Over the past fifty years, OU Kosher and the world of kashrut have undergone a veritable explosion in size and scope — both quantitatively and qualitatively. That kashrut was assisted during that period by the universally beloved Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig zt”l is in no way coincidental.
Rabbi Goldzweig served the OU as a senior rabbinic field representative for half a century. In that position he performed so many uniquely significant roles for kashrut: as an expert of ingredient evaluation and food technology, ambassador to the food industry, globetrotting kashrut inspector, and tireless kashrut resource to manufacturers, rabbis and consumers alike. Beyond the “professional” persona that defined so much of his day-to-day interactions, Rabbi Goldzweig also led a small shul in his Chicago home, was a veritable one-man chessed organization, and positively impacted countless individuals throughout his lifetime.
Rabbi Goldzweig was born in Chicago in 1937. Scion to an illustrious lineage of tzadikim and rabbinic figures (his father, Rabbi Moshe Gershon, was a revered Kabbalist originally from Tzefat), Rabbi Goldzweig meticulously followed in his ancestors’ footsteps. After a primary school education in Chicago’s Hebrew Parochial School, he attended the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland where he was recognized for his Torah scholarship, his good-natured personality, and selfless generosity.
In 1960 OU Kosher’s rabbinic administrator, Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg, sought a qualified rabbi to assist the eminent (and colorful) Cincinnati-based Rabbi Eliezer Silver to provide kashrut supervision for Procter & Gamble. Rabbi Moshe Gershon urged his son to put his talents toward the service of klal Yisrael and enter the field of kashrut. Heeding his father’s appeal, Rabbi Goldzweig dedicated his life, from that day forward, to just that — serving the Jewish people with not just his enormous talents, but all his energies and resources.
EARLY DAYS OF KASHRUT
Today, hundreds of thousands of OU Kosher products line our store shelves, and a global network of kosher-certified raw materials supply the factories that produce them. But in the 1960s and 1970s, the food industry was not familiar with kosher concepts and rules, nor did it always appreciate the benefits of a kosher certification.
Rabbi Goldzweig became Rabbi Silver’s protégé, learning both practical kashrut principles as well as the sometimes-unconventional approaches required to advance the nascent kashrut industry of the time. Visits to factories meant developing personal relationships and often bringing gifts of wine or chocolate to plant personnel. Company officials regarded him less as an inspector and more as a friend. At the same time, he was respected for his quick grasp of food technology, his encyclopedic knowledge of ingredients, and his unquestioned integrity. He was so respected in the food industry that the USDA appointed him to a position and issued him an inspector’s badge — which occasionally proved useful when his authority was challenged. He also utilized his connections to assist yeshivas and day schools, helping them access kosher government-surplus foods.
He was once called as a character witness for custody hearings involving a plant manager for one of the companies he visited. The judge was confused and even asked what kind of relationship there could be between the Catholic manager and the Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Goldzweig explained how he knew the man, and how he had even visited the man’s family. The judge was visibly impressed by the rabbi’s testimony and eventually awarded custody to the father.
Despite being away from home so much, Rabbi Goldzweig would never compromise his principles and traditions which included a tremendous emphasis on tefilla. His father, Rabbi Moshe Gershon, spent many hours each day immersed in prayer (a minyan was hired to be present in his shul to accommodate him). However, travelling by car throughout the Midwest in those days meant spending weekdays on the road. Rabbi Goldzweig, unable to daven with a daily minyan, committed himself instead to daven (k’vasikin) with sunrise each morning. Also, with only limited time to study Torah during the week, his children report that he hardly slept on weekends and spent much of Shabbat immersed in his sefarim.
Rabbi Goldzweig’s holistic approach to kashrut meant inspecting not just the ingredient warehouse and production areas, but also understanding the people and how the factory operated. Once during an inspection that did not uncover any violations of kosher protocol, but which left him with a gnawing discomfort about the plant, Rabbi Goldzweig persevered until he ultimately found unapproved ingredients hidden in a women’s restroom, where the plant personnel were certain the rabbi would never look.
With trademark humor and humility, he was a master at diffusing difficult and confrontational situations. Once at an inspection of a factory in Europe, a worker claimed that all the factory’s oils were plant-based and that no animal products were used. Rabbi Goldzweig knew that the worker was lying because he had seen beef fat on site a little earlier. The rabbi shrugged and told the man, “I didn’t realize that cows grow on trees in your country!”
