Thursday, October 15, 2009

Guest Post by Kosherman: A Concise History of Kashrut in Post-War Australia

The following post was submitted by "Kosherman" as a l-o-n-g comment to our post Australian Kosher News or Australian Treif News?

"Kosherman" seems to have more than average knowledge about the workings and recent history of Kashrut in Melbourne and Sydney. He has taken the time to give us so many interesting and unknown facts on this important topic that we feel it deserves a post of its own. Therefore we asked and received his permission to publish it as a Guest Post. (With the approval of the author, we have edited and made a few changes to parts of this post for clarity etc.)

We shall be more than happy to receive further information and comments from readers who have familiarity with the subject matter.

To introduce myself, I am a lifelong Kosher consumer who has resided in both Melbourne and Sydney and have for personal, communal and business reasons ‘stuck my nose’ into Kashrut matters.

My aim, one of these days, is to establish a blog specialising in all aspects of Kashrut in Australia. There is much to be recorded, believe me.

Often discussed is the cost of Kosher products, including meat and poultry, and why these are so much higher in Sydney than in Melbourne. It is no secret that caterers in Sydney pay more for supervision charges than those in Melbourne. While I can accept that certain Sydney Simcha Kashrut standards may be somewhat more stringent than Melbourne, the difference in charges seems extreme.

The KA website states:
Function Charges

Functions up to $19.99 catering charge per guest - KA charge $1.20 per guest
Functions from $20.00 to $69.99 catering charge per guest - KA charge $4.27 per guest
Functions $70.00 and over catering charge per guest - KA charge $6.60 per guest
Kiddush - KA charge $180.20 flat fee

(I understand that there is also be an additional fee to pay for the Mashgiach/Shomer.) The above indicates that having catered Simcha in Sydney could cost an extra 10% for supervision.

In Melbourne as far as I can ascertain the fees are substantially lower. However for some reason Melbourne’s Kashrut authorities are not as open as the NSW KA and do not publicly state there charges. (If anyone knows, I would like to hear what these charges are.)

The reason why Melbourne’s fees are lower is obvious. Melbourne has more than the one single Kashrut authority. Competition is GREAT for us consumers. Does anyone doubt that if Kosher Australia or Adass didn’t have concerns about each other (and to some extent, Rabbi Meir Rabi’s “Kosher veYosher”), they too would consider higher charges?

The same goes for meat. Because Melbourne has 3 Kosher meat suppliers/hashgachot, the consumer benefits - by each one keeping the others honest. Interestingly,I hear that dozens of Sydney families purchase their meat from Unfanger in Melbourne. Why? Obviously his quality is excellent, but how much better than the Sydney butchers? The reason obviously has to do with price. For a large family, a few dollars per kilo adds up quite quickly and can make a huge difference in the budget.

Thus, the answer to the AJN’s recent Vox Pop question on whether we should have a single Kashrut authority in Australia must be a thunderous NO!. In fact consumers would be better off if there was even more Kashrut “competition” in all cities.

But to give credit where it is due, the NSW KA publishes a Directory which I recall is very reasonably priced ($10 or $20). But even better, their entire directory is available on-line – free of charge. That is definitely a great boost for Kosher consumers on tight budgets. It also comes handy when people travel on holidays and forget to bring along the directory. Just hop on-line and get all the info you need. A valuable resource which we should all save in our Bookmarks.,com_kosherdb/Itemid,60

Melbourne’s Kosher Australia, who charge $55 for their directory (the most expensive such booklet on the planet?) could learn from their Sydney colleagues.
(See: Renewal Blank 2009 Form.doc )

Here’s a potted (post-WW2) Kashrut history for the younger people reading this blog. Most of us oldies will have heard a lot of this.

Sydney originally had a Beth-Din-operated Shechita. (The BD also approved a few other products. Anyone remember McWilliam Wines?) A few additional items were produced under their label for Pesach use. This changed with the arrival of the “frum” Hungarians, ie, Sydney’s Adass community whose first rabbi, Rav Bernath, had been a Shochet in Budapest. They established an independent Shechita which I have been told even “exported” meat to discerning customers in Melbourne. (This was prior to the Melbourne Adass shechita being established.) Following the Adass/Yeshiva split, the Yeshiva too established a shechita, which went on for a number of years until, as I recall, both realised the stupidity of the double expenditure, and they joined forces, but still ‘competing’ with the Beth Din. Eventually it all became one and the Kashrut Authority came into being. These days, as we know, they are the only game in town.

