Over the weekend, I happened to visit the website of the Kashruth Council of Canada, the country’s largest kosher supervisory agency (yes, I lead a very exciting life), and I noticed that it contains the following helpful item in its news section — the place where it lists establishments and products that have new kosher certification or are no longer supervised under the council’s COR hasgachah symbol.
“Please be advised that as of January 1, 2012 Beth Tzedec’s synagogue catering facilities located at 1700 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON are no longer under COR certification.”
Does this mean that the the facilities at Beth Tzedec Congregation – North America’s largest Conservative synagogue, with 2,700 member families – no longer has a kosher kitchen? Does the average consumer of kosher food (like me) need to be wary of eating at Beth Tzedec when attending a wedding or bar mitzvah?
What really happened was that Beth Tzedec became first major shul in Toronto to select a caterer that’s certified as kosher by Badatz Toronto. The caterer in question is called Applause Catering, and Badatz is an upstart kashrut supervisory agency, formed in 2008, that’s led by the respected Sephardi Rabbi Amram Assayag and his colleague Rabbi Moshe Bensalmon. The latter is a former COR mashgiach and the former is an ex-COR rabbinic board member.
As The CJN reported in 2010, the stated goal in forming Badatz Toronto was to offer a lower cost alternative to COR that would make kashrut supervision more accessible to more food companies, restaurants and caterers by passing on lower overhead costs to those seeking supervision.
Not surprinsingly, the selection process for Beth Tzedec’s new caterer did not pass without controversy. The CJN reported that the Toronto-based Kashruth Council sent out an e-mail to its board members implying that the community would not be well served by the appointment of a Badatz-certified caterer at the synagogue. The Kashruth Council later sent out a second e-mail in which CEO Rabbi Tuvia Basser regretted the “lack of precision” in his initial e-mail and retracted the implication that Beth Tzedec would choose a caterer that did not uphold “a high standard of kashrus.”
In a statement to The CJN, the Kashruth Council said that its “intention was to allow for Beth Tzedec to continue offering its catering facilities to the full range of the kosher community, including those who only feel comfortable eating from COR-supervised establishments… frankly, we are hurt by any false allegation that we don’t have the best interests of the community at heart.”
That’s disingenouous, as was the Kashruth Council’s subsequent behaviour in posting the rather misleading news item on its website. Obviously, it doesn’t want competition, and there are many people in Toronto’s Jewish community (such as this letter-writer to the Jewish Tribune) who rue the idea of multiple kashrut agencies, because they think it will lead to anarchy and kosher consumers not knowing which agencies they can trust. They point to New York and Israel as examples of this, as well as to the bad old days in Toronto before COR became the dominant game in town.
But what’s done is done, and the ambiguous COR post about Beth Tzedec seems more than a bit petulant, not to mention that it implies something the Kashruth Council would never say publicly — namely, that the shul’s kitchen isn’t as kosher as you might have thought it was.
If you didn’t know better, you’d suspect that a large, respected kashrut agency was trying to muscle out a smaller, newer competitor.
Sour grapes, perhaps?