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Quebec Jewish Groups Divided over Kosher Labels Agreement

Canadian Jewish groups are at odds over an agreement that will enable English-labeled kosher food products to remain on store shelves in Quebec for Passover.

The Canadian Jewish Congress’ Quebec region and the province’s French Language Office signed an agreement this week that brings an end to a controversy over the Passover products.

This spring, matzah and other kosher products labeled in English only were removed from certain store shelves because they were believed to contravene Quebec language laws, which state that French must also appear on all products and signs displayed in stores.

The French Language Office, which is Quebec’s language watchdog, has now agreed that special provisions in the law apply for Passover and other time-limited situations.

However, B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec region was sharply critical of the agreement, deeming it a “dangerous precedent.”

B’nai Brith was pleased that the Quebec government agency acknowledged that the sale of kosher for Passover food labeled only in English is legal.

But it voiced concern in a statement about “the precedent established by the signing of a formal agreement between the French Language Office and Canadian Jewish Congress purporting to define the legal rights of merchants.”

Jonathan Schneiderman, B’nai Brith vice president, said the CJC had effectively agreed to act as a “language inspector” for the government.

“By signing this agreement, CJC implicitly acknowledges that outside the Passover season, kosher food must comply with French labelling requirements which, in itself, is a subject of legal controversy,” the B’nai Brith statement said.

Jack Jedwab, director of the CJC’s Quebec region, called B’nai Brith’s reaction “sour grapes.”

“I think it is highly unfortunate and regrettable that inter-organizational politics should get in the way of the resolution of this sensitive issue,” Jedwab said.

He said the Montreal communal body that supervises kashrut and the representative body of the city’s Sephardi community had joined the CJC in the agreement.

“The community’s religious authority in the city of Montreal is part of this agreement. That in itself speaks volumes about its value to the community.”

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