Wednesday, February 19, 2020

In a move allegedly designed to gain control of the digital kosher supervision service industry, Kosher Marketing Assets, a unit of OK Kosher Certification, a Brooklyn, New York-based firm, is attempting to corner the kosher Internet market by purchasing the rights to the newly created generic top-level domain name (gTLD) “dot-kosher.” While denying that it seeks to unilaterally control online kashrus information by acquiring the rights to the generic domain name, the OK, in its application, was quite specific that its mission was to promote itself and the companies it services. Add to that that the $200,000 price tag for the gTLD would be an insignificant number when the some 600 projected sites in the $17 billion kosher industry would be in play, and you have the reason for the present controversy that has arisen in the go-along get-along kosher supervision industry.

Thus, five major kosher supervision organizations——the Teaneck-based Kosher Supervision Service Inc., better known as the KOF-K, the Orthodox Union, STAR-K Kosher Certification Inc., Chicago Rabbinical Council Inc., and the Kashruth Council of Canada—have joined together to oppose Kosher Marketing Assets’ application. As the KOF-K’s Ari Senter confirms to JLBC, “For purely religious reasons, much as the term Islam and halal have been removed from consideration as domain names, kosher should be removed as an available domain name as well.”

“We think that if the term kosher, which has important meaning in the Jewish religion, is commercialized, it will do a disservice to how religion in general should be treated and will harm the kosher public specifically,” said Harvey Blitz, the Kashruth Commission chairman of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. (The New York-based organization oversees OU Kosher, the world’s largest certification agency.)

But Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, CEO of the OK, claims that his company is being maligned by the other groups and that his company is acting in good faith. When ICANN—the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—began accepting applications for gTLDs in January 2012, Kosher Marketing Assets filed its application for dot-kosher.“The [others] weren’t interested,” Levy said. Even though he claims he offered participatory control of the domain name to the other groups, all have declined to join him, sticking to their guns that kosher is a religious term and should not be commercialized. “They don’t have to become our partners, but they can’t now complain we’re trying to brazenly control dot-kosher,” says Levy.

But the agencies are complaining—and loudly. Despite denials of an attempt at “brazen control,” the OK’s application led its competitors to note in their letter to ICANN the following:

“The word kosher is an adaptation of the Hebrew word meaning ‘fit’ or ‘proper’.”It refers to foodstuffs that meet the dietary requirements of Jewish Law. These dietary laws originate in the Bible and have been observed by Jews for more than 3,000 years. In contrast to the longstanding use of the word kosher by the undersigned kosher certification organizations, and the understanding of such usage by Jews from around the world, the .kosher gTLD application specifically states that the applicant intends to limit the registration and use of second-level .kosher domain names to use by only the applicant or those persons or entities that are affiliated with the applicant… The .kosher applicant has reserved the option of operating, without transparency and non-discriminatory registration policies, as a closed or highly restricted registry... The application even brazenly describes in part the mission of the .kosher gTLD as promoting the applicant and its clients.”

[According to its application, “The mission of the .KOSHER TLD is to promote kosher food certification in general, and OK Kosher Certification and its clients in particular. All registrations in .Kosher will be managed by Kosher Marketing Assets, LLC on behalf of OK Kosher Certification. [And] only those clients who pass rigorous certification will be granted use of domains under this TLD. Given existing data on certification and a conservative forecast for adoption of .KOSHER domains, we forecast having approximately 636 Domains Under Management (DUMs) by the third year of operation.”]

In short, the group alleges that the OK is trying to monopolize control of online entry into kosher food products and services. As Avrom Pollak, the president of Star-K, added, “We were concerned by the language in the application, which stated that a single agency would have the right to grant use of the kosher domain name.”

What is the significance of the issue? Larry Finkel, director of food research at Packaged Facts, comments on the importance of use of the domain name, “It’s like losing access if you’re not tying into that domain. It’s sort of like being excluded from Wal-Mart.”

ICANN has still not ruled on the matter.

By Philip Sieradski