April 19, 2024
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‘Dot Kosher’ Domain Name Dispute Continues

Teaneck—Someday soon, your Internet addresses won’t just end with “.com,” “.org,” or “.net,” but in a myriad of descriptive ways, including “.travel,” “.jobs,” or even “.healthy.” But, if five of the world’s largest kashrus agencies, which certify 70% of the world’s kosher products, have anything to say about it, “.kosher” will not be one of your choices.

In 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, extended offers to those interested in administering domain name suffixes to make applications to do so. ICANN received 1,930 applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) including one application from the privately held, Brooklyn-based, OK Kosher for the gTLD dot-kosher, or “.kosher.”

OK Kosher is often mistakenly believed to be the kashrus certifying arm of Chabad Lubavitch, but the agency and its subsidiaries are in fact privately held by the Levy family, who happen to be Lubavitcher Hasidim. However, many of Chabad’s emissaries in far-flung locations are employed by OK Kosher as certifying agents.

Between November 2012 and now, an expensive dispute has ensued between OK Kosher and the world’s five largest kosher certifying agencies, with considerable input also from most other kosher certifying agencies.

As a means of brokering the dispute, an independent expert was hired as a representative for the International Chamber of Commerce. However, in mid-January, he rejected the objection, citing that only three out of four requirements for the “community objection” to be sustained had been met. The expert, an Italian national, wrote in an extensive legal statement that the fourth requirement for community objection, which is “material detriment,” had not been proven. He therefore awarded the right to manage “.kosher” to a subsidiary of OK Kosher called Kosher Marketing Assets, LLC.

A follow-up appeal has now been filed and is waiting at ICANN for consideration.

“The Internet is the most powerful tool of the 21st century. To have any one entity controlling the term “.kosher” on the Internet is extremely frightening,” said Rabbi Ari Senter, rabbinic administrator of the Teaneck-based Kof-K certifying agency. “We feel that it’s something that to have any one entity control it would be like having one person get up and control the word ‘Jewish.’ Kosher is a word that is central to our religion. It cannot be in control of one organization exclusively,” he said.

Kof-K, along with the Orthodox Union (OU), the Star-K of Baltimore, the CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council), and the Kosher Council of Canada (COR) are the agencies united together and leading the charge against the “.kosher” domain being designated to anyone.

“We (the five agencies) are equal partners in this objection. We believe that the word kosher should not belong to any one organization,” said Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer of the Orthodox Union. “The word kosher belongs to the Jewish people and not to any private groups,” he said.

Elefant acknowledged that in the world of kosher certifying agencies there is a mix between those that are non-profit, like the OU, where he is “just an employee,” and those which are rabbinic councils, like the London Beis Din or the CRC, and those that are privately held, like OK Kosher and the Kof-K. Elefant told JLBC that if there was a domain name “.government,” it would be obvious that it could not be administered by any one person, and that there are other situations being dealt with that are similar in some ways to the “.kosher” issue, such as “.halal.”

“There was a group that made an application for ‘.halal’ and in that case, there were entire countries that objected to the word halal being registered. We were hoping that if ‘.halal’ were rejected as a domain name, ‘.kosher’ would automatically be too, but it’s not necessarily the case,” Elefant said.

“No one knows what the future of technology and the future of the Internet will be. Therefore this is something that should remain in the public domain, and not controlled by any one individual or any one organization,” said Senter.

When asked if there is an imminent threat from OK Kashrus or its new subsidiary KMA Marketing Assets, LLC, if they plan to crowd out or profit from other kashrus certifying agencies, Senter was very clear. “The intent of the OK is secondary. We don’t know. Our objection is strictly on an ideological level. In principle, we are against any such control,” he said.

Once the decision to grant the “.kosher” domain name to OK Kosher happened on January 14th, objections had to be registered with ICANN within 14 days. While the five certifying agencies registered their objection in the time provided, the timeline for when ICANN must render a reply is open-ended, and so the agencies are currently awaiting further news on the appeal.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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