Coronavirus: how it affects religious dietary laws

By Lianne Kolirin

Images of panic-buying and empty supermarket shelves have abounded since the coronavirus outbreak reached crisis levels over the past couple of weeks.
Consumers have experienced shortages of commonplace cupboard food such as pasta and tinned vegetables, with fresh food also now in short supply.

But what of religious communities with additional dietary requirements to consider? Has religious faith been placing extra pressure on those already struggling to provide for their families with strict dietary guidelines?

Last week kosher retailers united to reassure Britain’s Jewish community that there was plenty of produce for everyone, as long as there was no panicking. In an unprecedented move, retailers and rabbis collaborated in a four-minute video designed to allay fears over shortages of kosher food, but specifically for  Passover, which starts on 8 April.

“Everybody is working around the clock to get sufficient stock and there is no need to panic, no reason for panic-buying,” one of the retailers said in the video. Another added: “Please be responsible. Shop as much as you need but don’t stock up for next year. There’s plenty for everyone as long as you are responsible and you buy as you would in any other year.”

Over the eight-day festival observant Jews eat no bread or other products made from flour. They also avoid pasta and cereals, as well as many other things.  There are strict guidelines for what is and is not considered permissible under the dietary laws, kashrut.

Hundreds of years of tradition are being relaxed because of the exceptional circumstances. The Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din (KLBD), the leading UK authority on Jewish dietary laws, has now published a list of regular products that can be consumed at this time.

This does not mean that Passover has been cancelled or that bread is now permissible, but that there is to be some leniency with regards to more general  groceries. “We are acutely aware of the pressures at this unprecedented time,” said Rabbi Jeremy Conway, KLBD’s director.

Companies that manufacture and provide kosher products for Passover have come under further pressure as many families who might otherwise be travelling abroad for the festival are now staying at home.

Sickness and social distancing measures have also influenced production and distribution in other Jewish communities. Alfredo Guzman, a manager at Kosher Marketplace in Manhattan, told The Jerusalem Post that two deliveries of Passover food had been cancelled.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to have, what is coming, what is not coming, regarding products for Passover,” he said. “A lot of people are going to get nervous . . . It’s not good for business, this situation, and it’s not good, I believe, for the people.”

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