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The "Kosher tax" (or "Jewish tax") is the idea that food companies and unwitting consumers are forced to pay money to support the Jewish religion or Zionist causes and Israel through the costs of kosher certification. This claim is generally considered a conspiracy theory, antisemitic canard, or urban legend and is mainly spread by antisemitic, white supremacist, and other extremist organizations.
Common refutations include: because consumers who prefer kosher foods include not only Jews, but also Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, and others, food companies actively seek kosher certification to increase market share and profitability; the fees collected support the certifying organizations themselves; extra business generated by the voluntary certification process more than makes up for the cost of supervision, hence the certification does not necessarily increase the price of products, and may in fact result in per item cost savings.
The kosher tax conspiracy theory states that the kosher certification of products (typically food) is an extra tax collected from unwitting consumers for the benefit of Jewish organizations. It is mainly spread by Antisemitic, white supremacist, and other extremist organizations, and is considered a canard or urban legend. Similar claims are made that this "Kosher tax" (or "Jewish tax") is "extorted" from food companies wishing to avoid a boycott, and used to support Zionist causes or the state of Israel.
In 1997 the Canada Revenue Agency issued a news release noting the existence of flyers recommending that consumers claim a deduction on their taxes "because they supposedly contributed to a Jewish religious organization when they purchased these groceries." In it Jane Stewart, then Minister of National Revenue stated, "The intent and message in this literature is deeply offensive to the Jewish community and, indeed, to all Canadians. The so-called 'deduction' described in these flyers does not exist and I urge all taxpayers to ignore this misleading advice".
During the 2014 Quebec provincial election campaign, Parti Québécois candidate and academic Louise Mailloux defended the PQ government's proposed Quebec Charter of Values by asserting that kosher and halal certification was a religious tax used to fund religious wars and enrich religious leaders. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called on the PQ to debunk the “urban legend of the kosher tax” but PQ leader and Premier of Quebec Pauline Marois defended her candidate's comments saying of Mailloux, "Her writings are eloquent, I respect her point of view.”
Although companies may apply for kosher certification, the cost of the certification is typically minuscule, and is more than offset by the advantages of being certified. In 1975 the cost per item for obtaining kosher certification was reported by The New York Times to be 6.5 millionths of a cent ($0.000000065) for a General Foods frozen-food item.
Certification leads to increased revenues by opening up additional markets to Jews who keep kosher, Muslims who keep halal, Seventh-day Adventists, vegetarians, and the lactose intolerant who wish to avoid dairy products (products that are reliably certified as pareve meet this criterion). According to the Orthodox Union, one of the largest kashrut organization in the United States, "when positioned next to a competing non-kosher brand, a kosher product will do better by 20%."
Quebec's Bouchard-Taylor Commission on Reasonable Accommodation refuted what it described as "[t]he most fanciful information is circulating among Quebeckers” about the so-called kosher tax in its 2008 report and stated that there was no evidence of price inflation as a result of kosher certification and that rabbis made little money from granting certification.
According to Berel Wein, "The cost of kashrut certification is always viewed as an advertising expense and not as a manufacturing expense." Dispellers of the "kosher tax" legend argue that if it were not profitable to obtain such certification, then food producers would not engage in the certification process, and that the increased sales resulting from kosher certification actually lower the overall cost per item. Avi Shafran adds that "[i]f the kosher item in fact proves more expensive, [the consumer] can simply opt for one that hasn’t been supervised by a rabbi..."
Obtaining certification that an item is kosher is a voluntary business decision made by companies desiring additional sales from consumers (both Jewish and non-Jewish) who look for kosher certification when shopping, and is actually specifically sought by marketing organizations within food production companies. According to Snopes.com, the fees charged for kosher certification are used to support the operation of the certifying bodies themselves, and not "some special Jewish fund used to advance Zionist causes".
…anti-Semitic propaganda has for years railed against what hate groups call "the kosher tax." This is the alleged increase in price that results when a food company pays for private kashrut supervision, so that its products can display a mark of certification… For those who don't buy Jewish-conspiracy theories, a more plausible explanation is that the companies have calculated that the extra business generated by kashrut certification more than makes up for the cost of supervision. (Hence no price increase is necessary.)
Anti-Semites have advanced 'the libel of the kosher tax' to claim consumers are paying an extra tax on products that carry kosher certification.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
The dark side of this rather uneventful marketing fact is that some anti-Jewish hate groups have developed a bizarre and baseless theory that there is a 'kosher tax' levied on food, a kind of Jewish conspiracy to extort money from the population at large.
Media Bypass, for one, offered a story about a 'Kosher Nostra scam,' in which 'major food companies throughout America actually pay a Jewish Tax amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in order to receive protection' against Jewish boycotts. These 'elaborate extortion schemes' are coordinated, alleges writer Ernesto Cienfuegos, by 'Rabbinical Councils that are set up, not just in the U.S. but in other western countries as well.'
Some [racist groups] urge their members to boycott products certified as kosher.
Some antisemitic myths continued to proliferate through the year 2000. The Kosher Tax myth claims that the purchase of foods with a kosher symbol on it means that a portion of that money constitutes a tax which benefits the Jewish people. Individuals are advised to go to their cupboards and estimate the worth of all the foods which have those "hidden" symbols on them and claim the money back from the government in their tax returns. Many of the alerts that our offices received about the distribution of the "Kosher Tax" advisories were from accountants who received them as a mailing or were given them along with instructions from their clients to include the material in their taxes. According to these accountants, the people who wanted the refund were not antisemites per se but had received the letters and were ignorant to the meaning of the symbols on the groceries. However, it could be said that those fooled were all too ready to believe the message of the advisories that Jews are sneakily trying to extort money from an unsuspecting public.
…due to the volume of goods produced, the cost of certification per unit is so small that it really does not figure in the cost of the product.
Adherents to other faiths, including Moslems and Seventh-Day Adventists, look to kosher certification for a variety of reasons (including making sure the product is pork free).