Claims of new kosher meat operation prompt concern over communal unity


The Federation of Synagogues has been accused of trying to launch a separate shechita operation in conflict with the supervising body for London’s mainstream kosher meat market.

Benjamin Mire, the president of the London Board for Shechita (LBS), has written to Federation president Andrew Cohen to express concern and disappointment at what he called “shocking matters”.

The Federation is one of the three partners in the LBS, which licenses kosher meat for the capital, with the United Synagogue and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

Mr Mire said that the LBS had received an email a week ago from Norman Bookbinder, director of one of the largest meat suppliers, Gilberts, “purporting to terminate” his licence with the Board.

Mr Mire said that Mr Cohen had then told him that the Federation had granted Gilberts a licence and supervised the shechita of beef in an Irish abattoir to supply him within the last few days.

It seemed “quite contrary” to the Federation’s continued participation in a cross-communal body, Mr Mire wrote, for it to “conduct its own separate shechita operation outside the parameters of the London Board and clearly now in competition and conflict with an organisation of which it remains part”.

Mr Bookbinder would only say to the JC that he was meeting the LBS today. “I don’t want to go further than that,” he said.

So far the Federation has maintained silence in response to Mr Mire’s allegations. But a Federation source last week confirmed to the JC that an unnamed “independent kosher meat supplier” had approached it for a licence.

Last month the LBS rejected a proposal from the Federation to start a new “mehadrin” meat range – mehadrin reflecting a stricter level of supervision than standard kosher meat.

The Federation explained last August that it wanted to provide an additional service as an alternative to Kedassia, the kosher meat arm of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

In a paper setting out its proposal, the Federation said that there were a number of synagogues who “would find it more attractive to become part of the Federation” if it could offer its own brand of mehadrin meat.

The Federation wrote that it had been approached by Mr Bookbinder to buy the mehadrin supply. The new meat range would be sold at Kosher Outlet, the not-for-profit discount store set up to help financially hard-pressed families.

According to the Federation, the Kosher Outlet sold around £1 million of Kedassia meat last year but the Federation hoped the new mehadrin brand would outsell Kedassia.

It suggested that the shechita fee for the mehadrin brand should be split three ways among the LBS, the Federation and three rabbis supervising it.

But last month Mr Mire, who is a member of the Federation himself, wrote to Mr Cohen to say that neither the United Synagogue nor Sephardim supported the mehadrin proposal as it stood.

Mr Mire argued that the new range could imply that the LBS's current kashrut standards were “below par”. In addition to regular kosher, the LBS also sells glatt and chalak bet Yosef meat and an oif mehadrin poultry range, which require stricter supervision.

There was also, he added, “extreme unease about the Board promoting a new brand which expresses the intention to… take business from a long-established shechita authority [Kedassia], which rightly or wrongly must fund its own community’s other infrastructure.”

He suggested an alternative arrangement, whereby the LBS would rebrand its chalak bet Yosef range as “mehadrin”.

In his email to Mr Cohen last week, Mr Mire said that in discussions about the mehadrin brand, the Federation’s trustees had stressed that “you would never set out to – or organise maters in a way that would – conflict with the interests of the London Board”.

The LBS has maintained peace among its partners for some 20 years following the so-called meat wars of the 1980s and early 1990s which led to rival operations.

A LBS source said, “We are conscious of trying to maintain communal unity. That will be our overriding concern.”

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