The word "kosher" has been part of the vernacular for some time as a synonym for correct, genuine, or legitimate. See 8 Oxford English Dictionary 753 (1971). Its original meaning, however, lies in the centuries-old Jewish law of kashrut, the Hebrew noun from which "kosher" is derived. Kashrut encompasses the entire body of rules relating to foods that may be consumed as well as to the preparation of such foods. The Hebrew National company, a well-known purveyor of kosher hot dogs and other kosher food products, has long marketed its goods with the slogan, "[w]e answer to a higher authority." Hebrew National, http://www.hebrewnational.com/. In New York, the principal authority to which it answers is the State's Department of Agriculture and Markets, which is charged with the enforcement of the New York statutes prohibiting intentional fraud in the sale of kosher food. Whether those statutes are violative of the First Amendment command that "[the States] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," is the question before us on this appeal.
Defendant-appellant Rabbi Luzer Weiss, Director of the Kosher Law Enforcement Division of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets ("the Department"), and intervenors-defendants-appellants appeal from a summary judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Gershon, J.) declaring that New York Agriculture & Markets Law sections 201-a, 201-b(1), 201-c, 201-e (2-a) and (3-c), 201-f, 201-h, and 26-a ("the challenged laws") on their face violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and enjoining the Department from enforcing those provisions. The challenged laws are some of New York's statutory provisions aimed at preventing fraud in the kosher food industry. Plaintiffs-appellees are Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc., d/b/a Commack Kosher, an entity in Commack, Long Island engaged in the meat business, and its owners, Brian and Jeffrey Yarmeisch (collectively, "the Yarmeisches"). Over the last sixteen years, the Yarmeisches have been cited for violations of New York's kosher fraud laws on at least four occasions.
In January 1996, the Yarmeisches brought this action, claiming that the challenged laws violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by defining "kosher" to mean food that is "prepared in accordance with the orthodox Hebrew religious requirements." See, e.g., N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law §§ 201-a(1), 201-b(1) (McKinney 1991). The Yarmeisches also asserted a free exercise claim in which they contended that the challenged laws deprive non-Orthodox Jewish consumers of kosher food products of their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Additionally, the Yarmeisches claimed that the challenged laws are unconstitutionally vague in violation of due process, and that, by reason of their irregular and arbitrary enforcement, they violate due process as applied. Lastly, the Yarmeisches sought to enjoin the Department from disseminating information concerning future violations of the challenged laws until after an alleged offender is prosecuted and found guilty. After both sides moved for summary judgment, the district court granted the Yarmeisches' motion, holding that the challenged laws on their face violate the Establishment Clause. The court found that (1) the challenged laws excessively entangle the state and religion because, in order to be enforced, the laws require the Department to refer to "orthodox Hebrew religious requirements," and (2) the laws have the impermissible effect of advancing Orthodox Judaism by requiring vendors of food products labeled "kosher" to conform to Orthodox kosher standards and thereby cause consumers of such products to purchase only products that are kosher under the Orthodox definition.
For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Miner '56, Roger J., "Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc. v. Weiss, 294 F. 3d 415 (2002)" (2002). Circuit Court Opinions. 37.