Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are Hebrew National Hot Dogs Kosher?

When I awoke this morning to find a few news articles in my "Kosher" Google News Alerts regarding a lawsuit against ConAgra claiming Hebrew National hot dogs aren't kosher, I didn't give it much thought. That's because a large segment of the kosher observant population hasn't considered Hebrew National hot dogs to be kosher for many years.



Much of the criticism against Hebrew National in the past has more to do with "kosher politics" than it does with actual kosher standards. In fact, the reason why many don't consider Hebrew National meat (most notably their hot dogs) to be kosher is because they are not glatt. Several months ago, I wrote on this blog about what "glatt kosher" means and why there is such a misunderstanding about it.

A leading Orthodox rabbi (Rabbi Yitzhak Abadi of New Jersey) and also the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly (including kosher experts Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz and Rabbi Paul Plotkin) have publicly stated that Hebrew National is truly kosher for those who do not eat only glatt meat. The three Conservative rabbis traveled to Hebrew National's headquarters to inspect the facilities.

However, this class action lawsuit argues that ConAgra, the parent company behind Hebrew National, cut corners in the slaughtering process and that the head of Triangle-K, the certifying agency, did little to correct the transgressions.

According to the American Jewish World News, the complaint runs approximately 65 pages and notes that employees "who made the complaints were terminated or otherwise threatened with adverse retaliation, such as job transfers to other facilities or states. In turn, non-kosher meat was delivered to ConAgra and packaged, labeled and sold to the public [including the plaintiffs in the lawsuit] as strictly 100% kosher."

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Hart Robinovitch, told the American Jewish World, "Don’t get me wrong here: We’re not saying that they’re passing off pork as kosher products… but in the complaint, as you can see, we went through the different elements and the different requirements for meat to be considered kosher, in terms of the way the cows are slaughtered, and the meat is prepared; and based on our investigation, there were certain things that weren’t conducted properly, in a systematic way, from the way cows were slaughtered, to the way the lungs were inspected or not inspected for imperfections, as is required to meet the standard that the meat is 100 percent kosher."


According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs thought they were buying products that were 100 percent kosher. If that means the plaintiffs thought they were buying glatt kosher meat and surprised that it wasn't, I don't think that's cause for a lawsuit. Hebrew National and the Ralbag family rabbis who run Triangle-K have been clear that Hebrew National is not glatt. Therefore it isn't deception.

However, if Hebrew National has been using non-kosher meat (non-glatt does not mean non-kosher or treif) then the class-action lawsuit has merit.

There are many different levels of kosher observance. Thus, it is difficult to have a secular court rule on whether a company is claiming its meat to be 100% kosher but it actually is not 100% kosher for some consumers.

I am irritated when I hear the Hebrew National hot dogs being marketed as "kosher hot dogs" at Detroit Tigers baseball games when in fact they are cooked on the same grill as the non-kosher hot dogs and sausages. Further, the buns they are wrapped in are dairy thus violating the kosher law against mixing dairy and meat. However, I also recognize that for some fans at the baseball stadium the fact that the hot dogs are kosher is satisfactory enough for them.

Whenever a food is advertised as kosher, it is caveat emptor - buyer beware. It is important to do a little research before eating the product. In the case of Hebrew National, it is well documented that their meat isn't glatt which means not 100% kosher for some people. If that is the rationale for the class action lawsuit, I say it's frivolous. If, however, Hebrew National and its parent company ConAgra, is guilty of cutting corners and passing off treif meat as kosher, then I think this lawsuit is legitimate and Hebrew National will have to answer to an even higher authority.

19 comments:

jkroop said...

It seems to me there may be something else at play here: Hebrew National gets nearly 100% of the infinitely small kosher meat slotting at regular grocery stores. If competitors are able to sully (further) Hebrew National's kosher credentials, grocers may be more willing to allow another competitor or two to take over the slots previously given to Hebrew National. The stakes can be very high and the benefits very lucrative for Hebrew National's competitors.

Susan Bonowitz said...

Most orthodox don't accept triangle k. But for those who do, isn't the avera on them (or whomever certified the product kosher)?

Hebrew National said...

Hi Jason - As we've stated below, our products are kosher and this lawsuit is without merit. Hebrew National's kosher status is certified by a well-recognized and authorized third party and there is close rabbinical supervision of the food preparation process and packaging equipment. For more than 100 years, we have followed strict dietary law, using only specific cuts of beef that meet the highest standards for quality, cleanliness and safety with no by-products, artificial flavors or artificial colors. Thanks!

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Susan, the product is kosher. It's just not glatt. That's the distinction. If however, there were serious violations in their slaughtering or production of kosher meat, that's a different story. If they fired employees who were whistle blowers on their violations, that's a serious matter as well.

David Parshan said...

at one time I knew they had a policy to use a bolt right after shechita, I do not know if it is a kosher or mehadrin issue, or if it is still practiced.

Rabbi Morris Allen said...

There are two issues here. One the kashrut issue. I would hope that this is not an attempt to run non-glatt kosher meat off the market. I have come to appreciate how tenuous the non-glatt kosher meat supply is and how important it is that we maintain its presence. I am hopeful that Rabbi Ralbag will address those concerns. The other issue is the labor issue. No meat packing plant in this country is a "great place to work." That being said, there is a means for addressing these issues. THAT IS MAGEN TZEDEK. I hope Triangle_K avails itself of our auditing procedure--assuring the kosher consumer that not only is a product halachically kosher, it has been produced in a manner that is consistent with the demands of the ethical norms of our tradition. www.magentzedek.org

Lisa Bernstein said...