In the pre-computer, pre-internet and even pre-fax era, Rabbi Goldzweig visited a plant, wrote his report by hand, and sent it to OU headquarters via overnight mail. Each of these many reports were thorough; every ingredient verified, every product formula reviewed, and all issues addressed.
Rabbi Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, often said that “Rabbi Goldzweig was the OU,” and that the OU’s kashrut department, the largest kosher supervising agency in the world, “was built on his shoulders.” He called Rabbi Goldzweig the “Super Mashgiach.”
UNIVERSALLY BELOVED & RESPECTED
Rabbi Goldzweig was employed by the OU, but he served all of klal Yisrael. The entire spectrum of kashrut agencies and rabbis consulted with him and his views were considered sacrosanct.
When Rabbi Moshe Heinemann of Baltimore once visited Chicago, one of the kollel rabbis invited him to speak about current issues in kashrut. Rabbi Heinemann looked at the man incredulously: “You have Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig living here in Chicago, and you want me to talk about issues in kashrut? Reb Chaim is the one we all turn to!”
Rabbi Goldzweig’s daughter recalls, “As children, whenever we went grocery shopping with my father, we would beg him to stay in the car. We knew that if he went into the store with us it would take at least an extra half-hour, since he would be bombarded with questions by other customers.”
There were no questions that were beneath his dignity — Rabbi Goldzweig, it would seem, had endless patience and no discernable ego to speak of. In the weeks before Pesach, he alongside his rebbetzin, who tirelessly answered calls, were the “central kashrut information center.” The Goldzweig home was fitted with four telephone lines (unheard of at the time) and they were often all in use. He would be invited to question-and-answer sessions at yeshivas and shuls, and to appear on radio and television, where listeners and viewers called in their questions. He patiently responded to every question posed with his trademark humor — no matter how preposterous it may have seemed. When a woman asked him if her husband’s heart medication could be taken on Pesach he responded, “I guess it depends if you want him to live or not!”
Women and girls would press him about using any and every cosmetic available on the market for Pesach. He would jokingly roll his eyes and ask in mock exasperation, “I can only imagine how impossible it must be for you to avoid that specific brand for the four days of Chol Hamoed!” But he would then go ahead and research the product to the best of his ability.
Often his answers depended on who the inquirers were and the standards they were seeking to observe. Consequently, even those who wanted to keep only basic kashrut standards were comfortable asking Rabbi Goldzweig their queries. They trusted his opinion implicitly, knowing that he would not lead them astray or burden them with what they felt were unnecessary stringencies.
Rabbi Goldzweig once entered a “heimish” grocery store in Brooklyn and noticed a beverage that was not recommended. He told the proprietor, “I don’t believe that this is kosher.” The storekeeper looked at the rabbi in the simple suit suspiciously and asked, “What do you know about kosher?”
“My name is Chaim Goldzweig, and I work for the OU,” Rabbi Goldzweig informed the owner. Unconvinced, the Hassidic fellow told the rabbi condescendingly: “and why should I feel obligated to listen to you”?
“Well, if you would like, I can wait while you can call any local Hassidic rabbi you choose and tell him that Chaim Goldzweig said this product is not recommended.”
The proprietor did just that, calling a well-known local rabbi. “Are you crazy?” shouted the rabbi, “do you realize that Rabbi Goldzweig probably knows more about what is acceptable and what is not than anyone else in the country? Get that product out of your store now!”
A famous rabbi from Israel once asked Rabbi Goldzweig to accompany him to a production site that sought his supervision. The two temperaments could not have been more opposite. The Israeli Rav, with a no-nonsense approach, made it known right from the start that he was in charge, and that the company would have to agree to all his stipulations in order to receive his approval. A thick tension hung in the air as the talks proceeded between the rabbi and the factory owner.
Rabbi Goldzweig, on the other hand, first engaged the owner in light conversation and joked around with him. Only after he was at ease did Rabbi Goldzweig begin talking about the changes that needed to be made for the company to receive supervision. The owner and managers almost magically became amenable to all the changes. The Israeli Rav was so overwhelmed with Rabbi Goldzweig’s personality and his approach that for years after he often sought out Rabbi Goldzweig’s counsel.
As much as Rabbi Goldzweig was considered a foremost kashrut expert throughout the world, he acted with the utmost humility. Rabbi Moshe Elefant (OU Kosher COO) recalls early encounters when he was a newly hired rabbinic coordinator (RC). Rabbi Goldzweig would submit his kashrut reports but always deferred to the lesser-experienced RC for policy decisions..
