OU Symbol: More Than Just Food to Eat

January 14, 2005

Companies new to the world of kosher certification and supervision are often baffled by the intricacies of the kosher process and the stringencies placed by the OU. New ingredients, changes in sources of current ingredients, new equipment, brand and product name changes–all require prior and written approval by the Orthodox Union office. At times, sources of ingredients, dutifully submitted to our office with a requisite Letter of Certification, are returned with a “not acceptable for use in OU certified products” notification. What’s all the fuss? Why all of the stringencies? “We are running a business here, rabbi. Ours is a food production business, not a religious seminary. We need to ship out product.”

It is no mere coincidence that the very first law recorded in the Bible is a dietary law: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Genesis 2:16-17). Human beings are composed of body and soul, neither of which possesses exclusive reign over human behavior and thought. Therefore, God must impose limitations, restrictions and guidelines from the very beginning of human existence. Without Divine direction, man could either turn Epicurean–in search of only pleasure, or ascetic–
in avoidance of all pleasure.

Having created man “of the dust of the earth,” God recognizes the human need to eat in order to sustain and nourish the earthly element of creation. Just as creation renews itself daily, a human being strives every day to synthesize body and soul with a discipline that will allow for a life worthy of its Creator. Therefore, issues of nutrition and body care are treated as earnestly and scrupulously as ritual. Mysticism teaches that, “The human figure unites all that is above and all that is below. . . .” Indeed, it is the call of a higher discipline that requires a human to meticulously and conscientiously follow every law and regulation that sustains the body/soul connection. That higher discipline is Kashrut. Jewish tradition sees the act of eating as an opportunity to elevate one’s behavior to a higher level.

Many of our certified companies recognize that beyond the obvious financial gain and benefits, there is a higher calling underlying the placement of that prestigious OU symbol on the packaging of their products. The CEO of H. J. Heinz understood it this way: “The OU logo symbolizes purity and quality, that the product has been reviewed and looked at and has been found to be far more than just acceptable.” The OU certified product embodies the dedication of many good people in your plants and in our OU offices, who have been willing to accept and live by this discipline. That is what the rabbi comes to verify.

Without eating, we cannot survive. But just as any other human physical function may become merely an animalistic act, so the consumption (and production) of food may become a “dead offering.” On the other hand, eating, and the production of food may mirror holiness, and reflect this higher calling. We all eat, but unlike the cultural motto, “You are what you eat,” from the biblical point of view, it isn’t just what you eat, but how you eat–and how you produce the foods you eat–that distinguishes humans from animals. Your company’s continued and consistent compliance with its OU kosher program makes us partners not only in meeting your company’s needs and the Orthodox Union’s requirements, but also in a higher calling. This is the reason for our collective and persistent focus on the details of Kashrut.


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