High costs discourage Europeans from keeping kosher

The extravagantly high price of kosher food — especially meat — is preventing European Jews from adhering to Jewish dietary laws, thus blurring their Jewish identity, a group of rabbis who met in Brussels warned last week.

“The current prices of kosher food in Europe makes it extremely difficult for tens of thousands of Jews to obtain kosher food,” said Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, deputy director of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe.

“Their failure to eat kosher erodes their Jewish identity and their insulation from non-Jewish society,” he said. More than 100 rabbis and representatives of leading kosher supervision outfits gathered for a conference organized by the RCE last week.

The rabbis discussed various topics, but the most emphasis was placed on finding ways to lower the prices of kosher food in Europe, said Asher Gold, RCE’s spokesman.

La Taverna Del Ghetto restaurant in Rome includes kosher meat on its menu of traditional Roman Jewish cuisine. photo/jta/courtesy of la taverna del ghetto

An example that was given at the conference was the kosher meat market in Britain, one of the most expensive.

The British company Tesco sells a whole, non-kosher chicken at $3.30. In contrast, a kosher chicken of similar weight costs five to six times  that — between $16.35 and $19.60.

The situation is similar on the European continent, which is split up into two different markets: countries where it is impossible to obtain any kosher meat whatsoever and countries where the prices of kosher meat are prohibitively high.

One exception is France, where a large slaughterhouse located in Paris provides meat at a premium of just 25 percent.

Rabbi Jermia Menachem Kohen,  the head of Paris’ Consistoire (rabbinical court), said that the large economies to scale enable France’s 500,000 Jews to buy cheap kosher meat.

“Since we have such a large demand, the added costs for kosher meat are shared by more people, which means that each person pays less,” Kohen said in a telephone interview from Paris.

“There are 210 restaurants under our supervision, 70 butchers and 55 caterers, and we employ 30 shochets [kosher slaughterers] full-time. That adds up to a lot of kosher food.”

According to Gold, there are factors that affect the prices of kosher food in Europe that do not apply in other countries. In many European communities there is a special tax imposed on the purchase of meat to help support the community’s educational institutions. The panel decided to lobby the communities to lessen these taxes.

The rabbis at the conference explained that the high food prices often place them at a disadvantage when they attempt to present Torah Judaism in a positive light. Many  members of the Orthodox communities in Europe are not Torah-observant in their personal lives.

When a rabbi attempts to persuade a member to begin purchasing the kosher meat made available by his kashrut organization, he is often confronted with the question, “Why should I pay five times as much for the identical meat?”