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does kosher produce cost more?

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Last Friday, I had a strange encounter.  I was out buying groceries when I noticed a Charedi man buying groceries at a non-kosher produce stand (I will define this term in a minute).  But this was not a typical non-kosher produce stand, this was one that tried to trick people by posting an outdated Kosher certification of another store and having pictures of the Baba Sali and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, so that the ignorant will think their produce is kosher.  I figured that this guy was just not checking the certification and would mistakenly buy non-kosher produce for his family and guests for Shabbas, so I went over and told him to look at the kosher certification and notice that it belongs to another location and it was outdated.  The man responded that it was okay if the produce was not kosher; he would make it kosher at home.  He claimed that kosher produce was too overpriced because of the kosher “tax” of the Rabbinate.

First off, we have to define kosher, in terms of produce.  In Israel, we are commanded to take several tithes from the produce.  This can be done either in the store or at home (this article explains how, for all those interested).  There are other laws that concern not eating the fruit of a new tree and the laws of shmita, but these generally do not affect the produce at the stands at this point in time.  A store in Israel can choose to make their stand “kosher” by paying the Rabbinate to take all the necessary tithes off of the produce, or buy only produce already tithed.  Alternatively, a store can decide not to have the tithes taken and save the money.  In this case, the religious consumer should know to take the tithes himself at home.

As I mentioned in a previous post, cost does not affect price, supply and demand does. Early, every morning, the cost of produce is announced throughout the country so that producers know what to charge.  They the sellers decide what they should charge based on the demographics of their clientele and choose a price to maximize profits.

But certainly the cost of the certification affects the price somehow?  Maybe it makes the produce more special or more valuable, which raises the price?  Not at all.  The decision to get kosher certification is a marketing one.  Every seller has the choice of choosing the demographic to which to cater.  He can choose a poor demographic, a rich demographic, a charedi demographic, a religious Zionist demographic, etc.  And when the seller chooses to whom to sell, he makes his business match his demographics’ needs.  If he wants a rich demographic, he may choose to build a small makolet around his fruit stand in a rich neighborhood.  If he wants a poor demographic he will situate himself in a shuk and price competitively.  If he wants a religious demographic, he gets proper certification and prices based on the economic situation of the religious clientele in the local neighborhood.

Just because a seller chooses a specific marketing strategy does not mean that attaining the necessary marketing tools is a tax.  When you buy Yoplait Yogurt, are you paying a “ridiculous, expensive, unnecessarily sexual advertisement” tax?  No, you’re paying for the product based on supply and demand.  Their choice to run these insane advertisements is their own marketing choice.

The trick to paying the cheapest price for an item is to blend yourself into the demographic that pays the cheapest amount for that item.  This has to do with the willingness to spend of a particular group, irrespective of religious practice.  It may be that some religious places charge more for produce, but there are also many that are very inexpensive

I would like to make one point about “immoral costs.”  Some people claim that they prefer not to support sellers with kosher certification because the “kosher tax” is immoral and they do not want to support it.  If these people really oppose the Rabbinate and think such a marketing strategy is wrong, then they are right in not supporting them.  I also do not buy at places where I believe that their marketing is immoral.  For example, I do not buy my produce at a stand that tries to fake being kosher with an invalid certification of another store and pictures of the Baba Sali and the Lubavitcher Rebbe that trick unknowing customers into buying there and not separating the tithes at home because they think it is already kosher.  I do buy produce at a non-Kosher stand on occasion and take the tithes at home myself, but never at a stand that is trying to trick people.  That would just be wrong.


8 Comments

  1. Tzvika says:

    it’s silly to say cost does not affect price. supply curves look like they do because of cost.

    • jonnydegani says:

      There are many issues that can lead to greater or lesser supply, cost being one of them. But one cannot claim that in a produce market, where there is as close to perfect comptition as you’re going to get, that the cost of a particular marketing item for a small group of producers will affect price. Perhaps if the price of water went up and the entire market was affected, then the cost would have an impact, but for one stand making some money and to employ a particular marketing device, it seems unlikely that it should affect price. Indeed, if the seller were to raise the price, then he would not maximize hit overall revenue and he would weaken his profit.

  2. NG says:

    Perhaps some of your readers would like to know how to take the tithe themselves at home?

  3. Dror H. says:

    That was an interesting post. Some of the issues were unknown to me before. I agree with what you said about at the Yoplait Yogurt example.

  4. Shimon says:

    Multiple Tithes:

    In following fruits and vegetables from the field to the table it has been found that most produce is tithed multiple times. Since the quantity of tithes is small nowadays, many middle men use the spoilage as tithe. In the times of the Talmud, when tithing was more stringent, the Talmud states that one may trust an “average citizen” (Am HaAretz) if he tells you that Trumot have been taken.

    If Rabbis were not allowed to take payment for supervision, they would rule that supervision is not necessary except in the few cases where it is relevant.

  5. jonnydegani says:

    You make an interesting point about the multiple tithes. I have heard that there are multiple tithes when there is a more strict hashgacha (ie mehadrin). I am not sure how many times the tithes are taken for produce only certified by the Rabbinate.

    At the same time, I disagree about the status of an Am HaAretz. Back in the time of the Mishna, the overwhelming majority of Jews were religious and were meticulous about tithing produce. The same argument could not be made for the Jewish people nowadays.

  6. Hannah says:

    Orlah (new tree) is an issue for most ashkenazim, and can’t be corrected at home. Definitely affects summer fruit like grapes, plums, nectarines, Ana apples, and more.

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