ASKOU 10 Seminars on Kosher Law & Practice Draw Participants From Near and Far

18 Aug 2010


Where would you go if you wanted to learn the fine art of kashrut from experts, combining studies of the laws of kosher with the hands-on experiences that only those experts can provide? For dozens of rabbis and advanced rabbinical students this summer, the answer was the Orthodox Union.

When OU Kosher presented its Harry H. Beren ASKOU 10 program at its headquarters in New York, participants came not only from the local area, including most prominently Brooklyn and Monsey in New York and Lakewood in New Jersey, major centers of Torah study, but they came from further away as well – from Montreal in Canada and Watertown in the far reaches of upstate New York; from Baltimore and Cleveland; from Cherry Hill, NJ and Norwalk, CT; but also from communities not exactly in the New York metropolitan area – from Savannah, Georgia; Edmonton, Alberta Canada; Portland, Oregon; and Rouen, France — the same Rouen where six centuries ago Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Immediately following the program, one of its graduates was scheduled to leave for his new rabbinical assignment: Sydney, Australia.

Rabbi Yerucham Schochet from Savannah; Rabbi David Laufer from Edmonton; Rabbi Dr. Dov Yitzchak Neal from Portland; Rabbi Chalom (pronounced Shalom) Levy from France; and Rabbi Avraham Colman of Lakewood, soon to be from Sydney, were among the 64 registrants in the courses.

The purpose of ASKOU10, like its nine predecessors, was to educate the new generation of kashrut professionals or to provide background for those who will not practice kashrut certification full time, but who will benefit in their daily work from advanced kosher education. As in past years, many of the graduates of the program – which is offered in alternate summers — are expected to work for large kosher certification agencies or for their local Va’ad HaKashrut. Including the current class, ASKOU has produced more than 650 graduates from all over the globe, many of whom have gone on to take important positions in the kosher world.

ASK OU 10 is made up of three-week and one-week sessions. The three-week group consisted of semicha (rabbinical students) or members of a kollel for post-rabbinic education. The one-weekers included congregational rabbis, semicha students, kollel members, or members of a local va’ad.

Funding for ASKOU10 comes from the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ. The Beren Foundation provides financial support to a wide variety of OU kashrut education programs for all levels of knowledge and ages.

“It has been our great pleasure and privilege to once again service young men from around the globe who have turned to the Orthodox Union and its experts for guidance in the intricacies of practical kashrut procedures,” declared Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU Senior Educational Rabbinic Coordinator, who organized the program, “The high standards of kosher protocol they have observed will do much to strengthen kashrut worldwide.”

Worth The Time and Expense

Each of the long-distance students agreed that it was worth the time and expense to come all the way to New York to sit at the feet of OU Kosher’s staff experts and guest lecturers. These experts included Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher; Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, and one of two OU Kosher poseks – halachic decisors; as well as a long list of OU Kosher rabbinic coordinators and rabbinic field representatives, who taught their specialties to often enthralled audiences. Outside experts such as a skilled butcher demonstrated their wares; field trips to OU certified restaurants, banquet facilities and plants allowed the students to see how kosher laws are put to practical use in the field.

Rabbi Schochet from Savannah (with a name that certainly indicates interest in kashrut – it means kosher slaughterer) speaks with a southern accent – southern Africa that is. He is a native of Johannesburg, who has studied and worked in Baltimore; Des Moines, Iowa; Eugene, Oregon; and New Haven, Connecticut. He does kashrut work and is a member of the local kollel in Savannah.

“I came because I’m working in kashrut, to increase my knowledge, to go behind the scenes at the OU to understand the practical aspects of kashrut and to be more effective when I go back to Savannah,” Rabbi Schochet explained.

Rabbi Laufer has done kashrut work in both Jerusalem and Edmonton, where he has lived for four years and is director of the local kollel. “People, both religious and non-religious, are constantly asking me kashrut questions, so the OU is the best place to be connected to, with the resources and the information it provides,” he explained. “You see things live that you learned in yeshiva,” he said. “That’s what the program is all about.”

Rabbi Dr. Neal moved recently to Portland from Bakersfield, California, where he taught for years on levels from pre-school through college. He also did kashrut work in Bakersfield and Los Angeles, helping people make their kitchens kosher. “Between a couple of pots of boiling water and my blowtorch I fixed them up,” he said. Now, in Oregon, he intends to be involved in kiruv (outreach) work while doing industrial kashrut in factories.

As an expert in education, Dr. Neal sees ASKOU 10 as a giant exercise in show and tell. “Educationally, it is a program that takes in all the modalities of education: auditory, visual, kinesthetic (moving around) and thematic approaches,” he explained. “Yesterday was an entire day based on kashering everything from kitchens to factories. One day we do fish, one day we do meat. From an educator’s point of view, the program follows the criteria of reaching out to every technique of learning.”

Rabbi Levy, from France, was a mashgiach in Manchester, England as well as in Rouen and elsewhere in France and wants to establish a Va’ad HaKashrut in Rouen. He came to New York “to have a wide overview of many kashrut issues that I learned in Yoreh Deah (the section of the Shulchan Aruch compendium of Jewish law dealing with kosher), and to bring this wide expansion of knowledge home with me.”

Rabbi Colman, a native of Toronto, is a student at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, the famed yeshiva where OU Kosher has presented well-attended kashrut seminars in its outreach program, also sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation. “We all appreciate the OU giving us this opportunity to see the workings of this large, international organization,” he said.

The entire class was fascinated by the demonstration of nikkur – removing the veins from meat, as required by Jewish law. After an introductory explanation by Rav Aharon Teitelbaum, the Nirbater Rav, the group saw a dazzling display of skill by master butcher Reb Yaakov Jakubowits of Alle Processing in Maspeth, Queens, NY, wielding a knife in a huge slab of meat. “It’s the first time I saw nikkur and it was fascinating and educational,” exclaimed Rabbi Colman, the soon-to-be-resident of Australia. Agreed Savannah’s Rabbi Schochet, “Clearly there is expertise in this area, knowing exactly where to cut. It is always wonderful to see experts at work.”

Before leaving for home, these young men agreed that the makeup of the group, spanning the spectrum of Orthodoxy from centrist to Hassidic, was an asset to the program and that there was a bonding between the different wings of Torah Judaism. The dedication of both the teachers and the students made an impression as well. “The bug checkers were very, very intense. These men are passionate at what they do,” said Rabbi Dr. Neal of Portland. Noted the OU’s Rabbi Grossman, “With their attention and with their enthusiasm, the participants made it clear that whether they came from neighboring Brooklyn or from across the ocean, they were there to learn and to improve their skills.”