Daf ha-kashrus

Devotion & Passion

A Tribute to the Life of Rabbi Emanuel Holzer zt”l

HolzerOn the 13th day of Adar 1, Erev Purim Katan, 5776, Rabbi Emanuel (Manny) Holzer zt”l passed away. Rabbi Holzer, an extraordinarily devoted disciple of the Rav, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, was an outstanding osek betzorchei tsibur, who dedicated much of his life to the service of the Jewish community.

For the Kashrus Department of the OU, his demise has particular significance. Rabbi Holzer served with great distinction as the chairman of the Rabbinic Kashrus Committee (RKC) of the RCA for two decades. He played a pivotal role in the development of the OU during an exciting era of expansion and transition. With his passing, an important chapter in the annals of the OU has come to an end.

Rabbi Holzer’s involvement in kashrus began years before, while assisting his rebbe in his battle against anti-shechita legislation. Between the years of 1958-1962, Rabbi Soloveitchik made numerous trips to Washington to testify before Congressional Committees in defense of shechita. In the words of Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld (Rabbi Holzer’s rav and devoted friend of many years), “Manny fought like a tiger in those years. He spared no effort to research scientific data and assist the Rav in every possible way. Manny did much of the leg work for the Rav and was his right hand man.”

Yet Rabbi Holzer’s most important contribution to kashrus was as chairman of the Rabbinic Kashrus Commission. What is the RKC?

The RKC is a committee of prominent RCA Rabbis, which works in partnership with the Rabbinic Coordinators (RCs) of the OU Kashrus Department, to insure proper and appropriate standards of kosher supervision and offer valuable insight and suggestions. Until Rabbi Holzer’s retirement in 2006, the RKC met once or twice a month in the OU office in Manhattan, together with RCs, to discuss new applications, review policies and procedures, and address ongoing issues that arose on a regular basis.

As chairman of the RKC, Rabbi Holzer presided over the monthly sessions. It was he who infused life into the commission and gave meaning and significance to its role. Rabbi Holzer lived and breathed OU kashrus. His unbridled enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. Congregational rabbis, who were overwhelmed by their schedules, religiously attended monthly meetings in Manhattan because they were inspired by Rabbi Holzer’s commitment and dedication. If a rabbi was absent, he would have to endure Rabbi Holzer’s subsequent ire, as Rabbi Holzer simply could not comprehend a rabbi not making time for these crucial meetings at the OU. RKC sessions were never boring, and no one fell asleep in their chairs, as Rabbi Holzer brought animation and excitement to each important discussion.

Even when no formal meeting was scheduled, Rabbi Holzer would spend hours in the OU office. He prepared extensively for RKC discussions, and he researched and investigated topics by speaking at length with OU senior management, Rabbinic Coordinators and Rabbinic Field Representatives. Eventually, he became such a permanent fixture in the OU office that he was given a desk and assigned a secretary, and he came to the office almost on a daily basis.

No task was too difficult for Rabbi Holzer, nor was he afraid to engage in battle with anyone, when he felt it was important to do so. He possessed a strong sense of righteousness, and was a person of great moral integrity. He was energized by a personal sense of mission to fulfill his responsibilities as chairman of the RKC.

Rabbi Holzer spent many years studying with his rebbe, Rabbi Soloveitchik, and later served as his shamash (personal attendant). As a true talmid, Rabbi Holzer was guided by the many lessons of life that he learned from his rebbe, and he quoted the Rav extensively whenever an opportunity would arise (particularly at RKC meetings). Chazal teach us that when the wife of Potiphar attempted to seduce Yosef, he saw dimus diyukno shel aviv, the image of his father’s visage, and this prevented him from sinning. Rabbi Holzer lived with the dimus diyukno of his rebbe before his eyes, and this inspired him on a constant basis. Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU Kashrus Department, and a talmid muvhak (esteemed pupil) of the Rav, worked closely with Rabbi Holzer, and noted the following: “Rabbi Holzer’s intense devotion to his Rebbi was transmitted to his children, David and Barry, who were meshamesh (served) the Rav as well, and a bridge of love and respect between the Rav and his talmidim spanned the generations.”

Truth be told, Rabbi Holzer was not without controversy. He was very opinionated and battled fiercely for what he held to be true. I must admit that on occasion, we did not see eye to eye. But no matter, when Rabbi Holzer disagreed with me, RCs or colleagues in the RCA, it was a machlokes lishaim Shomayim (argument for the sake of heaven), because Rabbi Holzer only cared about kashrus and had no hidden agenda of his own.

