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Federal judge backs New York's kosher food-labeling law

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's newest law for certifying and labeling food under Jewish rules is, well, kosher, according to a federal ruling on Wednesday.

The revised law attempted to overcome problems with an earlier kosher-labeling law, which was thrown out when a judge found it created "excessive" entanglements between synagogue and state.

The revised law, passed by New York's legislature in 2004, requires producers and distributors to manage their own kosher certifications and keeps the state out of the process.

All food claimed to be kosher must be labeled as such by producers and distributors, and basic information about the qualifications of the individual bestowing the kosher certification must be disclosed in a publicly available database.

The new law was challenged in a 2008 lawsuit by a Long Island deli and butcher shop, Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats Inc., that claimed it violated the First Amendment.

What is and is not kosher is a matter exclusively for Jewish law to determine, Commack said in the lawsuit. By requiring labels on food as kosher, and by sending out state inspectors to verify compliance, the state essentially attempted once again to define and enforce its own kosher standard, according to the complaint.

On Wednesday, Federal Judge Nina Gershon in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn disagreed, saying the latest version of the law does not violate Jews' religious or free speech protections under the U.S. Constitution and should be upheld.

New York City is the world's largest Jewish city outside of Israel.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)

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