OU’s Baking Manual Sets Industry Standards

22 Jul 2009

The Orthodox Union Kosher Division, the world’s largest and most respected kosher certification agency, today announced the publication of the “OU Manual for the Baking Industry,” a compendium of the knowledge and experience of the expert OU rabbis who travel the world applying the time-honored laws of kosher to the industrial practices of today.

The manual, printed in full color with many illustrations, is the first in a series of such guidebooks scheduled for publication, with the objective that uniform standards of certification be established for entire industries conforming to the rigorous requirements of the OU. It is another in a series of departmental initiatives that makes OU Kosher a major force in kashrut education as well as in certification. In the case of the first manual, these standards are not only for the baking industry in the United States, but for Israel and around the world as well.

After all, as the kosher certifier of Drakes’, Entenmann’s, Nabisco, Famous Amos, Keebler, Kellogg’s baked items, Arnolds and Thomas’, the OU puts its coveted kashrut symbol on some of the most iconic names in the baking industry.

The intended audience for the manuals is a wide spectrum of kashrut professionals – including those at other kosher certification agencies – as well the vaadim, local bodies which provide kosher certification in retail businesses, food service facilities, and plants in their local communities. Laymen wanting to explore the intricacies of kosher law will be fascinated as well.

There is surely a need for this kind of material. Just as the baking manual was rolling off the presses, OU Kosher received an email from a Midwestern vaad, in which its administrator wrote, “I would assume that the OU had a mashgiach handbook that covers policy and procedures for various settings. Would the handbook discuss industrial bakeries? Can I get a copy? I would like to compare our policy with the OU’s to make sure that nothing falls or fell through the cracks.”

The manuals are the brainchild of Dr. Steven Katz, OU Senior Vice President from Teaneck, NJ who is also Chair of the Kashrut Commission, which oversees the worldwide activities of OU Kosher.

Each of the manuals will focus on three important areas of concern for its specific industry – technology; practical kashrut concerns and the methodology of supervision; and halachic rulings of the OU decisors, or poskim, Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University, and Rav Yisroel Belsky of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. The project is a collaborative effort of OU rabbinic coordinators based in OU Kosher New York headquarters; rabbinic field representatives, around the world; the poskim, and administrative staff.

To create the baking manual, a group was put together with Executive Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Yaacov Luban as editor, Rabbi Moshe Zywica, Director of Operations of OU Kosher as coordinator, and Rabbi Yisroel Bendelstein, the OU Rabbinic Coordinator overseeing commercial bakeries to write the text. Rabbi Bendelstein, in turn, drew on his colleagues overseeing the industry, such as Rabbi Israel Paretzky and Rabbi David Rockove, for their insights.

They reported to Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher. Because of his broad understanding of the Jewish community and its needs, Rabbi Elefant provided the guidance which was so helpful in seeing that the manual accomplished its objectives.

Rabbi Bendelstein was the perfect choice to write the manual. A graduate of the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens, NY and of Yeshiva University with a BA in chemistry, he obtained his rabbinical ordination (semicha) from the REITS seminary at YU and has been at the OU for nine years, steadily deepening his knowledge of the baking industry.

The complexities of the kashrut involved with the baking industry are multi-faceted, Rabbi Bendelstein says. “We try to outline these complexities from soup to nuts beginning with the basics of kosher certification, focusing on ingredients and the nuances therein and the different categories of ingredients; then working through production and focusing on the different manufacturing processes of the various items manufactured in the baking industry; and finishing with packaging and labeling and how that manifests itself in kosher certification.”

There’s more. Rabbi Bendelstein says, “Then we have areas which are unique to baking which we touch upon such as Pat Yisrael (Jewish involvement in the baking process), yashan (seasonal flour), and hafrashat challah (tithing from the dough).” Standards are established for breads, cakes, cookies and crackers, breakfast items, and baking aids such as fillings, glaze, icing and mixes.

The entire project, including planning, research and design, took more than a year, with the writing taking four months; the text was reviewed countless times, mostly by Rabbi Luban, so that it could appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

“The work is very significant on several levels,” explained Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher. “It’s important to know that each industry has its own requirements and specifications; each of these manuals represents the standards for its industry and what a mashgiach has to be aware of. They enhance the departmental goal of kosher education. And in terms of our corporate culture, they provide transparent standards to be met.”

These standards are clearly intended for other agencies as well as for local vaadim. “We are very careful not to give away proprietary information of the companies we certify,” Rabbi Genack said. “But regarding OU information, the interests of kashrut have to come first.”

Industries such as oil, fish and flavors are in the pipeline with the texts already written and will follow soon, according to Dr. Katz, the originator of the idea. When the work is done, something new will exist in the kosher world.

Rabbi Genack declared, “This new manual will be a great addition to sources explaining Jewish law for our times. The halachic guidelines of Rabbis Belsky and Schachter, our poskim, will certainly make an extraordinary resource for the kosher world. Only the OU, with its knowledge and emphasis on education, could have done it.”

(To obtain copies of the manual, contact Rabbi Bendelstein at 212-613-8253, or bendelsteiny@ou.org.)