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Association of Kashrus Organizations Conference 2022

Posted on: May 28th, 2022 by Kosher Michigan

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 914

Last month’s AKO conference brought together some 150 kashrus experts. Their primary motivation: making sure Klal Yisrael has kosher food to eat

The Jewish world today has hundreds of agencies making sure that all kinds of food is kosher, from the salmon off the Norwegian coast and Peruvian beef to French wines and Stella D’oro Swiss fudge cookies.

Once a year, the organizations get together for three days of camaraderie and enlightenment. From a business perspective, many of them are direct competitors, but at this conference, the focus is on what really motivates them: making sure people have kosher food to eat.

Under the umbrella of the Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO), this year’s conference, held last month at the Delta by Marriott Hotel in Iselin, New Jersey, was certainly an eye-opener for me. I met people in kashrus organizations I’ve never heard of — Oregon Kosher, Top-K, Rhode Island Kosher — and from parts of the world, like South Bend, Amsterdam, and Panama, that I never even dreamed would have an organized hashgachah.

“People are always asking us, ‘What’s new?’ ” notes Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer of the OU Kosher. “What do you mean, ‘what’s new?’ There’s always something new happening in our industry.”

And so it was that I found myself striding into the hotel for the kashrus world’s biggest annual convention.

The Humans of the Kashrus Field
I came at the tail end of breakfast on a Tuesday morning, as kashrus experts from dozens of groups scurried to begin the day of presentations.

“Who gives the hechsher on this place?” I called out after them.

I’ve always been somewhat of a risk-taker and was grateful that the joke landed sturdily. It turns out that the caterer was Greenwald’s, which happened to have done my bar mitzvah some years back. The mini knishes I remember from that special night were nowhere in sight, but they did have quite a bash set-up.

Kashrus experts, it emerged, can have quite a sense of humor. One speaker, whose name I no longer remember, began his session, “I want to introduce to you a concept you may not know of — day and night.”

At one point I tweeted a photo of Chaikel Kaufman, who spoke on the topic of — and I quote — “Why not to use a travel agent.” Within minutes I got a text from the travel agent I’ve been using for years. “Did my boss speak well?”

Yes, Mr. Kaufman is apparently a travel agent of good standing.

“The first question I get when I meet people, and I tell them what I do is, ‘A travel agent? Who uses a travel agent today?’ ” Kaufman said. “And I don’t have a good answer for that.”

Mashgichim are frequent travelers, and Kaufman was there to give them some tips on how to make the most of their experience.

There were some fascinating moments as well. Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, the executive director of AKO, as well as the kashrus administrator of cRc Kosher (Chicago) announced three new initiatives to make people more kashrus aware. The first, which you may have heard of, is a series of videos and articles from the Kashrus Awareness website. The second is providing free kashrus consultation to summer camps for their camp kitchens, and the third is still under wraps and all information I received was off the record.

Lab Meat: The Modern Ben Pakuah
Modern science has promised us the miracle of meat grown in a laboratory, as a humane alternative to slaughter. But is it kosher?

Rav Moshe Heinemann, head of the Baltimore-based Star K certifying agency, delivered a shiur on the kashrus of lab-grown meat. The first patty made from cultured meat was created not even a decade ago, but Rav Heinemann found ample precedent for it in the rich body of halachah. A fundamental issue is whether the culture begins with cells taken from a living animal, and that seems to be “not kosher,” since we cannot eat meat that did not result from shechitah.

One part of his shiur was based on the sugya of ben pakuah — a living fetus discovered in the womb when the mother is slaughtered. Mid’Oraisa, the shechitah of the mother “covers” that of the fetus, and it would be permitted to eat it without a separate shechitah. But due to maris ayin, Chazal were concerned that onlookers would not realize this is a ben pakuah, and therefore decreed that it must have its own shechitah. However, if there were something very unusual about this animal — aside from it being a ben pakuah — then it would be permitted to eat it without shechitah. Everyone would realize that this was something unusual, and that would alert them that there might be some reason it was being eaten without shechitah.

What are examples of “unusual” things that allow the ben pakuah without shechitah? The Rema (Yoreh Dei’ah 13:2) gives an example of a ben pakuah whose hooves are not split. Rav Sherira Gaon permitted two calves that were ben pakuah to be served at his child’s wedding, arguing that the presence of two bnei pakuah at the same time was unusual enough to qualify for this exception. Rav Heinemann said that he knows of a ben pakuah that was born without a tail — a prime example of a double oddity. The lack of a tail tremendously affected the animal’s ability to disperse the hundreds of flies that are attracted to its skin and Rav Heinemann thought that was peculiar enough to be another example of one that can be eaten without shechitah.

Based on all this, Rav Heinemann proposed that if the cultured meat were labeled as coming from a ben pakuah, that would also be considered unusual enough to permit its cells (and meat) without shechitah, and the meat could be cultured from it.

Assuming we overcame the shechitah issue, would the cultured meat be considered pareve?

“If it looks like meat, it tastes like meat, it smells like meat, it’s meat,” Rav Heinemann declared. “Fleishigs.”

Kosher Raspberries: Coming Through
Could raspberries soon be rejoining the pies and cocktails of the Jewish fruit bowl? They’ve been banished for many years due to insect infestation, but a new technology could make them grow as bug-free as greenhouse cabbage, according to Rabbi Lazer Fischer of Cincinnati Kosher.

Vertical farming, Rabbi Fischer said in his session, arose from scientists’ fears that the world’s existing arable land will no longer be able to feed the global population by 2050.

“You know why?” he asked. “Because the scientists say that the world has issues. The globe as we know it is in danger due to global warming, over-farming, and soil erosion.”

