Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reacting to the Monsey Chicken Scandal

By now, I assume that just about every reader of this blog has heard about the scandal in Monsey, in which a respected butcher was caught having sold for years non-kosher chickens labeled as kosher. The response has been an uproar, with people outraged and re-kashering their kitchens just before the holidays. I have heard some rumblings about believing observant store owners even less regarding the kosher status of food in their stores. I wonder whether this is an overreaction.

We generally believe someone who is observant regarding religious issues, because they have a chezkas kashrus, presumption of trustworthiness. This butcher not only had a presumption of trustworthiness but was specifically known as being an upstanding and trustworthy member of the community (cf. Rema, Yoreh De'ah 119:1 and commentaries), yet disproved that presumption. Does that mean that we can no longer trust people like we did before? I don't know that we ever believed that observant Jews are always trustworthy. The chezkas kashrus was that since the vast majority of known observant Jews are trustworthy on religious matters, we presume that all are until proven otherwise. All we have learned is that this particular butcher was not trustworthy. But has that really undermined everyone else's chezkas kashrus? Must we now suspect everyone in the community?

There have been occurences in history that have impacted halakhah. For example, after an incident with non-kosher cheese, the Chayei Adam (Chokhmas Adam 71:1) ruled strictly from then on. Should that be the case now, or should we just chalk this up to one bad apple?

I leave that to the proper halakhic authorities. But in my ignorance, I lean towards still trusting people as we did before.

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