Students preparing for the rabbinate at Yeshiva University will learn firsthand the intricacies of kosher certification from June 2-19 when the Orthodox Union brings its Harry H. Beren ASK OUTREACH Community Kashrut program to YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) for three weeks of seminars and site visits.
ASK OUTREACH, sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ, was established in the past year to enable OU senior rabbis to share their kashrut expertise with advanced rabbinic and kollel students in the convenience of their academic institutions.
Over the years, the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University have worked closely together on many projects; rabbis of countless OU member congregations across North America received their semicha (ordination) from RIETS. So the partnership on the Community Kashrut Program should come as no surprise.
“The relationship between the OU and YU extends over the decades, over the generations,” declared Rabbi Zevulon Charlop, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS, who will be assuming an emeritus position in July after more than 35 years of leading the seminary. “This relationship has become even more intensified in recent years, with many of our rabbeim being involved in OU programs and RIETS graduates occupying senior staff positions at the OU.” He noted, for example, that Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kosher, is not only a RIETS alumnus, but a member of its semicha faculty as well.
Rabbi Charlop played a leading role in creating the program, working with Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Orthodox Union Director of Kashrut Education. The target audience for the program will be third and fourth-year students, but any interested RIETS student will be eligible, Rabbi Charlop says. Rabbi Grossman anticipates that registration will be in the vicinity of 20, although he would not be surprised if there were more.
A major proponent of the program who also played a large role in bringing it to fruition is Rabbi Solomon F. Rybak of Adas Israel Congregation, an OU member synagogue in Passaic, NJ. Rabbi Rybak is also President of the Rabbinic Alumni of RIETS and is a member of the Rabbinic Kashrut Commission, which oversees OU Kashrut for the Rabbinical Council of America. Years ago, Rabbi Rybak was enrolled in a similar Orthodox Union program, ASKOU, which provides an intense grounding in practical kosher education to rabbis and rabbinical students. Offered every other summer at OU headquarters, this August ASKOU will return for its ninth set of three and one-week sessions under the leadership of Rabbi Grossman. Rabbi Rybak recognized the importance of bringing this kind of hands-on learning to RIETS, and advocated for its implementation.
“It’s so basic, so important for rabbis to know this material,” Rabbi Rybak explained. “Moreover, it affords students the opportunity to have face-to-face contact with rabbanim at the OU to whom they can come with their questions over the years.” Given the fact that food technology is continually changing, Rabbi Rybak plans to sit in on some of the sessions himself. “It’s a win-win for everyone – for RIETS, for the students, for the OU, for Klal Yisrael,” Rabbi Rybak said.
The program is designed to provide background for a rabbi who among his varied communal responsibilities will be supervising kashrut in local butcher shops, food markets, catering halls and even the kiddush in his own synagogue. OU experts – rabbinic coordinators and rabbinic field representatives — will provide the hands-on experience to supplement the study of the laws of kosher that is part of the regular RIETS curriculum.
“The OU Kashrut office and its large complement of rabbinic coordinators is in constant practical and learning relationship, like a Beit Medrash (a house of study), with its expert rabbanim,” declared Rabbi Charlop of RIETS. “It is a makom Torah,” a place of Torah. These experts, traveling from the OU’s lower Manhattan offices to YU’s upper Manhattan campus, will provide a structured program encompassing ten days over the three weeks.
“I wish there had been a program like this at RIETS forty years ago,” declared Dr. Steven Katz, Chair of the OU Kashrut Commission.
A cross-section of lecture topics will include:
- Setting up the local Vaad Hakashrut, taught by Rabbi Yaakov Luban, OU Kosher Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, who worked closely with Rabbi Grossman in putting together the program;
- How to be an excellent mashgiach, with Rabbi Luban;
- Eating out – what could be the problem? with Rabbi Dov Schreier;
- The local fish store with Rabbi Chaim Goldberg; the local bakery with Rabbi Yisroel Bendelstein; the local butcher store, with Rabbi Seth Mandel;
- The shul kiddush – is it kosher? Is it shomer shabbat? with Rabbi Schreier;
- Bedikat toylaim, with Rabbi David Bistricer and the law of utensils with Rabbi Eli Gersten;
- Kashering and catering with Rabbi Moshe Perlmutter; and
- Behind the scenes at a kosher slaughterhouse, with Rabbi Mandel.
The students will not just sit in a classroom. They will take field trips to a slaughterhouse, with Rabbis Mandel and Chaim Loike – a visit specifically requested by Rabbi Charlop; tour OU certified restaurants with Rabbi Eliezer Stolzenberg; and go behind the scenes at the giant kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, with Rabbi Moshe Perlmutter. The students will tour, as well, the YU kitchen under the guidance of Rabbi Leonard Steinberg.
A unique aspect of the program will have the rabbis in training complete a mashgiach questionnaire as part of an audit of OU certified restaurants, as if they were actually supervising the restaurants. They will write a report of their experience, with the audit and report to be critiqued by Rabbi Luban.
Rav Hershel Schachter, OU Kosher halachic decisor and Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS, will provide an overview of the laws of kashrut. In addition, Rabbi Menachem Genack, OU Kosher’s Rabbinic Administrator and CEO, will deliver a kashrut shiur on “The Halachic Issues Involved in Palm Oil from Malaysia.” This will give the students a sense of the technicalities involved in ingredient research and certification.
“ASK OUTREACH will provide much food for thought for the semicha students, as they take the centuries-old halacha they study in their training and see how it is applied to situations they will face in their communities in their rabbinic careers,” Rabbi Grossman said. “I hope this unique program is duplicated in other yeshivot and kollelim as well.”