Clarification on OU Certification of New York’s Le Marais Restaurant

March 23, 2007

A few months ago, a mashgiach at Le Marais restaurant, Mr. Isaac Bitton, alleged that on several occasions, one of the chefs at Le Marais intentionally compromised the kashrus at Le Marais, and that he had been fired from his previous employment for that very reason as well. Mr. Bitton insisted and demanded that the chef be fired.

Over a period of months the OU carefully researched and investigated every accusation, and we spoke to all parties whom Mr. Bitton claimed had information. Obviously, the presence of an individual who is hostile to our kosher program would seriously compromise our ability to provide reliable supervision. At the same time, fairness dictates that if allegations are made against a Jew or non-Jew, the accusations must be independently verified before one is dismissed from his position.

The OU found no evidence of intent to compromise kashrus by this chef. People quoted by Mr. Bitton resolutely denied statements attributed to them. For example, Mr. Bitton claimed the chef was fired from Levana for kashrus infractions, and the management would verify that this was the case. We spoke to the management of Levana and they emphatically stated that this was not true. Mr. Bitton then said a sister of the management would confirm his allegation. She too said she had no knowledge of this matter. Mr. Bitton then claimed that he secretly tape recorded a conversation with the sister and she admitted and confirmed that the chef was fired for Kashrus reasons. The OU staff listened to the tape and at no point did she confirm the above. Initially, she denied that the chef was fired for Kashrus violations. After Mr. Bitton relentlessly pressed the issue, she said he should pursue the matter further with the appropriate parties, if he so desired. Mr. Bitton maintained that not denying the allegation was tantamount to confirming it. We considered it a misrepresentation to characterize this as a confirmation.

Other individuals who worked closely with the chef, such as the second Mashgiach at Le Marais, gave no support to the allegations. With the exception of Mr. Bitton, everyone found the chef to be cooperative.

Mr. Bitton developed amazing conspiratorial theories involving crime organizations to explain why people denied his allegations, and attributed dark and evil motives to sincere and honest individuals within the OU.

Mr. Bitton was dogmatic in his interpretations of situations and did not acknowledge the legitimacy of other opinions. We explained to Mr. Bitton that he was entitled to his opinion, but we do not have to agree. He insisted that his viewpoint is fact and not an opinion.
For example, in one instance the chef purchased dairy margarine for the restaurant (though it was caught before it was used). There is no evidence that the chef did not make an honest error. Indeed, the OU receives numerous calls from people who accidentally used OUD margarine in a meat dish. Mr. Bitton insisted the chef bought the product with malicious intent. In another case, a delivery of non-kosher fish (which was also not used) was dropped off at the restaurant over Shabbos while the store was closed. Mr. Bitton insisted that the chef made the order, though there was no evidence linking the chef to the order, and the fish company advised the OU that the delivery was made in error to the wrong customer. Once again, Mr. Bitton maintained that his interpretation was a fact and not an opinion.

Mr. Bitton threatened to make a public expose of this “cover-up”. The OU took a principled position and did not acquiesce to threats and intimidation.

In protest of our decision to not have the chef fired, Mr. Bitton voluntarily resigned from his position at the restaurant. Since then, Mr. Bitton and others have circulated e-mail allegations about this matter. Many of the statements are patently false, such as the accusation that the chef physically assaulted Mr. Bitton and intentionally placed insects in the food. In a private conversation with an OU staff member, Mr. Bitton admitted that this was not true. Another allegation is that the OU chose to defend the chef for financial considerations. This accusation is absurd. Had the OU insisted that the chef be dismissed, it would have had no financial impact on the OU, as Le Marais would readily have complied. Indeed, the easiest course for the OU would have been for the OU to ask the restaurant to dismiss this chef, and the whole matter would have been put to rest. The OU did not take this course of action because we felt that the kashrus of the restaurant was properly served and to dismiss a chef without just cause was unethical and immoral.

The OU stands firmly behind its supervision of Le Marais and the kashrus there is maintained in full accordance with OU standards.

Stephen J. Savitsky
President
Orthodox Union

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive Vice President
Orthodox Union

Dr. Simcha Katz
Chair, Kashrut Commission
Orthodox Union

Rabbi Menachem Genack
Rabbinic Administrator and CEO
OU Kosher

Rabbi Yaakov D. Luban
Executive Rabbinic Coordinator
OU Kosher