For four decades, Doheny Glatt Kosher meat market has been one of California’s preeminent suppliers of food that meets the requirements of Jewish law, offering not just staples like brisket and chicken but high-end fare including bison, prime steaks and grass-fed beef.
But allegations that Doheny has sold meat that was not properly certified under kosher rules have suddenly divided the city’s Jewish community, forcing longtime customers doing their shopping before Shabbat Friday to decide how much they trusted their butcher.
Earlier this week, a council of rabbis pulled Doheny’s kosher certification. In a statement Friday, the rabbis raised the possibility of “legal action,” a recourse to secular courts that would be rare. Other prominent rabbis have stood by the meat shop.
Charges of fraud on the one side have been met with accusations of improper favoritism on the other, with some of Doheny’s defenders suggesting the shop has been under attack by disgruntled competitors.
In a letter e-mailed to congregants Friday, the chief rabbi of one of the city’s largest synagogues, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, urged them to continue to patronize Doheny “because by doing so we can make a statement that kashrut should be about kashrut...and not monopolies, or power plays or raising suspicions.” Kashrut is Jewish dietary law.
At stake is not just the integrity of people’s kitchens, but millions of dollars in sales to retail customers as well as caterers, hotels and institutions that serve meat to Jews who follow the religious laws which govern what meat can be eaten.
Friday, Doheny had a mashgiach, a rabbi who specializes in supervising kosher laws, at the store vouching that any problems had been solved and that all the meat was kosher.
On Pico Boulevard, opinion remained sharply divided.
“If [the butcher] did it in Israel, New York or Chicago, he’d be dead by now,” said Shein Epstein, who lives a few blocks from the butcher in the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson district.
“How are they still open?” shouted another woman standing outside the store.
“It’s just an allegation,” longtime customer Rick Scott shot back. Scott had come from Bel-Air to buy a chicken. After talking to some of the workers at Doheny, he decided to stick with the butcher.
The controversy started Sunday when video surfaced. It was taken by a private detective and purported to show workers at Doheny bringing in boxes of meat late at night without the required supervision of the mashgiach who was on duty to oversee the store. The video later aired on KTLA-TV (Channel 5).
After viewing the videotape, the Rabbinical Council of California pulled Doheny’s kosher certification.
A few days later, a group of rabbis met with Michael Engelman, the owner of Doheny. According to the council, Engelman initially denied any wrongdoing but later “admitted to bringing unauthorized products to the store on two to three occasions.”
The rabbinical council said in Friday’s statement that the organization had previously investigated complaints from Doheny’s competitors, but had found “no evidence of wrongdoing.” The council has suspended the mashgiach who was on duty at the time the videotape was made, and said it’s investigating allegations Doheny Glatt used false labels on some products.
Engelman could not be reached for comment. Friday, the new kosher supervisor, Rabbi Menachem Weiss, tried to reassure customers.
“We’re 100% sure that all the meat being sold out of this place is Glatt Kosher,” he said outside the store. “Mike is running the business. He’s under a lot of pressure. ... We just took over the kosher certification.”
Weiss cited a series of improvements made at the shop this week, including a new security system with eight cameras that is being supervised off-site by Weiss’ father. They also hired a new kosher supervisor who will remain on the premises and throw away any meat that had come to the store before their arrival.
Some supporters of Engelman have suggested that he might have been set up because of his success and questioned why the private investigator targeted him with the elaborate video sting.
“A lot of us believe that he was set up. I’ve known Michael for 30 years. He wouldn’t do this. He just wouldn’t,” said Heather Broidy, who has been shopping at the market for 30 years. “This is a huge deal because this is the political side of kosher supervision and the rabbis who supervise. You can’t run a kosher business without that certification, so you have to bow to the political pressure. They make money on it.”