OU Kosher Shares its Riches
Now the world’s leading kashrut agency
is the leading kashrut college…
and even Prompted a summer camp!
For over two decades and running, OU Kosher’s ASK OU kashrut educational projects have reached tens of thousands of rabbanim, mashgichim and kosher consumers, and continue to raise kashrut standards in restaurants, factories and homes around the globe.
“Education is a vital part of our mission,” says Rabbi Yosef Grossman, senior rabbinic educational coordinator at OU Kosher.
True to his word and with the encouragement of OU Kosher’s administration, Rabbi Grossman launched ASK OU in 1996. Sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of New Jersey, the program offers comprehensive two- and three-week kashrut education training seminars for rabbanim and mashgichim. “The OU is the largest communal kashrut organization in the world,” says Rabbi Menachem Genack, OU Kosher CEO. “Promoting kashrut knowledge is an essential part of our mandate.”
According to Rabbi Genack, the program continues to serve as an excellent platform for training future kashrut professionals.
In fact, a number of ASK OU graduates are now part of OU Kosher’s staff, both in the office and in the field. ASK OU graduates have also gone on to take positions as rabbanim and mechanchim who are well-versed in kashrut. Some have gone on to head other kashrut agencies, and those graduates who hail from countries outside the U.S., including Poland, Germany, Eretz Yisrael, Canada and Mexico, have gone on to elevate the kashrut standards in their respective countries.
ASK OU also reaches out to schools and shuls, with kashrut presentations given by the OU Kosher rabbinic coordinators. In addition, its VISIT OU venture welcomes schools and camps to OU Kosher headquarters, treating them to dynamic lectures, videos, and tours of the rabbis’ offices.
Extending its reach digitally, ASK OU recently conducted ten well-received Skype lectures to Australia, sends out Daf HaKashrus, a regular OU Kosher publication email (and hard copy), as well as The Gerald and Karin Feldhamer OU Kosher Halacha Yomis email, which contains a halacha per day on various topics. OU Press, the book-publishing arm of the OU, is currently publishing a book with these halachot for every day of the Jewish calendar.
“The OU prides itself in our level of transparency. The more the public is aware of kashrut, the more they will demand, which helps us up our game,” says Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of OU Kosher. “We welcome that scrutiny.”
Hands-On Halacha Camp
Inspired by the success of ASK OU’s long-running mashgiach-training seminars, which attract over a thousand participants each year, Rabbi Chaim Loike, OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator, initiated Camp Yoreh Deah, offering teenage boys a summer like no other.
For three and a half jam-packed weeks, 9th to 12th grade yeshiva bachurim travel to Durham, Connecticut, to learn the halachot of shechitah, matzah baking, safrut, shaatnez, how to kasher meat, tie tzitzit and tefillin, identify kosher fish, build an eruv, blow a shofar, and build a mikvah — and not just from inside a sefer. Camp Yoreh Deah is about hands-on halacha.
Like other learning camps, the morning includes an in-depth Gemara shiur. But unlike other such summer venues, these boys apply what they’ve learned each afternoon — live and in person.
“There are a lot of students who study the halachot on kashrut theoretically,” says Rabbi Loike, a longtime talmid of Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l and a world-class expert on the kashrut of birds. “This is an opportunity to learn it hands on.”
Rabbi Loike partnered with Rabbi Avrohom Reit, an expert in kashrut halacha and renowned author of numerous halacha sefarim, to bring the Yoreh Deah camp concept to reality. They assembled a staff of halacha experts from Eretz Yisrael and the United States (including OU rabbanim). The camp was overbooked almost immediately. In 2016, its first summer, twenty boys attended. The number doubled the following summer.
“Our goal is that the boys who have excelled in their Gemara skills be able to apply them,” says Rabbi Loike.
To that end, he made sure to put in all the necessary legwork to give them those opportunities. To demonstrate the diversity in the chicken world, he brought in fifty-five different kinds of the squawking specimens. The campers were taught to identify the distinctions between them, and whether any of the birds were problematic or not. They also learned to shecht, clean and kasher the chickens and even cook the “fruits” of their labor for Shabbat.
Rabbi Loike also took the campers on a halachic field trip to the supermarket to buy various cuts of fish. They then determined which of the fish they were permitted to cook and eat, and which were off limits. And since it was a non-kosher fish market, the boys also learned how to make the fish fit for the kosher palate (by scraping off the edges to make sure there is no cross-contamination from a non-kosher fish).
“The boys come wanting to master different areas of halacha,” says Rabbi Loike.
Clearly, once they master the subject, they put the knowledge to work. One summer, after learning the halachot of mikvah, the boys noticed a stream not far from their bunks. They promptly took up shovels and dug a proper mikvah. Every erev Shabbat, the boys take a trek around the eruv to evaluate if it’s kosher. If it’s not, they fix it.
“Campers from previous summers have returned with megillot they are in the process of writing,” says Rabbi Loike. “Others have shown me a klaf they made from an animal. They’re proud of the skills they’ve attained.”
OU Kosher shares that pride.
“Excellence in kashrut hinges on the vital partnership between OU Kosher and kosher consumers,” says Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz, OU Kosher’s senior rabbinic coordinator. “While consumers’ demands drive the expansion of the kosher market, it is the educated consumer who ultimately raises kashrut standards ever higher.”