Jason, as a rabbi involved in kosher certification, are you recommending people (who eat non-glatt kosher meat) avoid or continue eating the hot dogs, since no one has all the evidence at this point?

Rabbi Amitai Adler said...

It is long past time that we break the monopoly created by the chumra of glatt kosher meat. There is no halachic basis for requiring everyone to eat glatt meat, and claiming that kosher meat is treyf because it isn't glatt is not only supporting a tircha d'tzibura, it is falsely assigning aveirot to Jews not transgressing anything. Since my guess is that non-glatt is the only actual issue of kashrut here at hand, I can only conclude that this lawsuit is a chillul Hashem, and the complainants ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Amitai, Put that on a banner and I'll gladly waive it. By the way, just as non-Glatt meat isn't treif and can't treif up vessels/utensils, I encourage you to ask observant Jews whether kitniyot would make their Pesach dishes un-kosher for Pesach. In other words, the vast majority of Jews really don't understand the difference between a chumra, a stam minhag and halacha. My favorite by the way was watching an Orthodox rabbi (Amitai: you know this guy) freak out at an AIPAC event because people were putting fish and meat together on their PLASTIC disposable plates.

Rabbi Amitai Adler said...

Yup. It's a shondeh how certain Haredi poskim have taken advantage of the ignorance of some concerning the difference between stam halachah, chumra, and minhagei ha-am, and the willingness of others to ignore what they know about those things out of social pressure, and used the combination of the two to orchestrate inflexible and rigorous narrowing of practical halachah in ways that financially benefit a small number of Haredi families and companies, and widen the divides between Haredim, Modern Orthodox, and non-Orthodox Jews.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Lisa: At this point, I wouldn't advise people who eat non-glatt meat to stop eating Hebrew National. My sense is that the lawsuit is frivolous. That being said, it must be very difficult to really ensure compliance at ConAgra because it is SO big. Triangle-K would probably need 1000s of mashgichim on the ground in their facilities to really ensure they're doing everything they need to do. So, it might be best to buy from the local butcher, but if you live in Ann Arbor and rely on Hebrew National you're probably fine to continue with your status quo.

Aaron Schwartz said...

Sounds like more of a problem with Triangle-K than with HN.

Susan Schwaidelson Siegfried said...

On the night before my wedding, my grandmother, the widow of a kosher butcher, told me, "never by a chicken from a butcher who says it's glatt. There's no such thing as a glatt chicken. It's racket and the want to take your money because they think that you don't know better."

My father-in-law, a large animal vet and epidemiologist for the USDA says there is no such thing as a perfect lung. Even if you can't see the imperfection, it's there. "Those glatt guys don't know what they're talking about. They're crazy."

Whenever possible, I buy non-glatt meat. It's political, it's a racket, and it's sinat chinam because it breeds hatred and distrust. Somehow, I don't think that's what the Kodesh Boruch Hee had in mind when She invented kashrut.

Jonathan Kincaid said...

I stopped buying Con-Agra products a long time ago due to the fact that the ingredients in most of their processed foods are not good for you, but which ones are anyway? Also, the conditions of the animals are horrible and lets not forget the e-coli outbreak in 2002.

Jonathan Kincaid said...

I stopped buying Con-Agra products a long time ago due to the fact that the ingredients in most of their processed foods are not good for you, but which ones are anyway? Also, the conditions of the animals are horrible and lets not forget the e-coli outbreak in 2002.

Eric Weis said...

I have been to a local minor league baseball team in Essex County NJ, and to the New Jersey Devils in Newark NJ. In both cases, kosher food is sold ONLY at kosher foodstands. Those stands are not open on Friday nights or Saturday nights for obvious reasons. Anyone who buys a "kosher" hot dog from an ordinary foodstand has no right to expect a kosher product, let alone adherence to glatt standards. Perhaps the practice here in northern NJ is related to a Jewish population of around 3.5 million people and market economics. In any case, caveat emptor!

Anonymous said...

The point I think people are missing here is whether deciding what is/isn't kosher should not be in the secular court system. First, these courts do not have theexpertise to rule on matters of halacha. Second, a court that would make a ruling on what is/isn't kosher would be getting into establishment clause issues. Certain state-level kosher laws (aimed at protecting the consumer) have ben ruled unconstitutional in the past because the government has no business deciding whose standards to use. This case should be dismissed on day one.

Anonymous said...

Are kosher certifiers kosher themselves? I believe that is the question we should ask ourselves. If we want to go into depth about this problem we should look at the case of Rubashkin meats which were supposedly Glatt kosher and then they found out that some of the meats were not kosher. At least Triangle K says their meat is non Glatt but Rubashkin said his was of a higher authority and see where that went. If you want an indication where Kashruth is going read the article on this site and see what Kashruth really is. http://www.rabbisholomadler.com/

joseph garcia said...

Josef Benloche,
I believe that true orthodox Jews who would only consume (glatt) kosher products would never even consider Hebrew nationals. In this case the "kosher" dogs I believe are labeled more as a distinction of quality than as true (glatt) kosher. I grew up eating hot-dogs and now as an adult i only eat H.N. dogs. They are the only dogs that actually taste like the meat used in manufacturing them. If you want to sue a manufacturer look into the so called "organic" labeling here in the states. Most of these products cannot be labelled thus in European markets due to the fact that they are not "organic". This is a shameful lawsuit, which threatens one of the only company's left that has any real standards not set by an inept federal department. the only thing this lawsuit will do is raise the prices on quality meat products supplied by Hebrew national and the like. And thanks to Rabbi Jason for the distinctions on "Kosher" put in layman terms that i can understand!
Josef