The third conference of kashrut organizations in Europe, organized by the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) and sponsored by the Matanel Foundation, came to a close in Brussels on Monday. Over 100 rabbis and representatives of the world’s most prominent kashrut organizations participated, including many leading experts in this field. Besides the dozens of pertinent topics discussed, great emphasis was placed on the question of finding ways to lower the prices of kosher food in Europe.
For example, the British company Tesco sells a whole chicken at 2 pounds sterling (about $3.25). A kosher chicken of similar weight costs five to six times more than that – between ten and twelve pounds (about $16.30 to $19.60). This is basically the situation throughout Europe, although the continent may be divided into two categories: those countries where it is not possible to obtain any kosher meat whatsoever and those where the prices of kosher meat are prohibitively high.
There is more to this than simply making food kosher – the situation has grave consequences for the uniqueness of the Jewish population among their non-Jewish neighbors. A significant facet of the halachic rules of kashrut is the principle of preventing Jews from associating socially with non-Jews, fulfilling the verse, “I have separated you from the nations.”
Conference's participants (Photo: Meir Dahan)
“The current prices of kosher food in Europe make it extremely difficult for tens of thousands of Jews to obtain kosher food,” said Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, Director Deputy of the Rabbinical Center of Europe. “Their failure to eat kosher erodes their Jewish identity and their insulation from non-Jewish society.”
At the conference, a special panel consisting of representatives of the Manchester Kashruth authority (MK), the Federation of Synagogues in London (KF) and others, examined the causes for the inflated prices.
There are factors that affect the prices of kosher food in Europe that do not apply in other countries. For example, in many European communities there is a special tax imposed on the purchase of meat to help support the community’s educational institutions. The panel decided to lobby to lessen these taxes.
The rabbis explained that the high food prices often place them at a disadvantage when they attempt to present Torah Judaism in a positive light. Many of the members of the Orthodox communities in Europe are not Torah-observant in their personal lives.
When a rabbi attempts to persuade a member to begin purchasing the kosher meat made available by his kashrut organization, he is often confronted with the question, “Why should I pay five times as much for identical meat?” Rabbi Y. Reuven Rubin, rabbi of South Manchester and an excellent purveyor of authentic Judaism to the public, gave the participants a number of pointers to help deal with these challenges.
The Rabbinical Center of Europe represents over 700 rabbis and Jewish communities throughout the continent. It works to improve religious functions and services, such as providing financial and professional assistance for the construction of mikvehs (ritual baths), offering halachic guidelines and advice.