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Rabbis Respond to Rising Demand : State Council Certifies First Fish Shop as Kosher

October 20, 1985|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

In response to what rabbis say is a growing demand, the Rabbinical Council of California has certified a Fairfax Avenue fish store as kosher.

"This will make a great splash," said Rabbi Eli Hecht, president of the Rabbinical Council of California, a group of Orthodox rabbis that also inspects 23 butcher shops.

There are other fish shops in the state that follow kosher rules, but only one has been certified by the council, which charges a fee for its inspection service.

"As the community becomes more concerned about (keeping) kosher, the need for a stronger structure also becomes evidenced," said Rabbi Chaim Schnurr, director of Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish group.

Land-Office Business

"We want to make it policy for the community that all the stores we use should be under some sort of supervision," Schnurr said.

Kevin Mason, co-owner of Bob's Fresh Fish Market, said the newly certified store did land-office business over the recent New Year holidays, when demand for the makings of gefilte fish, a traditional appetizer, is at its highest.

But other fishmongers in the Fairfax District said they have not lost any business as a result of Bob's kosher certificate and aggressive marketing techniques.

"I've got my steady customers," said Stanley Fisher, owner of Eastern Fish Market, which is a block south of Bob's on Fairfax Avenue. "If he wants to grab people from the street, let him."

'My Fish Is Fresh and Kosher'

Fisher said his regular clientele includes many Orthodox Jews, rabbis among them, who have no cause for concern because he stocks none of the fish or other seafood forbidden by Jewish law.

"I am 15 years in this business and I never put an advertisement," he said. "My fish is fresh and kosher."

Rabbi Mendel Goldman, administrator of the rabbinical council, said that kosher fish is indeed available at many stores.

"People shouldn't think this is the only place they can get kosher fish," he said. "But it is the only kosher-supervised fish store that any consumer can walk into and feel comfortable with any fish that he sells there.

"I can go to another fish store and buy a kosher fish, but when it comes to filets, or ground fish, I can't buy it there," Goldman said.

Shoppers worried about possible contact with treif (Yiddish for ritually unclean) fish had to be extra careful, even though the rules for seafood are not as complex as they are for meat, he said.

Often they would ask the fishmonger to wash his knives, in case he had used them to cut a forbidden species, such as swordfish or catfish. They also would ask him to cover the cutting block with paper or to rinse out the grinder.

Others would order frozen fish flown in from New York or Montreal.

A kosher fish store is one where anything sold follows the rules laid down in Leviticus: "Whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them may ye eat."

All shellfish is also banned.

According to Goldman, the certificate on the wall at Bob's Fresh Fish means that inspectors come to the store three or more times a week. The monthly fee is $50.

They check the invoices and inspect the fish in the display cases and storage areas. Fish filleted elsewhere is shipped with a small piece of skin left on to confirm its identity.

No Rules

Unlike meat and poultry, which must be slaughtered in a certain way by a specially trained expert, there are no rules for killing fish.

But Mason, co-owner of the newly certified shop, said some of his suppliers are nonplussed by other requirements of Jewish dietary law.

"No one's used to keeping kosher," he said. "They (his suppliers) say, 'How about some shark or swordfish?' I say, 'I can't, I'm kosher.' They say, 'What's kosher?' They don't know what it means in Alaska."

Despite some additional work required to keep the shop kosher, Mason said the competition on Fairfax Avenue ruled out any price increases.

"People will go shopping around more on Fairfax," he said. Prices at other fish markets last week were competitive with Bobs's.

The certificate was issued at a time of heightened concern among consumers because of complaints filed against several butcher shops that they fraudulently sold meat as kosher when in fact it was not.

Orthodox Jews, who are distinguished by strict observance of religious law and tradition, are not the only ones who keep kosher. Many Conservative Jews also observe the dietary laws. Reform Judaism, the least traditional of the religion's three major branches, does not, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.

No one knows how many people keep kosher, but Joel Rembaum, rabbi of Temple Beth Am, one of the largest Conservative congregations on the Westside, said the number seems to be increasing.

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