O.U. sets date for contested presidential elections

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Orthodox Union has set a March date to pick its next president in a highly unusual contested vote.

The umbrella group of Modern Orthodox synagogues and organizations, perhaps best known as the world’s largest kosher certifier, said on Jan. 17 that its board will convene at the Sheraton Hotel in New York on March 10 to choose between incumbent Simcha Katz and former president Harvey Blitz.

A source told JTA that a meeting of Katz and Blitz aimed at settling their differences ended inconclusively on Jan 15.

As previously reported by The New York Jewish Week and JTA, insiders say the organization has been gripped by a power struggle resulting in a recent succession of managerial changes.  

In a Jan. 18 email to JTA, the Orthodox Union took issue with the characterization of its leadership as being in a state of "disarray."

"The OU is much more than kosher: it is teens, campus life, the disabled, public affairs, synagogue and community services and much more," said Mayer Fertig, a spokesman for the group. "Day-to-day operations in all areas are uninterrupted and the kosher division, in particular, is operating effectively under the leadership of its CEO, Rabbi Menachem Genack."

Katz told JTA last week that he would run on a platform of affordable tuition fees and upholding Jewish values, but he did not sound like he was preparing for a fight.

"[Blitz] is a dear and old friend and I hope he actually relieves me of the burden," he said. "He is a tremendous person and would be a good caretaker for the organization."

Blitz declined to be interviewed.

Fertig said the organization’s ability to hold an election with two contenders was proof it provided "an opportunity for an open and candid exchange of ideas and points of view, all for the betterment of klal Yisrael," the Jewish people.

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