2004 An Empire of Madness
Chananya Weissman

You might have noticed that Empire Chicken is engaged in a marketing campaign touting their recent addition of the KAJ hechsher to their existing OU certification. They’ve been running a full-page ad in major Jewish publications (which you can see along with a press release here).

Immediately in the ad they proclaim that they are “Number One” because they have dual certifications. In other words, the quantity of hechsherim is what determines the quality and reliability of a kosher product. (By implication, they haven’t been Number One until now, and by further implication, a chicken that has 3 hechsherim would be superior. But this is besides the point.)

The ad goes on: “Empire Kosher already carries the most reliable kosher certification, the Orthodox Union, OU. Now, we are pleased to announce the addition of K’hal Adath Jeshurun, KAJ, one of the oldest and most trusted kosher certifying agencies in the US.”

Hold on. If OU is “the most reliable”, why should any other hechsher be necessary altogether? If “the most reliable” supervision isn’t enough, what could any other certification, by definition inferior, add to make things better? Clearly they are banking (quite literally) on the assumption that the kosher-keeping public has little intelligence or knowledge, and can be fooled by silly marketing buzzwords. Are they wrong for believing this?

The ad concludes, “This new certification is just the latest step in our unyielding quest to offer consumers the best in kosher poultry.” Very dramatic words. We are so pious and religious, just like you, and we’ll do everything we can to keep kosher, just like you would. That’s why we added this hechsher.

Now comes the press release. The CEO of Empire is quoted as saying “As customers ourselves, we understand that in order to appeal to the broadest possible kosher clientele, Empire must demonstrate compliance with the standards of a number of organizations.” In other words, this was a business decision, not a kashrus decision, and one based on the fact that a large untapped market of kosher consumers simply won’t eat OU products, regardless of how reliable OU might actually be. We have determined that we will make more money if we cater to a lower common denominator.

Mind you, this statement is on the same web page as the ad touting higher kashrus standards. Those who look aren’t expected to see, and those who see aren’t expected to understand, and those who understand aren’t expected to care. Again, can you blame them for counting on this? Maybe not, but I sure blame them for feeding it (no pun intended). Don’t go around claiming you’re observing halacha better when you’re really just catering to the whims of the ignorant masses.

Cherry on top: “Van Naarden [the CEO] noted that KAJ’s recent, thorough review had disclosed no issues with practice or procedure anywhere in the plant.” In other words, Empire chickens are exactly the same as they’ve always been, but stupid Jews who previously would kasher their dishes if an Empire chicken touched them will now run to buy Empire chickens like we ran to buy Oreo cookies.

I’d feel better if the kosher industry and its overseers did more to educate their clientele about what really matters, instead of perpetuating and capitalizing on their ignorance and fear. Instead of raising the bar of pseudo-kashrus “standards”, instead of catering to the Jewish street, how about raising the bar of knowledge and common sense?

My religion has been warped into a business.