Kosher Certification Isn’t A Tax, But It’s Surely Worth Discussing

Louise Mailloux, Parti Québécois candidate and professor at Cégep du Vieux Montréal, was criticized earlier this month by the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs (CIJA) over her past remarks about what is known as “kosher certification”, the process of authenticating food products as kosher and therefore fit for consumption by observant Jews.

CIJA cites an article Mailloux wrote in L’Aut’journal and a 98.5 Radio interview with Benoît Dutrizac two years ago, in which she claimed that kosher certification, which has become commonplace among products sold in any supermarket, is enriching rabbis.


She has elsewhere suggested that the proceeds from kosher and halal certification fund religious wars.


“According to Mailloux, kosher certification is a ‘rip off’, ‘robbery’ and a ‘tax’ paid ‘directly… to the synagogue’ unbeknownst to Quebecers,” Del Negro said on March 13, “…thereby contributing to unfounded resentment toward Quebec Jews by their fellow citizens.”

CIJA went so far as to describe Mailloux’s views on the subject as “anti-Semitic propaganda”, and a “conspiracy theory”, and there seems to be little doubt that Mailloux is blowing things grossly out of proportion. A “Judaism 101” page explains how kosher certification actually works, and it sounds reasonably benign:

The task of keeping kosher is greatly simplified by widespread kashrut certification. Products that have been certified as kosher are labeled with a mark called a hekhsher (from the same Hebrew root as the word “kosher”) that ordinarily identifies the rabbi or organization that certified the product. Approximately 3/4 of all prepackaged foods have some kind of kosher certification, and most major brands have reliable Orthodox certification.


The process of certification does not involve “blessing” the food; rather, it involves examining the ingredients used to make the food, examining the process by which the food is prepared, and periodically inspecting the processing facilities to make sure that kosher standards are maintained.

Kosher (or “kashrut”, yet another derivative of the same Hebrew root) certification is a business. Companies pay certification agencies, such as the Kashruth Council of Canada (whose hekhsher is the letters “COR”, inside an oval), to ensure that their products meet kosher standards. Mailloux’s comments reflect a conviction, shared by certain other suspicious minds, that ordinary consumers are unwittingly buying certified products at prices that are significantly inflated by the cost of certification, and that the certification agencies are using their profits to fund religious causes. One sees unhinged references to a “kosher tax”, and even (rather cleverly, I suppose) a “kosher nostra“.

There seems to be little dispute that kosher certification, at least in Western countries, is so widespread that it’s easy to buy certified products without meaning to do so:

Still, a lot of consumers are oblivious to kosher products. Those in the know tend to be familiar with Jewish culture. Lazarus, for example, is Jewish but not observant.


She suspects many shoppers are unknowingly tossing kosher products in their carts. Others don’t know enough about kosher rules to realize they may fill particular dietary needs.

The essence of the counter-argument to dark “kosher nostra” speculations, then, is that kosher certification has no significant effect on prices. Back to Judaism 101:

There are some who have complained that these certification costs increase the cost of the products to non-Jewish, non-kosher consumers; however, the actual cost of such certification is so small relative to the overall cost of production that most manufacturers cannot even calculate it. The cost is more than justified by the increase in sales it produces: although observant Jews are only a small fragment of the marketplace, kosher certification is also a useful (though not complete) point of reference for many Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists and vegetarians. In addition, many people prefer kosher products because they believe them to be cleaner, healthier or better than non-kosher products.

At this point, though, another term enters the equation: simple exasperation. Yes, some kosher rules may promote greater health and cleanliness, but the whole concept is still rooted in a futile desire to obey a non-existent deity. Honest explanations of the practice come out and say this, if not necessarily in so many words.

Though an ancillary hygienic benefit has been attributed to the observance of kosher, the ultimate purpose and rationale is to conform to the Divine Will, as expressed in the Torah.

I have no trouble believing that the cost of kosher certification is negligible in the grand scheme of things, but the fact that many Canadian food producers apparently find it necessary to jump through this superstitious hoop nevertheless sticks in my craw. In principle, I would rather buy food that had not been rigorously checked for conformity to the Divine Will, even if it were slightly more expensive! All this applies equally, of course, to halal certification, which seems to work in about the same way as kosher certification but with a different set of semi-arbitrary rules.

