Unlike any packaged products, unpackaged kosher meat requires an extremely high level of supervision, for the simple reason that it's simply impossible to distinguish one piece of meat (that's kosher) from another (that's not). In fact, normative Jewish law prohibits a person from eating any piece of meat from any source that was not under constant, ongoing supervision by a religious, Torah-observant Jew. Failure to maintain that constant supervision would render the meat בשר שנתעלם מן העין - (pronounced basar she'nisalem min ha'ayin) "meat that is out of constant view," and would make the meat seriously questionable for use in a kosher home. (For a more detailed explanation of this topic beyond the scope of this piece, click here for an article by the Star-K.)
This being the case, any non-Orthodox Jew who wished to sell meat would require a mashgiach temidi - a constant supervisory presence, which is the highest level of kashrus supervision. This was the understood and accepted requirement at Lincoln Kosher Meats, a store recently opened by Mr. Michael Cohen - and which now applies at Harvard Row in West Bloomfield as well. In fact, Mr. Cohen opened his store without having the keys to the lock on his own freezer -- a common practice in this type of case.
You might have noticed recently that the Va'ad has sent out several notices searching for people looking for work as mashgichim here in town. This is because it's very hard to find qualified people who are willing to work as mashgichim in butcher stores around town. Turnover is very high, and it's difficult to find workers who are both reliable and satisfactory to the store owner. This being the case, there were several instances where the mashgiach left the store before any alternative supervision could be established.
This week, the leadership of the Va'ad came to the conclusion that due to the small size of the store and the several instances where a lapse in hashgachah had occurred, it could not in good conscience continue to provide kashrus supervision to that establishment. It is important to emphasize that at no point did Mr. Cohen knowingly violate any kashrus policy. He has tried to comply with Va'ad rules and regulations. But the nature of the store and the fact that he himself is not Shomer Shabbos makes continued supervision technically unfeasable.
Personally, I'm saddened by this development. Our family had begun to purchase meat and poultry from the store, and Mr. Cohen's service and assistance was truly wonderful. He trimmed the meat, gave us certain cuts, and was happy to provide great service. On a number of occasions, he made recommendations that made our meals even better, based on the type of meat my wife wanted. In addition, I believe that it's never good to have a monopoly in any town. While Shloimie Luss provides a tremendous service to our community and the kashrus is impeccable, competition is always good for the community. Losing a promising new butcher stings.
At the same time, I am encouraged by this decisive action by the new leadership of the Va'ad. In the past, it could very well be argued that the Va'ad would have allowed a situation of questionable kashrus to continue indefinitely, arguing that "it was good for the city," or "well, we have to give it another chance and more time." But that flexibility led to a situation where people legitimately questioned the kashrus of each individual establishment, and whether the kashrus at that particular store is up to snuff. The Va'ad is determine to establish a single, unified standard of kashrus throughout our city -- one which every Jew can trust without question. While the removal of supervision from Lincoln Kosher Meats is certainly distressing, at least from the perspective of kashrus in our city, it's a move in the right direction.