By Israel Drazin


Dad, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Drazin, could have been rich. He worked for his wealthy father in his real estate business for awhile, but like his younger brother and several of his brothers-in-law, he wanted to be a rabbi, to study and teach. He was ordained in 1933 at Yeshiva University with the school’s prestigious yadin yadin ordination as a judge. He became the rabbi at Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation in 1933 until 1964, his only pulpit, and made it one of the most prestigious Baltimore congregations. Being a rabbi meant much to Dad, he had given up much to be one.


A problem arose in the 1950s in Baltimore. A number of stores that sold food advertized their food was kosher, but Dad and others saw that they were not kosher. The store owners insisted that they had a right to determine what they considered kosher. Dad felt that he had a duty as a rabbi to protect Baltimore’s Jewish community. He and several others, including a Jewish judge, approached Baltimore’s mayor and persuaded him to establish a group of kosher inspectors with authority to determine what stores sold truly kosher foods and to be able to stop stores that sold non-kosher foods as kosher. The inspectors were given badges, just like police officers, they were addressing the issue of truth in sales – I still have Dad’s badge.


Neither dad nor the other inspectors received money for their work. Dad saw the inspections as an extension of his rabbinical duties: if one is a rabbi, this is what he must do, and he must not ask for additional pay to do it.


Rabbis were expected in the past to be guardians of the kosher as part of their rabbinical responsibilities. In 1820, for example, Ruben Samuel Gumpertz wrote, “With good reason and fittingly, one could currently call the rabbi a … guardian of the kosher, for his functions refer primarily to decisions regarding permissible and impermissible foodstuffs.”[1]


How matters changed since the 1950s!


Dad had a close friend, a prominent likable rabbi. One day, Dad heard that his friend took money from a soda company to certify the soda was kosher for Passover. Dad was angry. He told his friend that he did wrong. A rabbi shouldn’t take extra money for doing his job. I still remember how upset Dad was.


Today, the kosher inspection business has expanded mightily. Rabbis draw millions of dollars certifying all kinds of products, including water and salt, which needs no certification.


As a result, the prices for kosher foods are often two or three times the cost of the same non-kosher item and many Jews who would have kept kosher do not do so because of the prices. For example, the sale prices for non-kosher roast beef is $3.99 a pound versus $10.99 for kosher; pot roast is $2.60 vs. $7.77; beef steak $5.99 against $11.99; veal cutlets $7.99 and $9.99; chicken legs 59 cents and $2.99; ground chuck $1.99 against $5.99; rotisserie chicken $$4.99 and $9.99; corn flake crumbs $3.29 and $12.02; potato salad $1.59 vs. $4.99; and bagels $1.99 and $2.99.  These items, randomly chosen, add up $35.01 for non-kosher foods and $79.71 for kosher foods, more than twice what the same non-kosher items cost.


It seems that Dad was right.

[1] Quoted in May God Remember, edited by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, page 167.