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Authority, Shmothority, Is Hebrew National Meat Kosher?

One judge wondered how meat could be considered kosher, if the employees of the kosher slaughtering firm "just passed on the cows."
shocked cow

A Minnesota court is hearing an appeal of a lawsuit arguing that Hebrew National is falsely labeling its products as “100 percent kosher.”

The original lawsuit, filed in May 2012 by 11 plaintiffs claiming fraud and breach of contract, was dismissed in January by U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank on the grounds that the issue is religious in nature and therefore not for the courts to decide.

The appeal of the case, Wallace et al v. ConAgra Foods Inc., was heard in St. Paul on Dec. 19 before a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to the plaintiffs’ brief, ex-employees of AER Services, which did the slaughtering for Hebrew National, testified that they were pressured to certify as kosher at least 70 percent of the beef they slaughtered, according to the American Jewish World, the Minnesota newspaper that broke the original story.

The plaintiffs contend that the U.S. court does not have to resolve any Judaic religious issue, because ConAgra employed a production quota system, where a predetermined percentage of cows would be labeled as kosher.

Anne Regan, attorney for the plaintiffs, told the panel of judges that ConAgra was well aware of the problems with AER, and with Triangle K, the firm that provided the hechsher, or kosher certification, for the meat. She reiterated the argument that the quota undermined ConAgra’s claim that it was producing kosher meat to the highest standards.

Judge James B. Loken pressed his question about what makes meat kosher or not, and suggested that if an animal “wasn’t well enough” to meet a “rabbi’s standard, you can’t go there.” In other words, the U.S. court can’t sort out what constitutes a kosher product.

Regan said that if the case was sent back to the district court, attorneys for the plaintiffs could file discovery motions and try to prove that ConAgra was defrauding consumers. The plaintiffs’ brief noted that consumers view kosher food as the “new organic.”

Judge William Jay Riley, chief judge of the 8th Circuit court, also expressed skepticism about how meat could be considered kosher, if the employees of the kosher slaughtering firm “just passed on the cows.”

AER Services, ConAgra and Triangle K have denied the allegations and blamed disgruntled former employees for trying to sully Hebrew National’s reputation. Their attorneys reiterated their argument that a U.S. court cannot constitute what qualifies as kosher, the American Jewish World reported.

“A secular court simply cannot second guess a religious determination by a religious authority,” said Corey Gordon, representing the defendants.

The judges said they would rule on the appeal “as soon as possible,” the paper said.

JTA and AJWNews content was used in this report.

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12 Responses to “Authority, Shmothority, Is Hebrew National Meat Kosher?”

  1. Our fellow frum sisters and brothers were right. You can’t trust all hechsher symbols. Yikes.

  2. Gil Gilman says:

    Gag me with a spoon. It will be sinai kosher from now on for me and mine, oh wait, they quit! Any ideas?

  3. Sara Mandell says:

    I think it is impossible to know what percentage of a group of cattle will or won't be kosher. I read in a journal several years ago that at least 11% do not meet kosher standards and are sold for less money to non-kosher butchers for less money. To make the shochet "pass it on" is to destroy the trust one would have about ANY kosher meat. It makes a joke of our G-d given law & puts economics before G-d's Law. Isn't that idol worship. Stick to the Torah law & G-d will make sure your economics won't be a problem.

  4. Dont care . Love it !

  5. Anonymous says:

    Isn't it better to show respect for all Robonim until one know for SURE that there is a problem? Isn't that at the core of what the Chofetz Chaim teaches as Loshen Hora. Better to not say anything. No one has ever been found guilty of eating UNkosher by following a Rabbi who said it was kosher. However, many have committed acts of baseless hatred by following the gossip of the man sitting next to him or the unsubstantiated claims reported in a court, a Beis Din, or a newspaper. I would rather eat a kosher pig (chas v'shalom) then say something bad about a fellow Jew or Rabbi that I don't know.

  6. Ita Benjamin says:

    US courts are right that it’s not their place to determine whether or not standards of kashrut were met. As long Triangle-K didn’t take any action against them for kashrut violations, ConAgra isn’t violating any laws with a marketing slogan. The certifying organization is responsible for overseeing kashrut; that’s why ConAgra pays them! Now, if Triangle K wasn’t aware of what was happening or there were some violation of their contract, they would have a case against the processor and possibly then the religious kosher consumer as well.

  7. Corey Gordon says:

    Please note that the plaintiffs sued only ConAgra, which I represent. There are no other defendants nor do I represent Triangle K, AER, or AFG.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Even though the cow may pass initial inspection as a 100% 'acceptable' kosher animal, it does not mean that by the end of the processing it meets acceptable kosher standard. Acceptable standards are according to Torah Halachak . For example, a plant that produces kosher meat on Shabbos is NOT KOSHER.etc…

  9. Anonymous says:

    When meat is selected, shechteted slaughtered) and prepared in an halachically approprieate way, it contains spiritual sparks of Holiness that a Jewish soul (neshama) can ignite. Kosher food is food for the Body and Soul of a Jewish person.
    writenut

  10. Anonymous says:

    The core question is under what circumstances do we want secular courts to decide issues that are normally decided by Rabeim? I'm not saying that there are none. For example, I think it's good to have laws to require giving a Get along with a civil divorce. But we all have the ability to ask our own rabbi whether to trust the triangle K.

  11. Oy. It’s either kasher or it isn’t. There is no inbetween on this.

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