FOR THE LOVE OF CHESSED
For all his down-to-earth accessibility and charm, there was also a tremendous mystique surrounding Rabbi Goldzweig — sometimes bordering on the supernatural. No one could understand how many thousands and thousands of tzedakah dollars were distributed by him — although he was never a man of means — a practice he maintained throughout his life.
A ba’al chessed extraordinaire, his home, in addition to housing a small shul, was a primary address in Chicago for everyone from visiting Hassidic rebbes and Roshei Yeshiva to meshulachim, the lonely and the needy, the hapless and the hungry. His home was their home and Rabbi Goldzweig always acted as if he were his guests’ attendant.
One year, word of a Jewish visitor to the Chicago area without kosher food on Erev Yom Kippur made its way to Rabbi Goldzweig. The Rabbi “disappeared” for most of the day, missing mincha and his family’s festive Erev Yom Kippur meal, returning late in the afternoon before the holy day only after delivering a proper meal to the individual in need.
A kollel couple visiting Chicago with a kashrut inquiry was directed to Rabbi Goldzweig. They called to ask whether a certain prenatal vitamin required kosher supervision, since the one without supervision cost much less. Rabbi Goldzweig asked if he could meet them at a local pharmacy. A little while later they met at Walgreens, where Rabbi Goldzweig quietly examined the ingredients of the vitamins in question. “Do you think it’s a problem?” the young man asked worriedly. “No,” answered Rabbi Goldzweig with a smile, “I know it’s a problem! But don’t worry; I have a fund for just this type of situation.” He then bought several months’ worth of the kosher vitamins and handed it to the couple.
Occasionally during summer vacation, the Goldzweig children accompanied their father on kashrut trips around the Midwest. As a friend of the family, I was invited to join as well. Rabbi Goldzweig made sure to include stops to amusement parks and other fun activities. The Rabbi also made sure to bring along some underprivileged children who didn’t have their own “vacation plans” to speak of. The car was never too small for “just” another kid.
I recall making last-minute arrangements for a trip to the Far East without the lead time necessary to arrange kosher meals on my flight. When I mentioned the Rabbi’s frequent flyer account to an airline representative, I was told that the airline would specially arrange a taxi to pick up the meals from the caterer and bring them to the airport. Rabbi Goldzweig amassed many millions of frequent flyer miles throughout his career. But those miles always became “chessed miles” used to help indigent individuals who needed to travel for smachot or medical care rarely for his own comfort or benefit.
When visiting mashgichim, Rabbi Goldzweig often told them that he needed to pick up something at the supermarket, asking them to kindly accompany him. After choosing the few items that he required, he took them on a shopping spree and left their home pantries filled with groceries. Allegedly, he paid off the occasional utility bills as well.
Once when travelling he met an acquaintance, a young woman from Chicago. While waiting to board the flight, Rabbi Goldzweig asked her if he could see her boarding pass. The Rabbi switched his pass with hers and the young lady ended up sitting in the Rabbi’s upgraded first-class seat. Embarrassed by his magnanimity, she confronted Rabbi Goldzweig; he replied: “You probably never sat in the front of the plane, enjoy the experience” — and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
An OU colleague reported that whenever he found himself without a good frame of mind, he needed only to call Rabbi Goldzweig, who even when he was already ill and bed-ridden, always found a way to cheer up his younger colleague. Following a conversation with the Rabbi it was difficult not to smile.
TRAITS ALMOST FORGOTTEN TODAY
When thinking about the brilliance, the goodness, the faith, the humility, the selflessness, the generosity and the love of fellow human beings that Rabbi Goldzweig embodied, we are transported back to another world and another time. The most apt comparison that I can find is shown among the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov in 18th-century Ukraine. That such a figure lived and functioned in 20th-century America gives us new faith in the uniqueness and continuity of the Jewish nation.
There is one name conspicuously absent from the Pesach haggadah: that of Moshe Rabbeinu. How could the figure so central to the Exodus story not be acknowledged in our annual recollection of those events?
Moshe, the “humblest of men to walk the face of the earth,” wouldn’t want attribution to himself for these events; only to the name of the All-mighty.
When we observe the success of kashrut (Pesach and year-round) in the United States and how easy it is now to find so many reliably certified OU products in every supermarket, and how this makes the lives of observant Jews that much easier — to whom shall we attribute this incredible phenomenon?
Were we to ask Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig, who returned his righteous soul to its Maker this past Tenth day of Tammuz, he too would certainly insist that we not mention his name.