Here's a differing POV - from the NSW KA website:

Why is there only one certification body in NSW?

Prior to the establishment of the KA (in 1990) there were numerous certification bodies in NSW. This was the cause of much angst and divisiveness within the community. People accepted only particular hechsherim, and so were unable to eat at each other’s tables and functions. The community together with the Rabbonim decided it was preferable to have a united body with a universally acceptable standard

In Melbourne, meanwhile, they had competing Batei Din/Shechita during and post-war years when Rav Gurevitz of Carlton established what was considered to be a higher Kashrut standard. However that didn’t last too long and the Melbourne Beth Din won the day. In the late 40s Melbourne’s Adass was established and they immediately brought out a shochet, the well-known Rev M S Rosenbaum. For a while they also had the services of Rav Betzalel Wilschansky. Old-timers tell me that most of the community’s “frum” newcomers and even a number of pre-war Carltoners - would only buy meat and poultry from one of the 4 (!!!) Adass supervised butchers and/or 2 poultry suppliers. Interestingly, for many years all were located on High Street (now St Kilda Road) St Kilda!

That was the situation until the 70s, when Chabad established a shop in Carlisle Street. That was followed by Solomons (who had previously sold poultry - under a different name - in Acland Street -supervised by the Melb BD) opening large modern premises in Glen Eira Road under the Mizrachi Kashrut. This shop eventually incorporated the Chabad butcher shop.

Some time later, Continental Butchers in Glenferrie Road which had been under the Melb BD (not a very popular Kashrut seal to most religious families) transfered to Mizrachi supervision. Allegedly this upset the owners of Solomons who promptly dropped the Mizrachi and asked the late Rabbi Groner z’’l to become their supervisor. By this time, Melbourne which used to have many Kosher butchers, was reduced to 3 – each under a different hashgacha. Pretty amazing in itself.

Meanwhile Mizrachi were growing in the Kashrut field and began producing their popular directory while at the same time promoting themselves as the Australia’s foremost authority (which they possibly are, though doubtful if the NSW KA agrees). To be more acceptable to the 'religious' community, as well as overseas Kashrut authorities with whom they liaise, they dropped the “Mizrachi” tag, as in many places this is seen as less than Mehadrin. They became “Melbourne Kosher” and at a later stage “Kosher Australia”. (I have heard speculation that when the name “Kosher Australia” was created, some were hoping to swallow Sydney as well… Of course that never eventuated. But I often wonder who was the Chelmer chacham who slipped up and so unoriginally replicated the NSW authority’s long-established “KA” label. 2 KA’s in our small Kosher consuming society! Definitely a bit strange. I was thinking, how it would be if the Adass Kashrut decided to call themselves “Kosher Adass” and also take on the “KA” initials… And then why not a “Kosher Adelaide” as well?)

Besides the Adass, Mizrachi had no real competitor. That is, until the arrival of Rabbi Mottel Gutnick from Sydney, who had for some time been in charge of that city’s Kashrut Authority gaining experience in the field. In addition to his position as rabbi in Doncaster, Rabbi Gutnick quickly established his own independent, or rather, private, label and was ‘in competition’ with Mizrachi. By that the time the Kashrut division of the Melbourne Beth Din (ie Rabbi M’s uncle, Rabbi Shulem Gutnick) was slowly expiring.

Some time later, Mizrachi, still hoping to become the undisputed authority in Melbourne, made Rabbi Mottel ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse’. (This was despite bad feelings by some – not least of all their rabbi at the time, Rabbi Baruch Zaichyk , who found it difficult to forgive Rabbi Gutnick for his hurried approval of Glick’s bakery after it was thrust aside by Mizrachi. However the Mizrachi leadership calculated that the long term benefit of being in charge of Melbourne’s Kashrut made it worthwhile to forget that affair. Thus Rabbi Gutnick was placed at the helm of Mizrachi’s operation and into the deal delivered his collection of establishments. There was also the matter of Rabbi Yanki Barber of South Caulfield who also had a couple of shops under him. Mizrachi took care of him similarly - offering him a position and thus removing another competitor. It was said at the time that to attract more “Haredim”, Mizrachi hired Kollel Beth Hatalmud’s Rabbi Nachman Sofer - adding his name to their growing and impressive rabbinical inventory.

