The “Kosher Tax” Recipe for Hate

ADL Special Edition, January 1991
A periodic update from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith
Civil Rights Division

“The Kosher Food Tax is the biggest consumer fraud existing in America.”

The bizarre claim by right wing extremists that kosher certification markings on food labels (“U,” “K,” etc.) cost consumers extra money and represent, in effect, a “kosher tax” to make rabbis rich, is a striking example of the propaganda used by anti-Semites to trick the uninformed into accepting conspiracy charges and stereotypes about Jews.

Other anti-Semitic allegations regarding kosher designation on foods include charges that “the kosher food racket” benefits Jewish organizations while only a small segment of the American population desires such markings, and that even the meanings of the labels are guarded secrets deliberately kept from non-Jews to trick them into paying the “kosher tax.”

The Facts

Attacks on the labeling of food with the symbols for kashruth (traditional Jewish dietary laws) have been a standard ploy of anti-Jewish bigots in the U.S. for decades. Such symbols as [encircled U], emblem of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (UOJC), among others, confirm that products are kosher — i.e., that foods and production processes have been inspected by competent rabbis from the respective organizations and found to be in compliance with Jewish dietary law.

The cost to the consumer for this service is a miniscule fraction of the total production overhead; it is so negligible in practical terms as to be virtually non-existent. A May 18, 1975 New York Times article reported that the cost to General Foods’ “Bird’s Eye” Unit, for example, is 6.5 millionths (.0000065) of a cent per item. Furthermore, a representative of the Heinz Company has said that the per item cost is “so small we can’t even calculate it,” and that such labeling actually makes products less costly by increasing the market for them.

Indeed, according to marketing manager Steven Zamichow, quoted in the Washington Post, “Entenmann’s Inc. received kosher certification in 1981 and sales of [its] baked goods ‘increased substantially.'” Visits to the Entenmann’s plant, from a “mashgiach,” or kashruth inspector, are provided by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. The UOJC is one of several groups that maintain such a kosher inspection service, certifying foods and related products to be in compliance with Jewish dietary laws through all phases of production. The profit from these products goes, of course, to the companies that manufacture them and the stores that sell them, not to “the Jews.”*

The Lies

The most active right wing extremist sources of the “kosher tax” hoax are various Ku Klux Klan groups and the National States Rights Party, based in Marietta, GA. The Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (now based in North Carolina), through its Empire Publishing, offers a pamphlet titled “The Kosher Tax Swindle” to its members and supporters. The pamphlet begins:

“American families are paying tribute to Jews every time they sit down at the table to eat and in many instances, polish their shoes, silver or wrap the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Why? Because Jews have discovered a way to coerce business to pay taxes directly to Jewish organizations and pass the cost on to the consumer.”

The racist and anti-Semitic National States Rights Party ( NSRP), founded in 1958, became a focal point of violent opposition to civil rights struggle in the South and has functioned as both a propaganda mill and a political party.

The party’s founder, Edward Fields, has served as its National Secretary, as well as the editor of the party’s hate sheet, “The Truth At Last” (formerly “The Thunderbolt”). Fields was also the Grand Dragon of the now-defunct New Order, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

“The Truth At Last” published a special issue in June 1990 which dealt only with kosher symbols. Articles appeared in this edition with such titles as: “Six States Make Rabbis Kosher Policeman [sic],” “Secret Kosher Tax Boosts Food Prices,” “How Kosher Blackmail Works,” and “Kosher Tax Symbols May Be Changed to Hide Swindle.”

“Describing” kashruth, Fields has written that “All of this is superstitious nonsense and has absolutely nothing to do with improving the quality of any food product. Still, this clever scheme of requiring kosher labeling has become a multi-million dollar business today!” Another article in “The Truth At Last” asserted that the “kosher tax” is paid to Orthodox Jewish organizations “just so an estimated 10% to 20% of Jewry will buy their products,” and that “we are all forced to pay this Kosher Tax just to appease LESS THAN ONE PERCENT OF THE POPULATION!”

Bigotry Over a Beer Label

With the recent announcement that the Adolph Coors Brewing Co. will carry the [encircled U] symbol on its beer, Hans Schmidt, founder of the California-based German-American National Political Action Committee (GANPAC) took it upon himself to write a protest letter to Peter Coors, President of the company.

Schmidt, who was a member of the Hitler Youth and claims to have served in the Waffen-SS during World War II, has been a leading proponent of Holocaust “revisionism” in the United States for many years. Following along the lines of many other anti-Semites, Schmidt promotes the myth of “Jewish control” of banks, the media, and the government.

In his letter to Peter Coors, Schmidt asserted that “as someone of German descent you ought to be ashamed to acquiesce to this scheme. You must know that the Jews in the aggregate use a lot of the finances thus gathered to spy on non-Jews, to terrorize others (JDL), to ruin other people’s businesses (numberous Jewish organizations and individuals), and to promote their political power to the point where this country has been subservient to the needs of another nation (Israel).”

Schmidt also repeated the usual false charges regarding kosher symbols, including that “there usually are great costs and efforts connected with the kosher certification and that rabbis will make upwards of $450,000 from Coors.” In a post-script Schmidt made the suggestion that Coors add the following symbols to its label: “a symbolic fish for Protestants,” “a Catholic cross for Catholics,” and “a Swastika for Nordics/Odinists.”

Beating the “Tax”

Some extremists call for a boycott of foods and companies that succumb to the “kosher conspiracy.” For example, in an April 25, 1990 newsletter published by the Populist Party, a far-right political group, chairperson Monica Rorhig states: “God knows we are taxed enough already without volunteering to tithe to a foreign country and a foreign philosophy. It’s a kick to walk out of a grocery store knowing you have successfully evaded this illegal tax.” Ms. Rorhig explains that through such means as this alleged tax, “we (as a nation) are being carefully herded closer and closer to International totalitarian tyranny.” Pamphlets, in groups of 5-100, are offered through this newsletter for Populist Party members to circulate and spread the warning against this “unfair taxing.”

“You Don’t Have to be Jewish…”

Contrary to the anti-Semitic charge that kosher labeling is a tightly guarded “Jewish secret” kept from Christians and others, it is not only Jews who prefer to purchase kosher food. According to the Washington Post (Sept. 27, 1990), “Some kosher marketing officials estimate there may be as many as six million Americans who seek out Kosher foods in the supermarket. Of these only 1.5 million are Jewish. Moslems and Seventh Day Adventists also adhere to certain aspects of the Jewish dietary laws, but the bulk of Kosher shoppers appear to be consumers who believe the Kosher certification…means higher quality food.”

Yet whether or not they choose to purchase kosher food products, most Americans will reject the bigotry inherent in the “Kosher Tax” propaganda, recognizing it as another effort by extremists to exploit legitimate public concerns (e.g. taxes, the economy, etc.) as vehicles for anti-Semitism.

*In the separate case of kosher meat and poultry purchased at kosher butcher shops (as distinguished from the broad general range of mass-market consumer goods certified kosher), the consumer does pay a higher price. This cost is due to the more intensive, continuous rabbinical supervision required for the exacting technicalities of kosher slaughter and inspection, processing, storage and quality of kosher meat — an inescapable necessity for this particular product, applicable only to its limited market, not the general consumer.

[For additional information related to the certification of kosher foods, see the press reports available from the Nizkor Project]