Those who know OU Kosher only for its visits to its facilities and its certification of their products may be both surprised and intrigued to learn that the OU is also the leading purveyor of practical and comprehensive kosher education in the world, dispatching its rabbis all over North America to provide kashrut (kosher) knowledge to audiences ranging from small children to distinguished rabbis; using schools and synagogues as their classrooms; producing CD’s, broadcasts and webcasts on the finer points of kosher practice; and in the process translating centuries old kosher law into a “how to do” it for the modern world.
The OU also considers it part of its education mission to train those who do kosher certification – known as mashgichim — to bring them up to OU standards. As a result, every other summer, under the direction of Rabbi Joseph Grossman, Senior Educational Rabbinic Coordinator, OU Kosher presents the Harry H. Beren ASKOU program – which beginning in late July had its tenth three-week and one-week seminars, known as ASKOU10, which were attended by dozens of rabbis and advanced rabbinical students spanning the range of the worldwide Orthodox community.
Speaking of “worldwide,” the participants in the program were not restricted to those who took the subway from Brooklyn to OU headquarters in lower Manhattan or came from other nearby major centers of Torah study such as Monsey in New York and Lakewood in New Jersey. They came from further away as well – from Montreal in Canada and Watertown in the far reaches of upstate New York; from Baltimore and Cleveland; from Cherry Hill, NJ and Norwalk, CT; and also from Savannah, Georgia; Edmonton, Alberta Canada; Portland, Oregon; and Rouen, France — the same Rouen where six centuries ago Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Immediately following the program, one of its graduates was scheduled to leave for his new rabbinical assignment: Sydney, Australia.
Rabbi Yerucham Schochet from Savannah; Rabbi David Laufer from Edmonton; Rabbi Dr. Dov Yitzchak Neal from Portland; Rabbi Chalom (pronounced Shalom) Levy from France; and Rabbi Avraham Colman of Lakewood, now from Sydney, were among the 64 registrants in the courses.
The purpose of ASKOU10, like its nine predecessors, was to educate the new generation of kosher professionals or to provide background for those who will not practice kosher certification full time, but who will benefit in their daily work from advanced kosher education. As in past years, many of the graduates of the program are expected to work for large kosher certification agencies or for their local kosher certifying councils. Including the current class, ASKOU has produced more than 650 graduates from all over the globe, many of whom have gone on to take important positions in the kosher world.
Funding for ASKOU10 comes from the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ. The Beren Foundation provides financial support to a wide variety of OU kosher education programs for all levels of knowledge and ages.
“It has been our great pleasure and privilege to once again service young men from around the globe who have turned to the Orthodox Union and its experts for guidance in the intricacies of practical kashrut procedures,” declared Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU Senior Educational Rabbinic Coordinator, who organized the program, “The high standards of kosher protocol they have observed will do much to strengthen kashrut worldwide.”
Each of the long-distance students agreed that it was worth the time and expense to come all the way to New York to sit at the feet of OU Kosher’s staff experts and guest lecturers. These experts included Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher; Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a head of the rabbinical seminary at Yeshiva University; as well as a long list of OU Kosher rabbinic coordinators and rabbinic field representatives, who taught their specialties to often enthralled audiences. Outside experts such as a skilled butcher demonstrated their techniques; field trips to OU certified restaurants, banquet facilities and plants allowed the students to see how kosher laws are put to practical use in the field.
Rabbi Schochet from Savannah (with a name that certainly indicates interest in kashrut – it means “kosher slaughterer”) speaks with a southern accent – South Africa that is. He does certification work and is a member of the local advanced program for post-rabbinic students in Savannah.
“I came because I’m working in kosher, to increase my knowledge, to go behind the scenes at the OU to understand the practical aspects of kashrut and to be more effective when I go back to Savannah,” Rabbi Schochet explained.
Rabbi Laufer has done kashrut work in both Jerusalem and Edmonton, where he has lived for four years and is director of the local post-rabbinic program. “People, both religious and non-religious, are constantly asking me questions about kosher, so the OU is the best place to be connected to, with the resources and the information it provides,” he explained. “You see things in front of you that you learned only theoretically in yeshiva,” he said. “That’s what the program is all about.”
Rabbi Dr. Neal moved recently to Portland from Bakersfield, California, where he taught for years on levels from pre-school through college. He also did kashrut work in Bakersfield and Los Angeles, helping people make their kitchens kosher. “Between a couple of pots of boiling water and my blowtorch I fixed them up,” he said. Now, in Oregon, he intends to be involved in outreach work to Jewish communities while doing industrial kosherization in factories.
Rabbi Levy, from France, was a mashgiach in Manchester, England as well as in Rouen and elsewhere in France and wants to establish a kosher council in his home city. He came to New York “to have a wide overview of many kosher issues that I learned in school and to bring this wide expansion of knowledge home with me.”
Rabbi Colman, a native of Toronto, is a student at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, the famed yeshiva where OU Kosher has presented well-attended kashrut seminars in its outreach program, also sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation. “We all appreciate the OU giving us this opportunity to see the workings of this large, international organization,” he said.
Before leaving for home, these young men agreed that the makeup of the group, spanning the spectrum of Orthodoxy from centrist to Hassidic, was an asset to the program and that there was a bonding between the different wings of Torah Judaism. The dedication of both the teachers and the students made an impression as well. “These men are passionate at what they do,” said Rabbi Dr. Neal of Portland. Noted the OU’s Rabbi Grossman, “With their attention and with their enthusiasm, the participants made it clear that whether they came from neighboring Brooklyn or from across the ocean, they were there to learn and to improve their skills.”