Meanwhile Rabbi Chaim Gutnick, continued to supervise Ungar catering on behalf of Elwood Shul (which after his passing transferred to Kosher Australia). The late Rabbi Rudzki also approved a number of caterers. (Those seem to have been taken over by Rabbi Meir Rabi.)

Adass Kashrut has also been around for yonks. In the early years it was only butchers and poultry shops, chalav yisrael, oil and a limited number of products. This has over the past couple of decades expanded to caterers, food producers and shops, as well as the checking out of major companies eg Kellogs, Fosters etc on behalf of local consumers and overseas authorities. It is generally accepted by most, that the Adass standard is the highest in Australia and the important overseas Haredi Kashrut groups such as the Edah Haredit in Jerusalem and Kedassia in London work hand-in-hand with their rabbis.

In the past months we have seen Adass drop a number of establishments - for whatever reasons. These were immediately snapped up by Kosher Australia. Thus, unless one insists on Adass kashrut, those establishments are still there for us consumers. Another advantage of multiple Kashrut authorities.

This is all I have time for right now, but I hope to return and offer further facts and thoughts on the continuing evolution of Kashrut in Australia. Please note that the chronology may not be 100% accurate. I welcome comments and especially corrections.


  1. This post by Kosherman is quite informative, but is heavily Melbourne-centric. S/he is a tad misinformed about the Sydney situation.

    1. The Yeshiva Centre took over kashrus from Adass in the 1970s when the latter was without a rabbi. A rabbi was needed to be the authority so the head of Yeshiva was approached. However, when Adass eventually appointed a rabbi, the Yeshiva declined to return kashrus to the Adass.

    2. Kashrus in NSW is now signficantly better resourced than when there were the separate Sydney Beth Din and the Yeshiva Rabbinate supervisions. The professionalism is far superior to what it was, and there are many more products available and there are more mehadrin standards than in the past, particularly with regard to the use of mehadrin oils by caterers, etc.

    3. The heavy cost of kosher functions in Sydney does not, in my opinion, stem from the supervision fees. Even if these were to be reduced, the unfortunate monopoly of quality kosher catering in Sydney by Passion8 means that they effectively can dictate the price.

    Chayim A.

  2. Chayim, you may well be right. These things happened a few decades ago and I was constantly moving between Melb and Sydney, so my recollections may be a bit hazy. But I was under the impression that for a while both Adass and Yeshiva had their own shechita.

  3. A very good post. Please Kosherman, either create your blog fast, or send in another post. Most of us in our 20s and and 30s know absolutely nothing about earlier kashrus in Aust

  4. I have been following AJNWATCH almost since its inception and congratulate you for giving a voice to authentic Jewish views. This has been sorely lacking as even our rabbis (except for 1 or 2) are afraid to firmly express the Devar Hashem. Some think it will hurt their kiruv efforts whilst others don't wish to offend their membership. Your blog is filling this void and I thank you for it.

    But I was especially pleased to read the informative and enlightenling post of kosherman.
    I learned more about kashrus in Australia than I have ever known before. Yasher Koach - Kosherman.

  5. Best post ever!!

  6. Steinwasser says

    Rabbi Shlomo Rudzki also provided Kosher certification in Melbourne, as far as I know, for various catering businesses. I believe he was also a member of the Beth Din. His certificate continued for almost all his long life and is now continued as Kosher VeYosher by Rabbi Meir G Rabi and is claimed to be the oldest continuous Kosher Authority in Australia

  7. It is always helpful to take a long view of matters in the community and kosherman has covered a lot of important territory, if not all of it. AJN could do worse than ask their religious affairs editor, Yossi Aaron to write a piece on the subject, because he remembers much of it.
    A significant omission is mention of the Sydney grass roots group Kosher Consumers Association or KCA.[]. For 16 years, a group of dedicated volunteers have worked with established halachic authorities, both Australian and foreign, to provide information, lower prices and more varieties of kosher foods. They run an kosher email forum for members, communicating with manufacturers and retailers. They have assisted shops identify kosher products,as well as those not in store that are needed, and have placed updated in-store KA Directories.

