Abuses of power

Abuses of power

The recent events regarding rabbinical improprieties involving filming in the Washington, D.C., mikvah (“Converts talk about Freundel,” October 24) brings to mind an unfortunate and inappropriate event I witnessed in a local eatery by a kashrut supervisor.

As I was having my snack, the mashgeach came into the establishment, went behind the counter, and without washing his hands, took French fries and salad fixings from the counter and proceeded to eat, using the serving bowls as his private plate. Viewing this entirely inappropriate action, I called out, “Stop. It’s unhygienic. Stop immediately what you are doing!” The proprietor – with whom I had most cordial relations – seeing my outburst, ran over to me and quietly and almost beseechingly asked me to remain silent. I complied and after the supervisor left, having eaten and done his inspection, the proprietor said, “They can close me down anytime and you better not get on their bad side. A bad word can get you into trouble.”

I cannot vouch that this is true. I leave that to others. I can say that the proprietor’s fear and his desire not to offend the mashgeach in any way was obvious. He told me of cases where offending the local mashgeach resulted in having a restaurant sanctioned.

This one incident should not be taken as an indictment of kashut organizations that in the main do good and important work. Still, it shows how unregulated absolute religious power easily can result in abuse and moral impropriety. The recent events of sexual abuse and this incident show that rabbis, kashrut supervisors, and religious officials of all sorts are not infallible. We need lay supervision and ombudsman to see that all that their interactions with their clients, parishioners, and the general public is done with civility, respect, and justice. Without public oversight, religious officials too readily can take unfair and immoral advantage of their sacred status.