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High court passes up kosher-laws case

By The Associated Press

02.24.03

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WASHINGTON — A chance to debate the authenticity of kosher brisket, pastrami and baba ganoush? No thanks, the Supreme Court said today.

The justices refused, without comment, to consider reinstating New York laws that set standards for the labeling of kosher food.

The court could have used the appeals by New York and some Jewish leaders to give states guidance in regulating kosher food, without violating constitutional boundaries between church and state.

An appeals court struck down the state’s laws last year, and the justices were told that statutes in 19 other states were in jeopardy: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

At issue is the way New York regulated kosher products to ensure they met the strict religious requirements of Orthodox Judaism. The appeals court held that the laws improperly took sides in a religious matter.

Two Long Island butchers had sued the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Their lawyer, Robert Jay Dinerstein of Commack, N.Y., said there were disagreements about the interpretation of the Jewish laws governing what is kosher within the orthodox Jewish community and other branches of Judaism.

He compared the state’s use of only orthodox requirements to a state giving priority to Catholic views. “If another denomination of Christianity offered its members Communion, they could only use a Eucharist and wine approved by the Roman Catholic Church; otherwise, the Communion was illegitimate and perpetrated a fraud,” Dinerstein wrote in a filing.

The state laws date back to 1915, and the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to them in 1925 on different grounds. The laws prohibit fraud in the sale of kosher food.

An estimated 5% of the 5 million Jews in the United States maintain kosher diets.

Jewish leaders and groups that filed one of the appeals told justices that people pay more for kosher food and should be protected from fraud.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said that determining what is kosher is not that difficult.

“There is no religious dispute that a product containing pork is not kosher, just as there is no religious dispute that meat is not kosher if it is cooked with milk, no effort has been made to draw out and drain its blood, or it has been mixed with other undisputedly non-kosher meat,” he told the court in a filing.

Two of the Supreme Court’s nine members are Jewish, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The cases are Silver v. Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, 02-675, and Weiss v. Commack Self-Service Kosher Mets, 02-672.

Also today, the Court turned back an appeal from a man who killed a couple, then confessed several years later to fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members.

Lawyers for Paul Cox argued he was “in search of spiritual guidance” in the AA sessions and the confessions should not have been used at his trial because they were protected religious speech. Westchester County, N.Y., district attorney Jeanine Ferris Pirro said the organization was not religious.

Cox was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

The case is Cox v. Miller, 02-937.

Previous

Court sides with butchers in beef over N.Y. kosher laws
2nd Circuit panel rules statutes improperly take sides in a religious matter, require state to take official position on religious doctrine.  05.22.02

Related

Federal appeals court backs use of AA confessions to convict man
Lower court judge had concluded that conversations were form of confidential religious communication.  07.22.02

2002-2003 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of 2002-2003 U.S. Supreme Court term.  10.07.02

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