Rav Elyashiv’s rulings continue to affect millions of OU Kosher consumers around the world.
Got a kashrut question? You call the OU. But where do the OU Kosher experts take their questions?
Whenever the OU rabbinic coordinators in the national office or mashgichim at various food plants face a kosher quandary, they bring it to OU Kosher’s senior posekim—Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, whose teshuvot (numbering in the thousands) have determined the agency’s standard operating procedure for over twenty-five years.
But up until July of this past year, when it came to the trickiest halachic questions, OU Kosher would seek the hefty Torah shoulders of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, long regarded as the leading contemporary authority on Jewish law.
“His input was incredibly important,” says Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of OU Kosher. “We wanted to hear Rav Elyashiv’s opinion on the major issues, which spanned the entire spectrum of kosher certification.”
Whether concerning complex technical matters pertaining to kashering equipment, the status of alcoholic beverages produced by Jewish-owned companies over Pesach or the parameters regarding insect infestation in vegetables, Rav Elyashiv’s rulings continue to affect millions of OU Kosher consumers around the world.
Considering Rav Elyashiv’s jam-packed schedule, which included sixteen to twenty hours of uninterrupted Torah study each day, arranging an appointment with the posek hador wasn’t easy. But he always made time for OU Kosher.
During his tri-annual trips to Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Elefant would make an appointment to see Rav Elyashiv. Entering Rav Elyashiv’s small Meah Shearim apartment, he would join the long line of fellow petitioners from across the globe. The rav rarely left his home and didn’t use the phone; his halachic rulings mostly took place face-to-face.
“When you walked into his room, you knew you were in the presence of greatness,” recounts Rabbi Elefant. “He had total mastery of every area of halachah and an extraordinarily sharp and clear mind. There was no small talk; the questions were asked and the answers given. You were in and out before you even realized it.”
Over the years, these brief encounters made a significant impact on the development of OU Kosher’s demanding kashrut standards. “When bringing up the topic of insect infestation, I discussed jams [that use typically insect-infested fruits],” says Rabbi Elefant. “The halachah is that one is not allowed to take an insect and deliberately crush it and say, ‘Now it’s not a whole insect, so I don’t have a halachic problem eating it.’ We were concerned that if the OU certified certain jams, it could be considered as if we were deliberately crushing insects in order to skirt the issur [prohibition]. Rav Elyashiv explained that the jam manufacturer is not crushing the fruit in order to crush the insect; it’s just the way jam is made. He said there was no halachic problem.”
Apparently, Rabbi Elefant would return to the States with a lot more than answers to his pressing kashrut questions. “I learned from Rav Elyashiv the definition of responsibility,” he says. “Here you have the posek hador, who was clearly not interested in the limelight and all the publicity around him, and had no official affiliation with OU Kosher, yet he felt that our questions were so important and so vital for all of Klal Yisrael that he had a responsibility to answer them.”
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.