A variety of participants at the Harry H. Beren ASK OU Kashrus programs (l to r): Rabbi Dovid Sochet, Spring Valley, NY; Rabbi Chaim Weiss, Houston, TX; OU Kashrus Education Director, Rabbi Yosef Grossman; Rabbi Yehoshua Horowitz, Monsey, NY; Shlomo Blum, Yishuv Eli, Israel; Rabbi Raphael Sliw, Brooklyn, NY; and Rabbi Menachem Lichtenstein, Monsey, NY.
The 70 students came from Brooklyn, of course, and from Monsey and Lakewood, as would be expected, but they arrived from Houston and Israel as well. They are the scions of great rabbinic families; students in kollel; and hail from both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities. They came to sit at the feet of the masters, by participating in the 11th cycle of the three-and-one-week Harry H. Beren ASKOU Kashrus Summer Programs, offered by the Orthodox Union every other summer; based on discussions with them, they went home with a deeper understanding of both the age-old halachot of kashrus and of their applications to modern food technology.
The masters, starting with OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack, are the rabbinic experts of OU Kosher. They taught about fish; the kosher contract; cheese and whey; machinery; fermentation; cake; foodservice protocols and kashering; hashgacha; enzymes and emulsifiers; hafroshas challah; yoshon; Yoreh Deah and non-Jewish factories; kosher birds and eggs; unauthorized OU hechshers; baking; OU certification in India, Turkey and Egypt; and Pesach all-year round.
Participants also learned about 21st century kashrus technology; oleo chemicals; wisdom from the field; bishul akum, the in-town Va’ad HaKashrus; schmaltz; the mesorah of kosher birds and animals; insect infestation; bedikas toyloim; halacha and “limaaseh” in food service; the Shabbos kiddush; birchos HaMashgiach; poultry; meat; the kosher slaughterhouse; nikkur (with a demonstration); the OU kosher consumer hotline; ingredients; how to kasher; the local fish store; and wine and grape juice.
This was by no means strictly a lecture course. The participants visited OU Kosher restaurants, factories and hotel kitchens. They learned to do an audit review of a restaurant. They reviewed the halachot of kashrus with OU Kosher posek Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University. They participated in an “Ask the OU Rabbonim” session led by Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher, who was joined by several rabbinic coordinators.
The complex program was organized, as always, by Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU Kosher Senior Educational Rabbinic Coordinator, who puts together a variety of ASKOU initiatives sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ. The three-week session is directed at advanced semicha and kollel students to provide them with an in-depth kashrus internship, while the one-week training program is aimed at congregational rabbis, semicha and kollel students and members of a Va'ad HaKashrus who want to refine their skills for use in their local communities.
At the conclusion of the program Rabbi Grossman remarked, “I am very pleased that this year’s ASK OU participants, representing a rich variety of individuals from across the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry, will join the over 800 graduates who have completed the ASK OU programs since their inception in 1996. We are most gratified that these ASK OU trained individuals, as their fellow graduates in the past, will continue to strengthen the highest standards of kashrus on a global level.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Horowitz participated in the one-week program. He is the grandson of the Bostoner Rebbe of Boston and Har Nof and the son of the current Bostoner Rebbe of New York, the Chuster Rav. He himself is the Bostoner Rav of Monsey, NY “The course was very informative and gevaldic, done very professionally, and provided excellent information,” he said. “I’m looking to be a part-time mashgiach and so I was interested in the program. I would advise it very much for others to take it.”
Shlomo Blum, originally of Verona, NJ, now resides at Yishuv Eli, near Shilo in Israel. He is well familiar with the standards of OU Kosher, given his six years of employment as a cook at the OU’s Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center. He took a course last year in Israel to become a mashgiach; when his wife saw the ASK OU program advertised on the Internet she told him about it. Since he was planning on coming to the U.S. to visit his mother, he had the perfect opportunity to sign up for the one-week session. “It’s an excellent course, I learned a lot, the rabbis were excellent,” Mr. Blum said, as he singled out insects, ma’aser, wine and meat as special areas of interest.” He even suggested to one of the OU rabbis that he come to Israel and teach a class there.
Rabbi Rahamim Churba of the Sephardic community of Flatbush, Brooklyn, teaches halacha at two high schools for girls in Brooklyn, has published a pamphlet on the halachot of the Yomim Tovim, is writing a book on the laws of bishul on Shabbos, and conducts a weekly teleconference on halacha. As a result, he is always answering kashrus questions. “I wanted to be familiar with the hands-on of kashrus,” Rabbi Churba explained. “Halacha is not enough. We have to know the hands-on.” He learned a great deal of it in the three-week program, he reports.
Rabbi Raphael Sliw, originally from London, England, has resided in Borough Park in Brooklyn for the past eight years. He is in kollel with his father-in-law, Rabbi Gedalia Machlis, and his grandfather is Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, shlita. Rabbi Sliw chose to take the three-week program “to lead to something else regarding career and for the knowledge itself.” He was deeply impressed by “the mind-boggling amounts of halacha in all aspects of kashrus and their applications.”
Chicago native Rabbi Menachem Lichtenstein, now of Monsey, is the son of the head of the Federation Kashrus Bet Din in London England. He attributes his presence in the program to two friends who took it in the tenth cycle, two years ago, and recommended it highly. “They told me it’s a great thing not just to learn, but to see the kashrus organization from the point of view of the people who run it.” Rabbi Lichtenstein particularly enjoyed the visits to plants and restaurants, where he saw “the basics of the food industry, food production and the general policies of kashrus.” A participant in the one-week class, he added, “I wouldn’t mind taking the longer program.”
Meet Reb Chaim Leib Weiss of Houston, Texas, whose hat would be appropriate in both shul and at a rodeo. A participant in the one-week program, he works as a mashgiach-on-call for the Houston Kashrus Association. His kosher coordinator at work told him about the program and asked if he wanted to attend; the answer, of course, was yes. Previously, Reb Weiss worked with other kashrus organizations; now he was learning from OU Kosher. “It’s another way of thinking. I see great similarities and some differences between the agencies,” he said. “Taking the program broadened my perspective,” Reb Weiss said.
Rabbi David Sochet of Monsey, who took the one-week session, is the son of the Karlin-Stolin Rebbe. “I very much enjoyed the program; there are a lot of things you can gain from it,” he said. “The shiurim were very enjoyable and I definitely would consider the three-week program the next time. I will tell my friends about it.”
For preliminary information on the 12th cycle, to be offered in the summer of 2014, contact Rabbi Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-613-8212.
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