The Refusal of U.S. Courts to Say What’s Kosher Is a Double-Edged Sword

Last week, a New York state judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Long Island kosher restaurant called Chimichurri against the local Vaad Hakashrus, or kosher-supervision council. Michael A. Helfand explains the facts of the case, and the complex constitutional issues behind the judge’s decision:

According to the complaint, Chimichurri ended its five-year relationship with the Vaad in July of 2020, choosing instead to use Mehadrin, a different kosher-certification company. The restaurant claims the Vaad retaliated by circulating a letter falsely claiming that it was no longer kosher, which Chimichurri said led to $150,000 in lost revenue over a year.

Chimichurri’s claim, legally, hinged on the word “falsely,” which raises the specter of what, exactly, is kosher—a red flag for the court. . . . Whose description of the facts is correct? The pursuit of that question could run afoul of what is often termed the “religious-question doctrine,” which prohibits judges from resolving issues of religious practice.

There are many different—and, sometimes, competing—justifications for this doctrine. But maybe the most intuitive version is that when a court picks one religious view over another, it is using the coercive power of the state to determine which version of a faith is the true faith. And that is tantamount to establishing religion, in contravention of the First Amendment. This is why most courts have, for the past 70 years, consistently refused to resolve kosher cases.

Current constitutional doctrine thankfully ensures good-faith kosher certifiers and rabbinic leaders can, without fear of judicial reprisal, clearly express their views on religious standards within their communities. At the same time, it also means that courts will often lack the tools to root out actual fraud—that is, actual attempts to falsify the kosher standing of food. . . . And that ultimately means that it is up to the Jewish community to build the kinds of institutions that will both ensure the viability and protect the integrity of the kosher marketplace.

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Read more at Forward

More about: American Jewry, American law, First Amendment, Kashrut

 

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship