Thanks to the Free Market, and to Popular Interest, American Jews Benefit from a Cornucopia of Kosher Foods

Nov. 21 2018

Having grown up in a religiously observant Jewish home in the 1960s and 70s, Jeff Jacoby remembers that such commonplace packaged foods as Oreo cookies and Sara Lee cakes were off-limits, since it was impossible to know if they were kosher. Now these are among the many items—40 percent of all packaged food and drinks sold in the U.S.—that bear kosher certification. Jacoby reflects on the radical expansion of what he calls “the kosher-industrial complex” in his own lifetime:

America has undergone a kosher revolution. It wasn’t all that long ago that demand for kosher food was restricted to a tiny niche of the public—Jews amount to less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and only a minority of Jews keep kosher. . . . The first company to [receive rabbinic supervision] was Heinz, whose canned vegetarian beans began carrying kosher certification in 1923—a distinction the company played up in advertising targeted to Jews. But other companies were slow to follow suit. In 1945, the OU’s kosher symbol appeared on just 184 products made by 37 companies; by 1961, that had grown to 1,830 products from 359 companies—still a mere drop in the food-industry bucket.

Gradually, though, market demand for kosher food was spreading beyond observant Jews. Vegetarians began to see kosher certification on a dairy product as a guarantee that it contained no animal byproducts whatsoever. Muslims, for whom pigs are anathema, learned that the kosher symbol on a package meant there was no pork or lard inside. Other consumers came to associate kashrut with a higher level of purity than U.S. law mandates. . . .

With kosher food as with so many other things, where there is a need, a free market will satisfy it. In the rise of the kosher-industrial complex, all parties have come out ahead. It has generated a vast array of formerly inaccessible options for a small religious minority. It has enabled a key industry to meet a growing market demand and reap billions of dollars in revenue. It has enriched contemporary American culture with one of the most ancient food traditions of all. And it has done it all not through top-down coercion, but through voluntary private cooperation.

What could be more quintessentially American?

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More about: American Jewish History, American Jewry, Free market, Kashrut, Religion & Holidays

“Ending the War in Yemen” Would Lead to More Bloodshed and Threaten Global Trade

Dec. 13 2018

A bipartisan movement is afloat in Congress to end American support for the Saudi-led coalition currently fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. With frustration at Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, reports of impending famine and a cholera outbreak in Yemen, and mounting casualties, Congress could go so far as to cut all funding for U.S. involvement in the war. But to do so would be a grave mistake, argues Mohammed Khalid Alyahya:

Unfortunately, calls to “stop the Yemen war,” though morally satisfying, are fundamentally misguided. . . . A precipitous disengagement by the Saudi-led coalition . . . would have calamitous consequences for Yemen, the Middle East, and the world at large. The urgency to end the war reduces that conflict, and its drivers, to a morality play, with the coalition of Arab states cast as the bloodthirsty villain killing and starving Yemeni civilians. The assumption seems to be that if the coalition’s military operations are brought to a halt, all will be well in Yemen. . . .

[But] if the Saudi-led coalition were to cease operations, Iran’s long arm, the Houthis, would march on areas [previously controlled by the Yemeni government] and exact a bloody toll on the populations of such cities as Aden and Marib with the same ruthlessness with which they [treated] Sanaa and Taiz during the past three years. The rebels have ruled Sanaa, kidnapping, executing, disappearing, systematically torturing, and assassinating detractors. In Taiz, they fire mortars indiscriminately at the civilian population and snipers shoot at children to force residents into submission.

[Moreover], an abrupt termination of the war would leave Iran in control of Yemen [and] deal a serious blow to the global economy. Iran would have the ability to obstruct trade and oil flows from both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait. . . . About 24 percent of the world’s petroleum and petroleum products passes through these two waterways, and Iran already has the capability to disrupt oil flows from Hormuz and threatened to do so this year. Should Iran acquire that capability in Bab el-Mandeb by establishing a foothold in the Gulf of Aden, even if it chose not to utilize this capability oil prices and insurance costs would surge.

Allowing Tehran to control two of the most strategic choke points for the global energy market is simply not an option for the international community. There is every reason to believe that Iran would launch attacks on maritime traffic. The Houthis have mounted multiple attacks on commercial and military vessels over the past several years, and Iran has supplied its Yemeni proxy with drone boats, conventional aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

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More about: Iran, Oil, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen