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Kosher Challenge Won’t Plague Hebrew National

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - Hebrew National should not face claims that its hot dogs are not 100 percent Kosher, a federal judge ruled, saying the case "would necessarily intrude upon rabbinical religious autonomy."

Melvin Wallace led a federal class action in Minnesota, alleging that ConAgra Foods failed to consistently inspect, slaughter, clean and segregate the animals and meat used in Hebrew National products as "required to be considered kosher under the standard defendant represents to the public."

Agreeing with ConAgra that the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment bar such claims, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the case with prejudice last week.

"Supreme Court precedent has firmly established the principal that civil courts may not be called upon to interpret doctrinal matters or tenets of faith," Frank wrote.

"Plaintiffs assert that defendant's method of cattle slaughter, as carried out by its AER contractors, violates several tenets of Kashrut," he added. "Plaintiffs suggest that defendant has failed to comply with a somehow 'objective' standard of kosher slaughter as defined by Triangle K and AER. The laws of Kashrut, however, and the determination of whether a product is in fact 'kosher,' are intrinsically religious in nature. Any judicial inquiry as to whether defendant misrepresented that its Hebrew National products are '100% kosher' (when Triangle K, an undisputedly religious entity, certified them as such) would necessarily intrude upon rabbinical religious autonomy." (Parentheses in original.)

The complaint also fails to address the fact that ConAgra label its meat as kosher in concert with its contractors, Triangle K and AER.

"For better or for worse, plaintiffs made the tactical decision to leave Triangle K (the organization whose Orthodox rabbinical authority granted defendant's Hebrew National products kosher certification) and AER (the entity whose employees are responsible for performing the kosher slaughters) out of this lawsuit," the ruling states.

"Even assuming defendant applies pressure to Triangle K to certify a certain percentage of meat as kosher, if any fraud has actually taken place with respect to the certification of Hebrew National products as kosher, such fraud would be on the part of Triangle K, if Triangle K intentionally certified meat as kosher while knowing that it failed to meet Triangle K's own stated requirements for certification," Frank added.

Though he dismissed the complaint, Frank said he found the claims "highly disconcerting."

"The court recognizes that its decision likely leaves consumers without a remedy - save opting not to purchase or ingest defendant's Hebrew National products, or other products certified by Triangle K - should the allegations in the amended complaint prove true," the ruling states.

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