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.

Read more at Forward

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


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount