The spi­ralling cost of kosher liv­ing

New fig­ures re­veal prices of es­sen­tial kosher goods have dou­bled in a decade

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON ROCKER

THE PRICE of kosher meat has soared over the past 10 years — more than twice the in­crease in the cost of non-kosher meat.

The econ­o­mists An­thony Tri­cot and An­drea Sil­ber­man have cal­cu­lated that kosher meat prices have “dou­bled in lit­tle over a decade, com­pared with non-kosher meat prices which only rose by 40 per cent”.

Kosher meat is “on av­er­age dou­ble the cost of reg­u­lar su­per­mar­ket meat”.

Price com­par­isons also re­veal that sta­ples like milk and eggs cost 10 to 20 per cent more if kosher, while kosher baked beans and piz­zas are dou­ble the equiv­a­lent non-kosher price. Gin­ger bis­cuits cost eight times more.

The an­nual pre­mium paid to “live Jewishly”, as the re­searchers put it, could be as much as £12,700 for a fam­ily of four.

Their cal­cu­la­tions in­clude the cost of hous­ing in a pop­u­lar Jewish area, syn­a­gogue mem­ber­ship, eat­ing in kosher restau­rants, ed­u­ca­tion at a Jewish school and pay­ing for sim­chas.

While there are “good rea­sons” why a Jewish life­style may cost more, they ar­gue that “many things can be done to im­prove the af­ford­abil­ity of Jewish liv­ing”.

Call­ing for “greater cost trans­parency”, they say that few sy­n­a­gogues pub­li­cise their mem­ber­ship prices on­line and that, “in­cred­i­bly”, the Lon­don Board for She­chita can­not pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion for why kosher meat prices have risen so sharply.

THE AF­FORD­ABIL­ITY of liv­ing Jewishly is a peren­nial sub­ject for de­bate, of­ten with­out much cost data. As econ­o­mists, we wanted to see what ac­tual data was avail­able so we could en­cour­age a more ev­i­dence-based de­bate on whether there is in­deed a “cost of Jewish liv­ing” cri­sis. Our find­ings were pre­sented at this year’s Lim­mud.

We built a “Kosher Chicken In­dex” — a bas­ket of goods re­flect­ing prod­ucts that Jews are likely to buy in or­der to lead a Jewish life­style — and com­pared the prices with non-Jewish equiv­a­lents.

We found that liv­ing Jewishly in the UK can have an an­nual cost pre­mium of £12,700 per fam­ily.

WHAT IS THE COST OF LIV­ING JEWISHLY?

The cost de­pends in large part on how you de­fine a Jewish life­style. Nev­er­the­less, there are cer­tain big-ticket items that are com­monly in­curred.

The big­gest cost may be property prices. One fifth of Bri­tish Jews are con­cen­trated in the north Lon­don bor­ough of Bar­net, where property prices are 157 per cent higher than av­er­age prices for Eng­land and Wales.

A fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant cost is kosher food. Com­par­ing prices be­tween Kosher Deli, the Lon­don kosher butcher and del­i­catessen chain, and Tesco for five prod­ucts (whole chicken, minced beef, whole tur­key, diced beef and chicken thighs), we found that kosher meat was on av­er­age dou­ble the cost of reg­u­lar su­per­mar­ket meat. That pre­mium varies ac­cord­ing to the cut of meat (fil­leted chicken thighs com­mand a high pre­mium of 250 per cent while diced beef came in at a mod­est eight per cent pre­mium).

This also af­fects the cost of eat­ing out, with prices at kosher In­dian or Chi­nese restau­rants 70 per cent more than at equiv­a­lent non-kosher restau­rants, re­flect­ing the price of kosher meat and the cost of restau­rant su­per­vi­sion.

Mem­ber­ship of a typ­i­cal syn­a­gogue costs­be­tween£600-800per­house­hold. This is in part due to Jewish re­quire­ments for burial, the cost of which is triple that of cre­ma­tion, as well as the high salaries paid to rab­bis (at least twice that of vic­ars in Lon­don). This may be why, out­side the Charedi com­mu­nity, syn­a­gogue af­fil­i­a­tion rates are de­clin­ing, with many Jews pre­fer­ring to af­fil­i­ate with the com­mu­nity in dif­fer­ent ways, for in­stance through JW3, the Moishe House or Chabad.

Jewish state schools charge an annu- al pre­mium of up to £2,000 per child to re­flect the cost of ad­di­tional re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion, though the cost of Jewish ed­u­ca­tion com­pares very favourably with that in Amer­ica or France, where there are no state-funded faith schools.

