in effect would outlaw traditional kosher slaughter.

An online petition calling for an end to slaughter without stunning for all animals in Britain has received more than 77,700 signatures.

The British government in its response to the petition said that it “encourages the highest standards of welfare at slaughter and would prefer to see all animals stunned before they are slaughtered for food. However, we also respect the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed recently that there would be no ban on religious slaughter in the United Kingdom, the response noted.

 

Kit to check food for pork traces hits France


Worried that the food you thought was kosher, or at least kosher style, has some hidden pork?

Now, using a few test tubes, water and a small pregnancy test-like strip, you can find out in a few minutes whether your food contains pork traces.

HalalTest, a new product developed by two French entrepreneurs, does just this and already has sold 10,000 kits in France, according to Ynet. The kit is being marketed to France’s Muslim community but reportedly will be available online soon.

As Ynet notes, however, such a test seems to offer minimal practical value for most kosher-observant Jews, since pork is just one of many taboo ingredients and a range of other factors — like slaughter method, separation of meat and dairy, and so on — also affects a food’s kosher status.

Given that — and the hassle and expense factor (each test costs more than $8, according to Ynet) —  it’s hard to see do-it-yourself tests ever replacing kosher supervision and certification.

But who knows, perhaps one day those wishing to demonstrate the strictest level of observance may want to precede their kosher-certified meals with not just a blessing but with a HalalTest. Just to make sure.

Dutch Senate ratifies deal allowing shechitah


The Dutch senate voted to approve a deal to allow ritual slaughter in the Netherlands.

Tuesday’s vote came after leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities in the Netherland signed off on a compromise with the government.

The agreement signed on June 5 allows ritual slaughter if the animals lose consciousness within 40 seconds of their throats being cut. After that, they must be stunned – rendering them non-kosher and non-Halal.

Representing the Jewish community at the signing was NIK, the Organization of Jewish Communities in The Netherlands – an umbrella group. The organization’s representatives signed the agreement with Dutch Agriculture Minister Hans Bleker.

The European Jewish Congress welcomed the ratification of the agreement.

“This is a momentous agreement and we hope this will serve as a paradigm and precedent for all countries in Europe and the European Union,” Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said Wednesday.

In December, the leader of the Dutch Animal Rights Party, Marianne Thieme, withdrew a bill that would have required stunning of all animals before slaughter. The measure had passed the lower house of the Dutch parliament in June 2011. A majority of senators had expressed their objection to the ban before its withdrawal.

Dutch law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes an exception for Muslim halal and Jewish shechitah. The Animal Rights Party says that more than 2 million animals are ritually slaughtered each year in the country.

The European Union requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes exceptions for religiously mandated ritual slaughter. Nevertheless, ritual slaughter is banned in Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

Jewish group rips Canadian party’s questioning of ritual slaughter


Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs accused a Quebec legislator of raising “a false issue” when he questioned ritual slaughter practices in the province.

Parti Quebecois lawmaker Andre Simard on March 14 expressed his party’s concern that halal meat, which is derived from slaughtering animals according to Islamic rites, is being sold by mainstream meat companies without proper labeling to unsuspecting consumers.

He said ritual slaughter, implying both Muslim practice and Jewish laws of kashrut, is at odds with Quebec “values” and could be dangerous for human health.

At the time, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it would wait for a statement clarifying the Parti Quebecois position that kosher slaughter does not run counter to Quebec values. But the party issued no follow-up statement.

In a statement issued March 16, the group took Simard to task, saying he had “raised a false issue of transparency [in the] slaughter and marketing of kosher meat.”

The group said kosher meat has been “clearly identified and marketed as such for nearly a century in Quebec. To argue that it threatens to establish itself as the norm is strictly unfounded,” said Luciano Del Negro, vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec.

“Our community is outraged that Mr. Simard has insinuated that traditional Jewish food practices can be at odds with Quebec values,” the group’s statement said.

It also is “unacceptable” to suggest that kosher meat can represent a public health risk, the statement also said, noting that Jewish ritual slaughter meets the same health standards as other methods of killing.

Last week, a newer political party, the Coalition for Quebec’s Future, agreed that halal products must be clearly labeled as such in Quebec.

In a letter to CIJA, a Coalition for Quebec’s Future legislator clarified the party’s criticism of halal meat, saying that “it is indeed known that the identification of kosher products is an established standard for many years, that the slaughter of animals according to this ritual is done according to Canadian standards, and that this practice
is closely supervised. To claim that these practices lack transparency is therefore false.”