So a new kosher bagel store has opened for business in a community and there are rumors that the proprietor wasn’t so careful in his previous location about all the requirements of maintaining a kosher establishment. Or the catered Shabbat Kiddush, delicious though it may be, presents some difficulties regarding the standards of kashrut and the observance of the Sabbath. What’s a local Va’ad HaKashrut (certifying agency) to do?
To deal with these and other thorny issues, and to assist Rabbinical Council of America rabbis who serve as members of their local Va’ad, the Orthodox Union Kosher Division recently offered a one-day seminar, Current Issues Facing the Local Va’ad HaKashut, presented at OU headquarters in conjunction with the annual RCA Convention in New York.
Funding for the seminar, known as a Yom Iyun -- a day of in-depth analysis -- was provided by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ in memory of Mr. Beren, z”l. The Beren Foundation funds a wide variety of educational initiatives of OU Kosher. These programs are directed at all levels, from young children to senior rabbis. In this case, it was the senior rabbis who were the beneficiaries of OU knowledge and experience.
According to Rabbi Kenneth Auman of the Young Israel of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY and Past President of the RCA, “We are interested in giving our rabbis all the tools they need to function effectively in their communities. They need professional backup when it comes to kashrut – it is such a specialized field that even though the rabbi has studied the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law), he needs practical, first-hand experience. There is no one better than the OU to provide it. It was a day in which the rabbis could hear all the issues, and the objectives of the seminar were very well fulfilled.”
The RCA found a willing partner in the OU, with whom it works very closely on a variety of issues; RCA members are in many cases rabbis of OU member synagogues.
“The RCA and the OU are partners in practically every respect of synagogue and community life and we are very pleased to be able to provide educational resources and programs not just to rabbis but to individuals within the larger community,” explained Rabbi Basil Herring, Executive Vice President of the RCA. “This particular conference was an excellent example because it provided education on the emerging trends and realities facing commercial kosher supervision in our communities. It was very high level, very hands-on, and certainly much appreciated not only by those in attendance, but by those who in the days and months ahead will see the video on the OU and RCA websites.”
Dr. Simcha Katz, Chair of the OU Kashrut Commission, agrees. “The Orthodox Union recognizes that the local Va’ad HaKashrut is confronted with complex issues as it serves its community. OU Kosher considers it to be an extremely important part of its activities to work with the Va’ad; to share its considerable expertise with local authorities; and to do whatever is necessary to assure that the highest standards of kashrut are maintained everywhere.” As Dr. Katz told the many rabbis present – from communities ranging from Boston, Denver and Toronto to as far away as Basle, Switzerland – “Please view us as your partners and as a resource in serving your local communities.”
A Variety of Sessions:
The sessions featured “the latest OU methods of maintaining high standards in the important issues the Va’ad is faced with on a daily basis as it certifies local establishments,” explained Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Director of AskOU and Kashrut Education at the OU. “The participants were instructed by the leading experts of the OU, such as Rabbi Moshe Elefant (Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher), who spoke about enhancements in the security of the kosher meat supply chain through holograms and DNA; and Rabbi Yosef Eisen (Rabbinic Administrator of the Va’ad of The Five Towns and Far Rockaway), who demonstrated the discovery of insects inside strawberries when there is a crack or cleft in the strawberry. The rabbis saw the OU as the cutting edge in modern day kashrut supervision, certification and knowledge. They are now able to bring that knowledge back to their communities,” Rabbi Grossman said.
The program included shiurim by Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva University, consultant on the practical applications of complicated aspects of kosher law. The entire program was devoted only to the practical – the issues that Va’ad members regularly confront in their work.
According to Rabbi Yaacov Luban, OU Kosher Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, “Today there are more than 800 hechsherim (certifications). Which does the local Va’ad accept? What are the halachic positions of the Va’ad – for example, can you kosherize plastic? The OU says yes, other authorities say no,” he explained.
“There are constant halachic issues that arise,” Rabbi Luban continued. “For example, the frequency of visitation by the Va’ad; or when does an establishment need a mashgiach temidi (full time kosher supervisor)?”
Rabbi Dov Schreier, OU Rabbinic Coordinator for Food Service, presented a mouth-watering Sabbath Kiddush menu, but cautioned that the Va’ad had to deal with some key issues (see sidebar). With a range of blowtorches and other implements, Rabbi Moshe Perlmutter, OU Rabbinic Field Representative, showed how to kosherize various pieces of equipment in a commercial kitchen.
With the seminar completed, the RCA rabbis returned home, ready to share their knowledge with fellow Va’ad members. “Clearly each rabbi received a tremendous amount of information,” said Rabbi Herring, the RCA Executive Vice President. “As a rabbi in a particular community, this information is essential to being informed about the physical and commercial realities as well as the minutiae of Jewish law as they apply to today’s extremely complex kashrut situation.”