OU Kashrut Conference for Worldwide Staff Explores Current Issues in Kosher Certification

May 12, 2006

Liquor, insects, boiling temperatures and international affairs — what do all these have in common? These topics, among many others, were examined at the Orthodox Union’s annual Kashrut Conference, held April 30-May 1 at the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel in New Jersey.

The conference brought together the OU’s kashrut professionals from all over the globe to gain a better understanding of what today’s kashrut issues are and how they can be addressed.

Take boiling temperatures, for example. We know the halacha demands a roiling boil emitting steam to effect a water-based koshering, known as hagalah. What if this temperature cannot be achieved due to operational hazards? What if atmospheric conditions do not allow water to reach 212° F? Is there flexibility in this area? Rav Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kashrut, Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Yisroel Belsky, halachic consultants (poskim) to the OU, provided guidance on this topic.

Philip (Feish) Herzog, owner of Kedem Wines, and Jay Buchsbaum, Vice President of Marketing, delivered a very ‘spirited’ discussion of alcoholic beverages. Mr. Herzog detailed some of the concerns relating to the problem of chametz she’avar alav hapesach , Jewish owned chametz that passed through Pesach. Many of the major distributors of alcohol-based beverages are owned by non-observant Jews. As is known, liquors and whiskeys have an extensive shelf-life, making this a year-round concern. Mr. Herzog was not offering a halachic opinion but felt the need to raise the issue for the poskim to decide.

Mr. Buchsbaum raised another concern, relating to catered affairs. In many hotels and catering facilities, the beverages are supplied by the house, not the caterer. If the mashgiach is not alert, non-kosher drinks can easily find their way into the kosher bar. In fact, he said he had such an experience at a family simcha held at a country club. The event was catered under a respected kashrut agency, yet Mr. Buchsbaum found non-kosher cognac supplied by the house at the smorgasbord.

Turning to international affairs, what is the political climate in Portugal? How about Stockholm or Brussels? Is it safe to go outside with a yarmulke? What does it mean when company personnel refuse to call a mashgiach by his title? Rabbis Avraham Meyer, Yisroel Hollander and Avraham Schwarz, who cover the quaint neighborhood known as Europe, shared their experiences with the audience. Yes, roaming the streets of many European countries while dressed in Jewish garb is at times hazardous. But that is only one of the many challenges that face a duty-bound mashgiach as he makes his appointed rounds on the continent.

A European plant manager insists on calling you “Mr.” or “Mr. Rabbi.” Don’t take it personally. It is cultural in Europe to address everybody as “Mister,” with the exception of “Doctor.”

Rabbi Meyer treated the participants to an amusing history of American/French relations dating back to the American Revolution. The impact of the relationship between these two countries is felt to this day. An American-based kashrut agency has to bear this in mind when dealing with European-based companies.

Perhaps the person most amused by these accounts was sitting in the audience. Rabbi Mordechai Grunberg, a full-time mashgiach for the OU, spends much of his time inspecting plants in another country that at one time also had a strained relationship with the United States — Vietnam.

What may have been the most provocative discussion concerned the tiniest of subjects – insects. Rabbis Avraham Leib Weiss, Shimon Yaffe, and Schneor Revach of Israel, all of whom are renowned for their expertise in kashrut and insect infestation, regaled the audience with anecdotal accounts, PowerPoint, and live demonstrations. Rabbi Shlomo Gissinger of Lakewood and Rav Hamachshir for Bodek Produce stimulated lively conversation on this topic.

“The growth of kashrut as an industry can only be maintained if it is matched by its growth in commitment to halacha and the professional understanding of today’s food production,” declared Stephen J. Savitsky, Orthodox Union President and Chairman of the OU’s Kashrut Task Force. “To that end, these conferences are critical.”

Mr. Savitsky thanked all participants and expressed his gratitude to Rabbi Michael Morris, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld and Marika Levine, Conference Coordinators; and to Rabbis Moshe Elefant and Yaakov Luban, Program Advisors.


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