    The KCA is an independent 'not-for-profit' consumer group. It aims to promote kashrut and support its observance. It provides information of relevance to kashrut observance, obtaining answers to members' questions and lobbying for a greater range of kosher products at prices equivalent to comparable non-kosher goods. Over 600 families support and benefit from their work. They deserve acknowledgement.

  8. Strawberry, I apologise for my omission. It was, of course, unintentional. I have at times followed the KCA forum and indeed it is extremely useful for Kosher consumers. Maybe a Melb branch should be created as well - or somehow get Melbournians to join on to the KCA.

  9. The best kosher sushi in Melbourne is supervised by Rabbi Rabi in a carlisle St shop. Try it,

  10. What about having some rabbinic supervision on Tefillin and mezuzos being sold by our Judaica shops? I bought my first pair of tefillin in good faith from a well known Judaica shop in Melbourne (and they weren't cheap either). When I went overseas to yeshivah some years later I was told that they were never kosher to begin with!

  11. I think anyone who wishes to purchase tefillin or for that matter mezuzos etc, should speak to one of the local respected rabbanim, eg Rabbi Wurzburger, Donnenbaum, Beck about ensuring that they are getting the kosher item - and also value for their money. I have been told that Rabbi Heimlich of Adass is an expert on such matters and he replies to many shaalos.

    By reputation Eli Gutnick is a decent and reliable sofer as well.

    But there are many frauds in israel who market passul items and many reach the Australian market. Caveat Emptor.

  12. Michael, did you go back to that Judaica shop and demand your money back? If so, what happened?

    It is your duty, having been a victim of such a dusgusting and fraudulent sale, to ensure that no one else falls into teh same trap.
    You should publicise your story to the rabbinical association as well as the COSV.

  13. No, it did not occur to me at the time to go back to the shop because a number of years had passed since they were purchased, and also I didn't have my receipt, etc.

    I would consider going now anyway, but I no longer have the teffilin, they have since been put into geniza.

  14. Mother of Bar Mitzva boyFriday, October 23, 2009 1:16:00 AM

    Is that store still around? And is it operated by the same people?
    If so, maybe go in and have a chat with them about your experience. Hopefully they have cleaned up their act by now. But if not, they should be made aware that consumers are on to them.

  15. While most of what Kosherman says is correct the his personal opinion kept getting in the way of the facts. It would have been nice to read a factual history of Kashrus without the bias.

    I do agree very strongly that only one Kashrus authority in a city takes away from the stringency and quality of kashrus. Sydney under their one authority has seen quite a few scandals and their standard is much less than Kosher Australia or Adass.

    Kosherman should also be careful about commenting on the level of kashrus of different authorities. I know of at least 2 cases where Kosher Australia would not give a hechsher to products that Adass said was kosher due to KA's interpretation of halacha.

    My last comment is about Kashrus supervision in general. Anyone who has worked in Kashrus for more than a few days knows that the Rav Hamachshir has very little to do with the actual kashrus of the product or function. The mashgiach is the one who really controls what is going into our mouth. If the mashgiach is lazy or not attentive to what is going on then there could be dire consequences no matter how holy the Rav of the kashrus organisation.

  16. Hey Kosherman, your posts are not kosher to me because 1) you refuse to reveal your identity giving you zero credibility 2) why should anyone believe anything you write is anything other than loshon hora.

  17. Funny chap is anon of Jan 25. He/she/it complains about anonymity and then does the same thing.
    I would say that 95% of bloggers and commenters on the web are anonymous. But this bother anyone - the main thing is the message. And the important ones get through.

    There is a lot of valuable material here on Ahnwatch which would never have been published if the writers had been required to identify themselves. So i say to the people behind this blog - keep up the good work. Most of us really appreciate your effort.


Comments will be moderated for language and content.
Please use your name/nickname - rather than 'anonymous'.