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Orthodox allegiance is what's really at stake

November 24, 2016 23:25

Behind the latest manoeuvrings over kosher meat lies a battle to capture the allegiance of the growing number of frum young families in north-west London.

The Federation of Synagogues, keen to throw off any lingering idea that it is a relic of the old East End, believes there is a gap in the religious market to the right of the United Synagogue and it is well-placed to fill it. In particular, it is looking to capitalise on the disenchantment with the Stamford Hill-based Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) felt by many in the Orthodox north-west.

Last year the Federation opened a synagogue in the heart of Hendon but hopes to recruit other existing congregations in the area. It believes the launch of a new mehadrin meat range will prove attractive bait and strengthen the Federation's religious profile.

Mehadrin requires a more stringent standard of supervision than regular kosher meat. Although a mehadrin label may be of little interest to many kosher-eaters, it will appeal to the more punctilious.

One thing is clear, a new mehadrin brand would be competition for Kedassia, the kosher arm of the UOHC. Income from kosher supervision is critical because it helps to fund other parts of the rabbinate. If the Federation initiative were to pay off, the UOHC would struggle even more to retain its foothold in north-west London.

So far, the London Board for Shechita, the meat licensing body run jointly by the Federation, the United Synagogue and the Spanish and Portuguese, has refused to give its blessing to the Federation's mehadrin plan. The LBS already markets various ranges of meat with higher-grade supervision - glatt, chalak bet Yosef and, for poultry, oif mehadrin. It has suggested repackaging some of those products under an LBS mehadrin label but says that the US and Spanish and Portuguese are opposed to a Federation brand.

For more than 20 years, relative peace has reigned in the kosher meat trade after a period of turbulence. In the 1980s, the Federation broke away from the Board and started its own shechita. Hardly had unity been restored and the Federation rejoined its partners, when the United Synagogue decided to go solo, losing hundreds of thousand of pounds in a misplaced venture into shechita. By 1993, the three synagogue organisations were back together in the 200-year-old LBS, one of the community's oldest institutions.

Whether a fresh round of meat wars is about to break out, we will know over the next few days.

November 24, 2016 23:25

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