Feb 4, 2013

Judge refuses to mix into religious dispute regarding Hebrew National

Hot Dogs usually get cooked in hot water (unless they are barbecued), and now Hebrew National is in hot water.

Hebrew National is being sued for claiming its hot dogs are kosher, when, the claimants say, that is false advertising as the hot dogs are not kosher.

Hebrew National was always in a peculiar situation. Their hot dogs bear the kashrus certification of the Triangle K, under the authority of Rabbi Ralbag. If Hebrew National was not controversial enough on its own, among the kosher consumer, they found a good match with the Triangle K hechsher. Many in the frum community don't rely on the Triangle K hechsher. To illustrate, I was once told by a rabbi, when inquiring whether a certain product with the Triangle K hechsher could be consumed, that it was ok because it was a product that did not really require a hechsher anyway - so by consuming it I would not be relying on the Triangle K.

I never got a straight answer as to why Triangle K is considered unreliable. Some say it is because they supposedly do not inspect their clients frequently enough, others say it is because of their policy on certifying non-glatt meat, others say their standards are too lenient in general. I don't know if any of these are the real reasons, or maybe it is D- all of the above, or maybe there is another reason or maybe for no good reason at all.

Back to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim that Hebrew National does not meet the standards described in the advertising, those being to be kosher as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law.

The lawsuit is against Conagra, the owners of Hebrew National, and not against the kashrus certifying agencies. Hebrew National and the Triangle K have both rejected the claims.

From the JTA:

Among the suit’s allegations:
* Knives used in the slaughtering process were nicked, preventing a clean cut mandated by kosher law;
* Organ meat was not consistently inspected after slaughter, as required for kashrut;
* The blood of slaughtered animals was not consistently removed within 72 hours, as required by kosher law;
* Managers took certificates that had been issued to trained slaughterers and replaced their names with individuals who had not been trained;
* Kosher meat was not consistently kept separate from non-kosher meat.
In his statement, Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag said, point by point, that all the allegations are false.
The suit also alleges that workers at some AER facilities, including in St. Paul, Minn., kept kosher, but would not eat the Hebrew National products. Those workers, according to the complaint, were allowed to purchase meats from “specifically selected cows [that] would be slaughtered and checked in strict accordance with all kosher laws, unlike the cows that routinely slaughtered for sale to Defendant and use in Hebrew National Products.”
AER said the allegation is misleading. According to AER, employees who eat only glatt kosher were provided meat to comply with their personal preferences.
Glatt is a higher standard of kosher and means that the lungs of the slaughtered animal are free of any blemishes. If the lungs are blemished, the meat is still considered kosher, but not glatt. Triangle-K does not claim that the products it certifies are glatt kosher.
Additionally, the suit alleges that employees involved in the kosher slaughtering process complained to AER supervisor Rabbi Moshe Fyzakov and Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, but those officials “did little or nothing to correct the transgressions. Rather, the persons making 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 percent kosher.”
A Triangle-K spokesman said, “Every complaint was followed up on, and no one was disciplined for making a complaint.”
The spokesman also said it is “totally false” that non-kosher meat was delivered to ConAgra to be sold as kosher and that  “We have clear distinctions in place to prevent such happenings.”
According to the Forward, however, they are actually out of hot water. It seems that the judge dismissed the case. The judge did not actually rule on whether or not Hebrew National adheres to the standards they claim to be producing under, nor are the courts determining whether the hot dogs are kosher, or how kosher. The judge dismissed the case stating it is not within their jurisdiction to make such a determination in a dispute that is religious in nature..

But Frank said he was constrained by clear Supreme Court precedent barring civil judges from resolving faith-based disputes.
“Any judicial inquiry as to whether defendant misrepresented that its Hebrew National products are “100% kosher” (when Triangle K, an undisputedly religious entity, certified them as such) would necessarily intrude upon rabbinical religious autonomy,” Frank wrote.
He noted that ConAgra, the only named defendant in the lawsuit, is a secular entity, while the plaintiffs chose to leave Triangle K and AER out of the lawsuit.
“It is Triangle K and its Orthodox rabbis who make such determinations,” Frank said. “Naturally, therefore, this court cannot determine whether defendant’s Hebrew National products are in fact kosher without delving into questions of religious doctrine.”
I think it is a good thing the court sidestepped the case. Making a decision on such an issue would open up the courts to lawsuits against every hechsher on the market. Anybody who does not like the standards of any given hechsher would be able to sue them stating that the food is not actually kosher as advertised. I don't even know how the judge would have been able to determine whether or not Hebrew National, via Triangle K, was producing weiners using the strictest standards or the loosest standards, or no standards at all! A case like this should have been brought to a beis din, perhaps against the Triangle K directly, or maybe against the managers of Hebrew National (assuming they are Jewish).

The following clip is an ad of Hebrew National...

I noticed very strikingly, that all those eating Hebrew National hotdogs in the clip are people who are most likely not Jews - whom one would expect would be the main consumer of a kosher hot dog adhering to the strictest standards... I wonder why...

Reach thousands of readers with your ad by advertising on Life in Israel


  1. I was told from a respected Kashrus expert-

    "I believe that those in the know realize that while R' Ralbag is a talmid chacham and has smicha from several prominent rabbonim, his is NOT trusted and it has been clear for years that the hechsher is nothing more than a money-making rubber stamp. I have heard many say "don't use the hecsher" and I am unaware of any person who knows anything about kashrus relying on it."

  2. Yehudah, can you name the cited expert? Does he have evidence to back up his claim?
    If that is true, then instead of just telling people not to trust the hechsher, shouldn't they be working to make it known that R. Ralbag is a fraud?

    Various rumors about tri-k have been going around for years, however, I have yet to see anyone put their name behind first-hand report of any problems.

  3. Yehudah - you quote the expert as saying "I believe..".. meaning his explanation is also an assumption rather than knowledge and fact..

  4. The ad is for the general non-Jewish market and most American Jews pride themselves with being assimilated anyway. The general market is much more lucrative than the small Jewish market. Surveys show that many many goyim actually look for and prefer kosher products because they assume it means that they are better and more inspected. We can assume that the ordinary goy does not care about the different hechshers.

    As for me, even though I did not grow up Haredi in 'America' I was under the impression that the two words 'glatt kosher' were synonymous of each other. Where I grew up, I don't think you could even buy 'regular' kosher meat because the general standard was glatt.

  5. Here is how Rabbi Ralbag describes the Hebrew National hechsher:

    I assume that isn't much different than Rabbanut non-mehadrin.


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