OU Kosher’s Experts Bring Complexities of Kashrut Alive at Women’s Advanced Seminar

30 Aug 2013


By Liran Weizman

Liran Weizman, a senior at Stern College, was a summer intern in the Orthodox Union Communications Department

Participants in the OU Kosher Advanced Women’s Seminar pose with Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU Kosher senior education director (back) and Rabbi Steven Weil, OU executive vice president (right). Liran Weizman is front row, center in green shirt.

I slept through my kashrut class in seminary, and not having grown up observant in Jewish practice, that was my first exposure to the laws of keeping kosher. Although the rabbi teaching the class was quite educated, I felt at the time that you just cannot make kashrut sound fascinating. Bishul. Bishul Akum. These terms just floated over my head.

Fast forward to today, as I’m three years past seminary and now entering my senior year at Stern College of Yeshiva University. My interests and attitude towards learning halacha (Jewish law) have definitely changed and I find myself eager to learn more in any possible way. Through a stroke of luck, I was recently given the opportunity to participate in the Orthodox Union’s Advanced Kashrut Seminar for Women, which was offered as I completed an OU summer internship.

The five-day seminar, coordinated by Rabbi Yosef Grossman, senior educational rabbinic coordinator and director of kosher education of OU Kosher, consisted of workshops throughout the day by the OU Kosher experts at Orthodox Union headquarters in Manhattan, and field trips to OU certified companies.

Going into this experience, I felt the opportunity to attend a seminar dedicated to kashrut to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. As a 20-year-old, it is one thing for me to be so enthusiastic about learning kashrut—yet it’s another thing to meet other students, including mothers and grandmothers (some of whom were busy businesswomen) who take a break from their daily lives to attend this seminar.

Some of the participants specifically scheduled their vacations around this time to attend, traveling from as far as Toronto and as close as Brooklyn! I met a student heading into her second year of seminary in Israel who decided to attend the sessions before she left. I was in awe of these women because I think anyone who uses their vacation to spend a whole week dedicated to learning is unbelievable. I hope that when I get older I will still have that profound desire to grow and to learn more Torah.

Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, OU Kosher senior rabbinic coordinator, gave the opening lecture Monday morning, discussing “The Wine and Liquor Industry.” Not only was Rabbi Rabinowitz extremely knowledgeable, but I was amazed by the passion of his presentation. My first “Wow!” moment happened as he explained the complexities of scotch being aged in cherry casks. Learning the history of how scotch is made was fascinating as I was able to understand how it could be kosher and how it could not be kosher. From that point on I knew we weren’t just learning halacha, we were understanding halacha—and when you understand halacha, that’s when it becomes memorable.

As the program progressed, the interest level remained high through the various presentations, each delivered by an OU expert, either a Rabbinic Coordinator (RC), based at OU Kosher headquarters, or by a Rabbinic Field Representative (RFR), also known as a mashgiach. Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Yitzchok Gutterman explained the careful considerations of giving a hechsher (kosher certification) to a bakery, thereby making halacha so tangible to all of us.

RC Rabbi Akiva Tendler’s presentation, “Shmaltz Is US,” showed us how much detail OU Kosher dedicates to every aspect of kashrut. As a consumer, I always have complete confidence in the products bearing the OU symbol — after all, it is the most trusted and recognizable kosher certification in the world — but when Rabbi Tendler taught us how oil is bottled, it became clear how the most minute detail is subject to the highest level of attention. He described how oil travels on huge ships, and there is the possibility of a steam pipe heating the oil which is leading from one hold with kosher oil to another hold with non-kosher oil and how that could affect the kashrut of the oil. Learning how OU Kosher is so careful about even the smallest detail of the pipe reinforced my trust; the OU really thinks of every possible situation.

RFR Rabbi Issar Mordechai Fuchs gives a hands-on demonstration to check vegetables for insects.

The seminars were not only lecture-based, some were hands-on. On Tuesday we went to Prime KO, an OU certified restaurant in Manhattan. There, our group was able to see first-hand how kashering (kosherization) works in a restaurant, and the kashrut issues addressed on a daily basis. For me, one of the most profound aspects of kashrut at Prime KO was hearing from RFR Rabbi Issar Mordechai Fuchs about checking for insects and how careful restaurants must be about bugs. We were also able to look at a piece of lettuce on a light box and see the bugs that were there and had to be washed away; we may not realize how many bugs exist in produce that cannot easily be seen and must be checked with great care.