Sim­chahs are a fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant cost, driven by the need to “keep up with the Co­hens”. The av­er­age Jewish wed­ding was re­ported this year to cost £55,000, com­pared to a UK av e r a g e o f un­der half that amount, while bar- and bat­mitz­vahs rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional cost that is spe­cific to the Jewish com­mu­nity.

There are a range of ad­di­tional costs not in­cluded within this bas­ket. Age-16 Is­rael tours now cost around £2,800 per child, while post-univer­sity Is­rael gap years cost £10,000 to £15,000 each. Tak­ing your fam­ily to Lim­mud costs £1,270, while we found that kosher Passover hol­i­days in­clude a mark-up of 400 per cent over the reg­u­lar price.

In ad­di­tion, for the more ob­ser­vant who buy all gro­ceries kosher, there are fur­ther costs not in­cluded in this over­all fig­ure.

Com­par­ing prices at Kosher King­dom su­per­mar­ket with those at Tesco, sta­ples like milk and eggs cost 10-20 per cent more if kosher, while kosher baked beans and piz­zas are dou­ble the equiv­a­lent non-kosher price. A hum­ble pack of gin­ger bis­cuits cost eight times more.

HOW HAVE PRICES CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

We es­ti­mated the cost in­fla­tion in kosher meat by com­par­ing Kosher Deli prices ad­ver­tised in the JC in Jan­uary

that help less well-off peo­ple to be able to af­ford kosher food, syn­a­gogue mem­ber­ship and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

How­ever, for the rapidly grow­ing Charedi sec­tor, the cost of liv­ing is a ma­jor source of con­cern. Rabbi Abra­ham Pin­ter, a lead­ing Charedi rabbi, said in 2014 that 40 per cent of Ortho­dox fam­i­lies in Stam­ford Hill, in Lon­don rely on char­i­ta­ble sup­port to cel­e­brate Passover.

Many main­stream Jews may be put off from a more ob­ser­vant life­style by the cost. Even those that can af­ford kosher meat may still ques­tion whether it is a more eth­i­cal choice than or­ganic or free-range meat, which is some­times cheaper.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

There are many good rea­sons why a Jewish life­style may cost more, such as the costs of su­per­vis­ing food. Jews value liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ties and there are bet­ter eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties in Lon­don; and we are a small com­mu­nity so we will in­evitably miss out on the economies of scale seen in the wider mar­ket.

How­ever, high prices are not a given. There are many things that can im­prove the af­ford­abil­ity of Jewish liv­ing.

First, there needs to be greater cost trans­parency. For in­stance, few sy­n­a­gogues pub­li­cise their mem­ber­ship prices on their web­site. And, in­cred­i­bly, the Lon­don Board of She­chita can­not pro­vide any data or ex­pla­na­tion as to why the price of kosher meat has risen over time.

Se­condly, the com­mu­nity needs to iden­tify cost ef­fi­cien­cies even when they are dif­fi­cult.

In many ar­eas, sy­n­a­gogues could merge, but per­son­al­i­ties and de­nom­i­na­tional pol­i­tics of­ten get in the way. Kashrut au­thor­i­ties also need to find ways to pro­duce and li­cense food more cost-ef­fec­tively. The Sephardi Kashrut Author­ity is a good ex­am­ple — cer­ti­fy­ing Kingsmill bread as kosher and us­ing CCTVs in restau­rant kitchens to keep down su­per­vi­sion costs.

Thirdly, the com­mu­nity needs to har­ness the power of com­pe­ti­tion to drive prices down. There are too many im­ped­i­ments to switch­ing sy­n­a­gogues, such as the in­abil­ity to trans­fer ac­cu­mu­lated burial rights to a dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tion.

Sim­i­larly, kashrut au­thor­i­ties need to value the in­ter­ests of con­sumers over that of pro­duc­ers when de­cid­ing whether to li­cense new stores or prod­ucts.

And communal or­gan­i­sa­tions need to give greater con­sid­er­a­tion to in­clu­siv­ity by offering ac­tiv­i­ties and ser­vices at a wider range of price points. Full fig­ures and sources at www.thejc.com An­thony Tri­cot is a con­sul­tant for Ernst and Young and a for­mer gov­ern­ment econ­o­mist. He is also a trus­tee of the S&P Sephardi Com­mu­nity of Lon­don and its rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the Board of Deputies. An­drea Sil­ber­man is an econ­o­mist at the Trea­sury

Fam­ily at Lim­mud

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