Learning from the Masters: OU Trains the Next Generation of Kosher Supervisors

15 Aug 2006


Following in the footsteps of some 500 of their predecessors, young men from all over the world have gathered together for three weeks at Orthodox Union headquarters in New York, concluding August 25. They are here on a mission — they want to be the world’s best in kosher supervision. Given the OU’s goal to develop the next generation of expert kosher certifiers, the organization has established two outstanding programs — a three-week session and a one-week session — known together as ASK OU8, which these students are attending.

The Orthodox Union is the world’s largest and most prestigious kosher supervising agency, providing the famed OU symbol to more than 400,000 products, manufactured in 80 countries around the world. What better organization is there to take the expertise of its senior rabbis and to allow them to share their wisdom with young men who want to follow their lead?

The OU has thus created the ASK OU programs, which are held every other summer and are now in their eighth installment. To date, close to 500 people have graduated from the program and have gone on to become part of the OU staff, as well as senior rabbis and even executive directors of other kashrut agencies. Some went home and set up a local Vaad HaKashrut — a board of rabbis who supervise kosher establishments in their communities.

Beginning this year, these programs, as well as other newly created community lecture series, have been made possible by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ, to endow participants with the necessary skills to become experts in the field.

The summer programs at the OU are increasingly popular. “In comparison to previous years, this year we have the most participants. We have close to 70 students in the ASK OU8, one-week session, and 24 in our three-week internship program,” declared Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Rabbinic Coordinator, who also serves as the Director of ASK OU and Kashrut Education at the OU.

The three-week program, which started on August 7, and the one-week session, scheduled to begin Monday, August 21, take the participants from class room experience to field training. The students who intend to go into kosher supervision full-time and have already developed an extensive background in kosher law attend the three-week session. They are currently pursuing rabbinic ordination or are involved in a post-ordination kollel — an institute of advanced Jewish studies. The one-week students are synagogue rabbis or members of a community Vaad HaKashrut who conduct kosher supervision on a local level.

For the skills provided by the summer programs, traveling from overseas is well worth the effort. Students come from all over. “This year alone, a rabbi already working in the field in Peru came to OU to increase his knowledge; four kollel students made a special trip from Israel; there is a food chemist from Manchester, England and both the outgoing and incoming heads of the Vaad HaKashrut of Edmonton, Alberta in Canada are here as well,” said Rabbi Grossman.

Classroom topics cover the most recent issues in the field, and when participants travel to training at OU certified plants and restaurants, theory is put into practice.

“I grew up on OU. It’s the most trustworthy name worldwide but I never understood why. Now we’re able to see what actually goes on behind the scenes,” said Rabbi Leib Irons, who traveled from Israel to attend the program.

There are lectures on the cheese industry; chemical and pickle companies; Passover issues (when the laws of kosher become even more complex); the baking industry; the oleo chemical industry; oils and shortening; enzymes and emulsifiers; the egg industry and the blood spot; machinery; the flavor industry; ingredient research, and similar topics, all of which are discussed at length.

The students are also trained to recognize the unauthorized use of the OU symbol as well as the latest in technological advances. Participants take a field trip to view the most complex modern machinery available in food preparation. On the site they learn from experts in the field about how the machine operates and, if it was previously used for non-kosher food preparation, what the halachic (Jewish law) implications involved in the koshering process of the machine are.

Other trips include visits to an upscale restaurant and to the kitchen of a large New York hotel, where kosher meals are served to hundreds of people at a time at organizational banquets, weddings or bat/bar mitzvahs.

“If we have quality people in the field,” declared Rabbi Grossman,” it strengthens the whole infrastructure of kashrut and we feel that ultimately all of kashrut benefits. That is why the OU is pleased to present these programs.”