The spiritual leaders of many area synagogues are urging their congregations not to rush to judgment in the wake of allegations against a prominent catering firm.
And, in a significant new development, the rabbinical service that certifies food as kosher has come out publicly in full support of Morrell Caterers and has denounced the accusations as "unfounded."
"People are generally good," said Rabbi Shmuel Lipszyc of Town of Oyster Bay Chabad in Woodbury. "Nobody should form opinions before research."
Many area rabbis repeated a similar theme in wake of the recent accusations regarding Morrell Caterers and its owner, Scott Morrell. In a lawsuit, former chef Michael Savitsky and general manager Tom Cataldo accused Morrell of knowingly violating kosher laws.
"I believe if it indeed occurred, it is a horrible thing," said Rabbi Jay Weinstein of Simchat Halev in Syosset. "However we don't actually know if it occurred… By the time we find out, Morrell's catering business could be ruined… It's sad all around."
It was almost the identical reaction of Rabbi David Ross Senter, spiritual leader of the Manetto Hill Jewish Center in Plainview. "There should not be a rush to judgement," Senter said. "This man's business could be ruined by accusations that have not been proven."
Morrell's two former employees are suing their former boss, claiming they were told to prepare kosher food and non-kosher food in the same vicinity.
“We would have our Kosher foods stored and next to it a bucket of shrimp,” Cataldo said during a press conference, reported Half Hollow Hills Patch. They also reported Cataldo's claims that Morrell poured cheaper alcohol into empty high-end liquor bottles and sold them at premium prices.
However, Senter expressed strong doubts about the accusations, pointing out that Morrell's work would be strictly supervised, in this case by the Vaad Harabonim of Flatbush.
"The Vaad of Flatbush has come out with a written statement supporting Morrell," Senter said.
That detailed statement, issued by Rabbi Meir Goldberg, the administrator of the Vaad of Flatbush, condemned the allegations as “frivolous” and “unfounded. The entire text of the letter can be seen on Morrell’s website.
Morrell also issued a statement, vehemently denying the allegations:
“The Rabbinical supervision that dictates what, how, who and where we prepare our food has reviewed the allegations against us and have dismissed them as false.” Morrell said. “This is about your trust, my reputation and our “partnership” in providing guests with the finest dining experience consistent with our religious traditions.”
Senter counseled that if Morrell customers had concerns about future bookings they should rely on their faith in the Vaad of Flatbush. "They are standing by (Morrell,)" Senter said. "They've got some heavy hitters to stand up for him."
For many Jews, the kosher laws are an important part of their faith:
"What we eat is what we become," said Rabbi Lipszyc, in explaining some of the reasoning for the ancient dietary laws spelled out in the Torah, the first five books of the Jewish Bible. "The more kosher we are, the easier it is to be refined."
It is because of this and the strict kosher supervision by the rabbinical mishkea of Vaad Harabonim in Flatbush that Rabbi Weinstein doubts the legitimacy of the claims. In strict settings, the entire preparation of kosher food must be supervised.
"A kosher supervisor has to be on the premises at disclosed and undisclosed times," he reasoned. "For [the allegations] to occur…how could it?"
Rabbis are taking an "innocent until proven guilty" view on the situation. Rabbi Lipszyc places his "full confidence in Scott Morrell," and has told congregants it is safe to use Morrell's services.
Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice has opened an investigation of Morrell Caterers for "possible criminal activity."
As the Jewish Week reported, Morrell heatedly defended himself at a press conference, saying, "I stand here with my integrity intact. I never broke any kosher rules, ever.”
Morrell stated Thursday on his website, "I have become emotional seeing the comments and pledges of support from those who trust my integrity and my word."
This week, Morrell's attorney has filed a civil suit against attorney Howard Fensterman who, Morrell says, "threatened to destroy Morrell Catering if [Morrell] didn’t withdraw a lawsuit against him."