OU Kosher Marks Another Successful Passover Season Educating Thousands

Reflecting on Its Busiest Period, World’s Largest Kosher Certification Agency is Inspired by Consumers’ Eagerness to Learn

As the Rabbinic Coordinators responsible for managing OU (Orthodox Union) Kosher’s consumer hotline and Webbe Rebbe online forum — an email address where consumers may send in kashrus sheylos that are answered in writing — Rabbi Zvi Nussbaum and Rabbi Chanoch Sofer have fielded some very unique Pesach-related kashrus questions over the years.

OU Kosher’s Rabbi Daniel Nosenchuk delivers a shiur at Bais Medrash of Albert, Lakewood, New Jersey

This year was no exception: My family is considering visiting a farm on Chol Hamoed, began one woman, in an email query. There is a booth where people can feed the birds a mixture of seeds. Could this pose a problem around chametz? What about the seeds, grains and milk (which we were told is actually formula) fed to the animals?

The answer, replied the Webbe Rebbe, was that one should not purchase such seeds or milk to feed the animals on Pesach.

The Pesach season – the month leading up to and including Pesach – is consistently the busiest time of the year for OU Kosher. As the world’s largest and most widely recognized international kosher certification agency, it certifies over one million products manufactured in 13,000 plants in 105 countries, and two-thirds of all kosher food in the United States. 

OU Kosher Managing Director of Community Relations Rabbi Eli Eleff says that at a time when people have kashrus on their minds, OU Kosher is a primary resource for halachic guidance and communal kashrus education.

“When it comes to the Pesach season, it’s all hands on deck at OU Kosher,” he says. “Klal Yisrael has questions and we’re there to help them to the best of our abilities. To do so requires harnessing all of our resources. We offer seminars and advise the community at large, with over 30 rabbanim fielding questions on our consumer hotline alone.”

During the 2024 Pesach season, the hotline was open for extended hours right until Yom Tov, with up to three simultaneous operators responding to calls during peak times. Whereas about 135 daily calls come in during the year, about 300 daily calls were answered during the Pesach season, jumping to about 560 in the week before Yom Tov. The Sunday before Pesach, Rabbi Eleff fielded 75 calls in two hours, and on Erev Pesach, 606 calls came in within three hours with multiple Rabbonim simultaneously staffing the hotline.

We received almost 10,000 phone inquiries about kashrus on Pesach, and we tried to respond to them all,” says OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack. “I’m very proud of our staff. They did a stellar job. They worked far beyond nine-to-five and with alacrity; people received calls at home and availed themselves to consumers. That is something very special.”

Over 125,000 unique visitors clicked on OU Kosher’s dedicated Pesach landing page oupassover.org, and 95,000 unique visitors checked in the week before Pesach alone. Close to one million pages were viewed on the OU Kosher site during the Pesach season, and 2,427 sheylos were emailed to the Webbe Rebbe.

Of the 166,700 times the OU Kosher app has been downloaded since its launch in 2012, 4,302 new downloads occurred during the Pesach season and 10,200 active users logged on to the app before Yom Tov.

Among the OU’s most sought-after publications is the OU Guide to Passover, of which 70,600 print copies -– one thousand more than in 2023 –- were printed in 2024. The OU Kosher editorial team begins working on the manual around Chanukah time and continues the collaborative process until publication around Purim.

“People truly appreciate the guide for the great resource that it is,” says OU Director of Digital Content Jeremy Chernikoff, its managing editor. “Whether they take it to the supermarket to check our approved products lists, or they consult it before kashering their kitchens for Pesach, it’s incredibly comprehensive.”

Rabbi Genack recalls, “When I first came to the OU in 1980, we had a little kosher directory for Pesach. A few years ago, we printed 50,000 copies of The OU Passover Guide, and this past year we increased production by more than 20,000 copies because of the demand. The guide is available online, and was viewed 23,000 times.”

Rabbi Genack is proud of the OU Kosher staff responsible for kashrus education, which is integral to the agency’s mission. 

“I commend our Kashrus Education staff, who have a wonderful sense of communal responsibility,” he says.

As regular guests on Jewish radio shows and podcasts, OU Kosher staff were particularly busy this past Pesach season. Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Avraham Juravel appeared on The Kashrus Awareness Project’s “Let’s Talk Kashrus” podcast, where he presented “Hidden Hazards: Chometz In Disguise,” and addressed what might be wrong with seemingly innocuous products that may contain chametz on Pesach.

Rabbinic Coordinators Rabbi Eli Gersten and Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld were on Nachum Segal’s annual Pesach Products program on JM in the AM, and covered an array of topics from the kashrus of specific foods to preparing one’s home for the holiday. OU Kosher Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Moshe Elefant was a guest on Talkline with Zev Brenner for several Motzei Shabbosim in a row until two in the morning.

“The listeners submit the topics of discussion and they range through every possible question and situation,” says Rabbi Elefant. “How to kasher a dishwasher for Passover, how to deal with a potential situation at a Seder? What medications are permissible during Passover?”

Brenner shares that Rabbi Elefant is a fan favorite.

“Rabbi Elefant comes from a position of great knowledge and strength, and is an individual who has received much respect from various segments of our community,” he says.  “Listeners really find him refreshing because his knowledge is versatile enough to handle any questions we receive. He cuts across many backgrounds, and has become very popular over the years.”

OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant discusses the intricacies of kashrus supervision at Bais Medrash Zichron Yechezkel (Rabbi Rotberg’s shul) in Toms River, New Jersey

OU Kosher also ran numerous Pesach-themed educational events in both North America and Israel, educating over 2,000 people in-person.

Especially noteworthy was an evening at Khal Zichron Yechezkel in Toms River, New Jersey, which drew an overflow crowd of men for “Demystifying Kashrus”, a program that unraveled the complexities of kosher food production and explored how to better navigate the marketplace. About 60 women also explored the fundamentals of modern kashrus at a separate shul program called “Unlock the Secrets of Kosher.”

Other community events run in conjunction with yeshivos, kollelim, colleges, day schools and shuls were held in Jackson and Lakewood, New Jersey; Boston, Massachusetts; Cleveland, Ohio; Kew Gardens Hills, New York, and North Miami Beach, Florida. Topics included Q and A panels on hilchos Pesach, “Kashrus of Medicines and Nutritionals for Pesach and All Year Round”, and “Pesach Preparations.” A special Bein Hazmanim evening expounded upon clean and lab-grown meat in halacha, the bakery industry, and offered a bedikas tolaim (checking for insect infestation) session for women.

OU Kosher’s Rabbi Mordechai Stareshefsky addresses the 11th and 12th grades of Bais Yaakov of Miami

In Israel — where kashrus on Pesach can be complex for Ashkenazim due to the overwhelming proliferation of kitniyos products — OU Israel’s Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education, directed by Rabbi Ezra Friedman, ran a number of English and Hebrew shiurim in Yerushalayim, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Alon Shvut, Kiryat Sefer and Charish. Shiur topics included a “Practical Guide to Preparing and Shopping for Pesach”, “Kosher L’Pesach Products”, and “Making Pesach in Charish.” Both Anglo olim and veteran Israelis enjoyed an “Erev Pesach Hachana” evening, a “Keep your Pesach Kosher” symposium, and a Rosh Chodesh Nisan seminar for women run by OU Israel’s L’Ayla women’s initiative, featuring Haggadah and practical Pesach highlights, and insights to add meaning to the Seder. The Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education also prints a Pesach Guide in collaboration with the OU Guide to Passover with modified content specific to Kashrut in Israel.

“In Israel, there are a few very good hashgachos, however they cater to specific communities with specific customs and stringencies,” says OU Kosher Israel Department Director Rabbi Yissachar Dov Krakowski. “On the other hand, some hashgachos are super liberal and rely on questionable leniencies. Although we at OU Kosher previously regarded our main role in Israel as ‘exporters’ of kashrus, the need to offer kashrus education in Israel has become far more imperative with every passing year. We are proud of Israel’s growing interest in the OU in general, particularly among anglo olim.”

As a show of solidarity with the people of Sderot, OU Israel’s Center for Kashrut Education also created a behind-the-scenes video tour of the OU Kosher-certified Birkat HaPesach Matzah Factory in Sderot, called “How It’s Made: Matzah”. 

“OU is an organization centered on yirat shamayim, and Torah values, and we put our Torah education above everything,” says Rabbi Friedman. “We are so honored to use education as a powerful tool to help improve kashrut both in Israel and around the world.” 

Back at OU Kosher headquarters in New York, the agency hosted multiple school visits where students received kashrus overviews and participated in fascinating workshops. Elizabeth, New Jersey’s Bruriah girls‘ high school enjoyed a session on bedikas tolaim, Riverdale’s SAR (Salanter Akiba Riverdale High School) and New York’s Ramaz, were captivated by a presentation on the mesorah of birds — which included live ones — and Woodmere’s SKA (Stella K. Abraham) girls’ high school went behind the scenes at Manhattan’s Wall Street Grill to see OU Kosher’s certification work in action. 

Hundreds of people also benefited from OU Kosher’s Kashrus Education from the comforts of their homes — or in the case of military personnel, from their stations around the world; in partnership with the Aleph Institute, OU Kosher held a virtual pre-Pesach webinar for army chaplains and lay leaders who often lack access to kosher products abroad. 

“Depending on where they are stationed, products may be limited and their circumstances may be restrictive,” says Rabbi Eleff. “Imagine making Pesach on a naval ship, or in Okinawa, Japan, for example. We discussed which supplies are permissible to use for Pesach, and how to kasher things in light of their circumstances.”

OU Kosher also led a “Smart Shopping and Kashering for Pesach” webinar together with OU’s SPIRIT Initiative for retirees, virtual pre-Pesach sessions for the Council of European Rabbis, as well as one for the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and a Brooklyn-based program for rabbanim affiliated with Kav Halacha, an Israeli based, global halacha hotline. A “Matzah and Medicine: Navigating Pesach in Healthcare Settings webinar conducted with Touro University’s New York Medical College drew over 200 medical professionals.

Reflecting on the busy Pesach season, Rabbi Elefant says, “There is nothing that makes the team at OU Kosher happier than to answer kashrus questions from the community. That Klal Yisrael is interested in kashrus education and in doing the right things on Pesach brings us tremendous joy, and we can’t wait to do it all over again next Pesach IY”H.”

OU Kosher Staff