Wednesday’s workshops included “The Mesorah of Kosher Birds” with RC Rabbi Chaim Loike, who brought in live subjects to show us what makes a bird kosher and what makes a bird non-kosher. Rabbi Loike’s passion pervaded his entire talk and inspired me to look on what may be a mundane concept as seriously demanding my full attention.

RC Rabbi Chaim Loike, with his feathered friends, in presentation.

Wednesday’s highlight was being able hear from the one of the OU Kosher’s poskim, or halachic decisors, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. I was enthralled by his entire lecture, which included topics of challah, bishul akum and having maids at home. Afterwards, participants had an hour to ask him personal kashrut questions. As a student at YU, my excitement at having a personal question and answer session with Rav Schachter was incomparable.

OU posek Rav Hershel Schachter addresses matters of kashrut during a Question & Answer session.

One of the women inquired if hamotzi (the blessing recited over bread before it is eaten) is to be recited before eating a slice of pizza. He explained how mezonot (the blessing recited before eating baked goods) can become hamotzi if what you ate fills you. For example, if you eat a whole box of cookies, then you need to say birkat hamazon (the blessing recited after a bread meal) because the portion of mezonot became a meal. He explained the different opinions in relation to pizza and I found it fascinating to learn all this! I was really excited during the entire seminar because I could appreciate what a special opportunity I had to learn from so many experts in laws of kosher.

Participants gear up for a tour of the Oasis Factory.

On Thursday, we once again applied what we learned in the classroom by experiencing kashrut in an industrial setting at the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel kitchen in New Jersey. We also toured Oasis, an OU certified factory which produces butter and margarine. RFR Rabbi Moshe Perlmutter, who supervises the kosher program at the plant, was our tour guide for the day, showing us what it means to make a hotel kitchen kosher and what it means to be in charge of supervision of a factory. There are so many details to oversee – and he and his colleagues oversee them all.

RFR Rabbi Moshe Perlmutter demonstrates kosherizing techniques for an industrial setting.

One of the participants told me how she found the whole seminar “illuminating” and that she couldn’t recommend it highly enough. She added that she gained so much respect for the Orthodox Union, an awareness and sentiment definitely shared by everyone in the program.

Another commented, “It was a pleasure to hear from the OU rabbis, all experts in their field, who opened my eyes to applications of halachot I never dreamed would apply in the factory, let alone in my own kitchen! Attending the OU Kosher Seminar for Women deepened my respect and appreciation for the work that Orthodox Union does to ensure that the food we eat is prepared in accordance with the many halachot that must be adhered to for a product to be considered kosher.”

Now that I have taken this seminar, I will have so much more appreciation when I see the OU symbol on any product. Trust has gone one step further, to enormous respect for what OU Kosher does to assure that its hechsher means that every law has been observed, every step has been taken, nothing has been overlooked, and that RC’s and RFR’s alike have worked together to make the OU the gold standard in kashrut worldwide.

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In the days following the Harry H. Beren ASK OU Advanced Kashrut Seminar for Women, Rabbi Yosef Grossman, the coordinator of the program, received many positive comments and evaluations of the week’s activities. The following is a sample of these comments.

• Thank you so much for an outstanding seminar. I learned so much and now have an even greater level of respect for the OU. The rabbonim were so knowledgeable and generous with their time. Thank you again for all the work you did to allow us all to benefit from such a wonderful seminar.

• I know that this is probably very early to ask but do you have any information available yet for next year’s seminar for men? The wife of a friend of mine just attended this year’s seminar and can’t stop talking about it. If not, can you please add my email address to the mailing list so I can be one of the first to know about it when details become available?

• Thank you so very much for coordinating and inspiring this past week’s full schedule of learning. From Monday morning through Friday afternoon we experienced the passion and devotion of the OU to kashrut and education. The hands-on approach coupled with practical halachic shiurim and Q & A sessions, led to detailed discussions and comprehension of the myriad of facets and nuances in the field of kashrut.

• It was interesting, informative and comprehensive and I feel much more educated in what to look for. All the presenters are Yerei Shomayim who take their area very seriously, are knowledgeable and on top of every aspect. No matter how long they are doing their job, they have the same vigilant sense of Achrayut and give it over in a passionate way that we can take home. They don’t just have the expertise, they also know how to make it fascinating to others.

• Amazing, educational, very inspiring.

• Great! It was a wonderful week. Every question was answered with a halacha and a smile by all of the rabbonim.

• It was an excellent program – very thorough at giving us a taste of every area.

• Very well organized, informative and over all delved into so many issues – enlightening.

• A most wonderful experience—a must do!

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