Fortunately, I live in a country where kosher certification is an issue only for products intended for export, although halal certification is another matter (Islam is more widespread in China than most Canadians probably realise). I’d be interested, however, to hear from people who live in Canada. Are there, in fact, hekhshers (or the Islamic equivalent) all over the products in your local supermarket(s)? Are non-hekhshered alternatives readily available, and is there any obvious difference in price and/or quality? Kosher certification isn’t a tax, and certainly isn’t robbery, but I would argue that it’s something Canadians should know about and should be discussing. Comment here or write to me at doubting_corwin (at) fastmail (dot) net.

Pat Robertson – Marginalizing Atheists with Talk of Abuse

Good grief, the degree someone speculates about someone who is different from himself is truly staggering. It seems that Pat Robertson, in answering a concerned letter asking what could be done with someone’s hell-bound atheist co-worker, speculates that this woman (the atheist) must’ve been that way because she was abused as a child. Probably by her father. And also raped. Maybe while reading scripture.

There is just so much stupid here, it’s hard to know where to start so I’ll just leave this picture of Sheldon Cooper and we can all silently think about how religion tries to marginalize dissension.


Luckily, it’s not the mediaeval period or that woman might’ve been burned as a witch! You can read more here: Pat Robertson: Atheist women were likely raped, and that’s why they reject Jesus | The Raw Story.

Catholic Education versus Gay Rights

Christopher Karas, “who has filed an application to The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging systematic homophobia by teachers and administrators at the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud (CSDCCS),” is a brave young man.

It takes a lot of courage and determination to challenge his own school and school board, especially since his challenge raises “the issue of how the publicly-funded religious school system in Ontario treats students who do not identify as straight.” Karas is not only challenging the Catholic school system in Ontario; he is challenging the most powerful religious organization in Ontario: the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, which is headed by Thomas Cardinal Collins, who is Archbishop of Toronto and ACBO’s president.

Karas and Karas’ lawyer maintain a naive, positive attitude toward Catholicism and Catholic teaching:

Karas’ lawyer Jean-Alexandre De Bousquet said discrimination against gay people is not a core tenet of Catholicism and therefore shouldn’t be protected.


Karas does not actually think the incidents he alleges in his application are in line with Catholic teaching. He said Catholics above all believe in care and respect for others.

Despite the way Karas and his lawyer define Catholicism and identify its tenets, a 2012 document from the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association entitled “Respecting Difference” is very clear that the “primary teaching document of the Catholic Church is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Attention on the Catechism’s pronouncements on chastity and homosexuality has commonly focused on one phrase “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”  However, sections 2357 -2359 of the Catechism are more detailed:

Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

The assertion that the “primary teaching document of the Catholic Church is the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” affects all subjects and extra-circular activities in publicly-funded Catholic schools.  Reading literature that does not conform to Catholic teaching is discouraged or banned, students are given time away from classes to attend pro-life rallies, and the wording and naming of pro-LGBT posters and clubs is closely monitored and restricted.

It is clear that the “core tenet[s]” of Catholicism are what the Catholic hierarchy says they are, and the idea that “Catholics above all believe in care and respect for others” is a naive view of the Catholic Church and its leaders. What Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute and theology teacher at the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s college, calls “guidelines to be a ‘good’ Catholic” are homophobic and subjective and are designed to perpetuate the numerous abuses of Catholic teaching in Ontario.

Can Corporations Believe in God and Opt Out of Providing Birth Control?

Next week, a case will be heard before the US Supreme Court concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer insurance plans cover contraception. The US Supreme Court will have to decide if Freedom of Religion applies to corporations (which oddly are now considered “people” in the US) and if so, can that freedom infringe on the freedoms of others?

Personally, I find this preposterous for a couple of reasons: 1) the US in general and Republicans in particular dislike what they call “big government”. They want as little government interference in their lives as possible (this is something perplexing for Canadians, who generally see the government as a partner in our lives, even though we love to grumble about it), yet groups of Americans push for invasive legislation about the most private things (sex, contraception, lady parts). 2) The foundation for denying birth control is that it violates religion, particularly Christian religion.

Why should we base any decisions on a bronze aged book handed down over the millennia, copied over and over from various languages and full of contradictions? Why would we consult a book that we know reflects the violent society of the time when our society has moved past all that?


In my opinion, an argument such as the one before the Supreme Court should be thrown out for my second reason alone!

If you’re interested in reading more, take a look at this article at the Daily Beast: Do Corporations Believe in God? The ‘Hobby Lobby’ Case Has the Answer – The Daily Beast.

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