I can best describe Rabbi Holzer’s passion with a magnificent insight of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zt”l, recorded in his sefer, Emes Li’Yaakov.

When Yaakov blessed his children before his death, he rebuked Shimon and Levi for their anger which led to their killing Chamor and the people of Shechem (in retaliation for the abduction of Dina). “Arur apom ki az, cursed is their anger for it is bold.” To keep Shimon and Levi separated, Yaakov declares, “Afitzaim bi’Yaakov, achalkei bi’Yisrael, I will divide them in Yaakov and disperse them in Israel.” Rashi explains that Yaakov divided and separated Shimon and Levi by having Shimon’s descendants serve as teachers of young children, and designating the tribe of Levi to gather terumah and maaser throughout the land of Israel.

Rav Yaakov asks the following question: If Yaakov was angered by Shimon and Levi’s impetuous and rash behavior, why then does Yaakov appoint the tribe of Shimon to serve as the rebbeim of the young children, who are the future of Klal Yisrael, and assign Levi to serve as the kohanim and leviim, who are the religious leaders of the Jewish people? Rav Yaakov offers a beautiful response:
After Shimon and Levi murdered Chamor and the population of Shechem, Yaakov chastises Shimon and Levi and says to them, “You have aroused the anger of my neighbors.”  Shimon and Levi responded, “Hachizonah yaaseh achoseinu, should he treat our sister like a harlot?” Yaakov does not answer. Why is that? While he was upset with the irresponsible actions taken by Shimon and Levi, he nonetheless admired their passion and concern. Of all the shevatim, only Shimon and Levi felt compelled to react to the pain and disgrace of their sister. It was this passion that made Shimon and Levi most suitable for the tasks of being rebbeim and religious leaders.

Yes, we did not always agree with Rabbi Holzer, but no one could match his dedication to the OU. My admiration for him was great. He cared about kashrus more than most others. His passion and fervor knew no bounds and moved him to take action whenever possible.

Holzer Young
Rabbi in Astoria Long Island
circa 1955.

Here is a classic story about Rabbi Holzer’s dedication that illustrates the above.
When I joined the OU in 1984, one of my first assignments as Rabbinic Coordinator was to oversee the Heinz Company. Heinz had a major plant in Pittsburgh, where they manufactured kosher and non-kosher soup. There was a full-time mashgiach in the plant who kashered the equipment. I reviewed the kashering protocols with the mashgiach and had some questions about the procedures. I raised the issues at an RKC meeting, and it was decided that I should visit the plant to see the operation first hand, gain a better understanding of the situation, and report back to the committee. Immediately, without hesitation, Rabbi Holzer announced that he would accompany me on my investigative journey. I tried to dissuade Rabbi Holzer. The kashering occurred at 6:00 a.m. and we would have to wake up in the middle of the night to observe the event. Rabbi Holzer was not to be deterred. Shortly thereafter, on a cold wintery night, Rabbi Holzer and I arrived in Pittsburgh and checked into a hotel late at night. At 3:00 a.m. we were up and about so we could drive to the plant in time for the 6 a.m. kashering.

I was a young man and was paid for my efforts. Rabbi Holzer was a sixty year old volunteer. He did not have to make the arduous trip, and could have relied on my report. Yet, he cared so much about the integrity of the OU symbol that he felt compelled to make the journey, all difficulties notwithstanding.

When we returned and delivered our report, it had the value of a thorough investigation of two pairs of eyes.

Rabbi Holzer reminds me of the moving words of Dovid Hamelech, quoted in Brochos 4a:
“Master of the Universe – am I not devout? for all the other kings of the east and west sit among their company in their glory, but as for me, my hands are soiled with blood, embryos, and afterbirths which I examine, in order to permit a woman to her husband.

Like Shimon and Levi, Rabbi Holzer was a man of action who never sat on the sidelines. When a job needed to be done, he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty, just as King David of old.

Alas, Rabbi Holzer has departed. No longer is he with us, pounding on the tables and demanding that we address the issues of the day and improve our standards of supervision. Yet his legacy lives on. Those of us who knew him can still hear his clarion call prodding and encouraging us, his booming voice reverberating through the halls of the OU Kashrus Department: “Gentlemen, we must do better! After all, klal Yisrael is depending on us.”

May his memory be blessed.

by Rabbi Yaakov Luban
Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, OU Kosher