To solve this, environmentalists invented vertical farming.

He took attendees through a virtual tour of 80 Acres Farms, located on the outskirts of his home city of Cincinnati. The facility produces over 1.6 million plants at any given time. A dark room contains hundreds of peat mosses, each containing a single seed ensconced in dirt. Every few days it gets transferred to an increasingly larger “grow zone” to give it more space to grow. Lights of blue and red, which together emit a purplish tinge, are shone on the plants. These are the only two colors that have an effect on plants, Rabbi Fischer explained.

80 Acres Farms has designed its facility to filter all venues that could serve as conduits for bugs — humans, air, and water — eliminating the odds that insects are in the produce. How they do it is a commercial secret, though they have let the kashrus agency in on the secret. There is minimal contact with humans and air, and water consumption is 97 percent less than the 70 liters per plant per year used by traditional farming.

For now, vertical farming is used for leafy vegetables like lettuce, but 80 Acres is experimenting with strawberries and raspberries.

“It’s not a given that if it’s a vertical farm, then it is bug free,” Rabbi Fischer said. “But there is a very good chance that you could get to that point if the facility is designed properly and has proper oversight.”

No Compromises: Are We Back to the Bad Old Days?
The glut of kosher food, lamented Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer of OU Kosher, has made many Yidden complacent that if “everyone eats” a food then it must be kosher. This threatens to take the community back to the bad old days when anything went.

“When we were younger, we ate just about everything,” he said. “If it looked kosher or it sounded kosher, we ate it. Then, the world got better. But what I’m seeing today is that people are going back to deciding based on assumptions and guesses. Did the proliferation of ‘lists’ of approved items — such as the liquor lists or Slurpee lists — create an environment in which people are satisfied with saying that a food is probably okay?”

He pointed to the Grey Goose vodka controversy last year, in which it was suggested that the spirit contained grape-based alcohol (stam yayin), rendering it not kosher. While it ultimately turned out to be fine, the scare set Rabbi Elefant thinking — even if one day it is okay, what stops Grey Goose from mixing in grape alcohol some other day? Yet people were not worried and went right back to sipping their vodka without hashgachah.

Rabbi Elefant has a plethora of similar stories: discovering that Southern Comfort, a once-popular drink in the heimish community, contained grape-based alcohol; finding out that After Eight Dinner Mints, produced by a British company, and eaten with tea by London’s Jewish community every Friday night after the seudah, had butter oil mixed in, making it milchigs.

He said that the time has come for this attitude to change. He recalled how many years ago he told Rav Chaim Yisroel Belsky ztz”l, one of the OU’s poskim, that he was hesitant to inform companies under his supervision that wholesale changes may be coming. How can we insist that they change from what we’ve always allowed them to do?

“Anyone who has that attitude,” Rav Belsky answered firmly, “should not be working in kashrus. We must always be checking and reevaluating ourselves.”

Mooo, You’re on: Candid Camera
The recent Covid pandemic hung heavily over the conference, which was dedicated in memory of two kashrus giants who were niftar during the outbreak — Rabbi Dr. Zecharia Senter, the founder and rabbinic director of Kof-K, and Rav Don Yoel Levy, the rabbinic director of the OK. In addition, many of the sessions were devoted to lessons learned from the virus years.

Can cameras, for example, replace human oversight? The experience of the past years has proved to be a mixed bag, said Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, from the kashrus authority of Australia and New Zealand.

Rabbi Gutnick spoke about the use of cameras in the production of chalav Yisrael. Cameras have been used extensively during the Covid pandemic, but they have turned out not to be as foolproof as they initially thought.

“There are many things that you can’t see,” Rabbi Gutnick declared, “You have to be careful that you weren’t hoodwinked when using a camera.”

So what are cameras good for? Rabbi Gutnick explained that they are good as a hiddur, or if you need a specific task to verify.

He then offered a pilpul on the effect witnesses have: In some cases, they create the event, such as at a wedding. In other cases, they merely provide proof of an occurrence, such as with monetary transactions. When it comes to chalav Yisrael milk production, Rabbi Gutnick said, one could argue that a mashgiach watching the milking on a camera would be sufficient. But on the other hand, the Chasam Sofer says that the rabbinic decree prohibiting chalav akum was given for a reason that was not revealed. According to this, having a camera would not suffice, since perhaps that “other reason” requires a human physically observing the milking process. He further noted that all would agree that a Jew watching a camera would not be enough to create gevinas Yisrael (for cheese).

Other issues with cameras are that (a) they are technological, which means that they are bound to fail and break every so often, and (b) it is hard for a mashgiach to stare at a screen for extended periods of time.

“The fact of the matter is,” Rabbi Gutnick said, “watching a long row of cows walk to be milked is very boring, and it’s easy for a mashgiach looking at a monitor to fall asleep or get distracted.”

The ideal mashgiach is someone who pays attention to what is happening and reports back to the rabbinic supervisor.

One person who knew little about farms or animals was once serving as a last-minute substitute mashgiach at a dairy plant, Rabbi Gutnick recalled. He called his rabbinic supervisor, breathlessly yelling into the phone, “They’re milking a horse! They’re milking a horse!”

The kashrus agency sent someone down to check out what was happening and discovered a herd of black and white cows, with the mashgiach screaming “There’s the horse!” as he pointed at the one brown jersey cow mixed into the herd.

“We had to explain to him that a brown cow is a cow, not a horse,” Rabbi Gutnick said. “But at least that mashgiach was paying attention.”

Ask and Answer: Rav Dovid Cohen
One of the most fascinating sessions was a Q&A with Rav Dovid Cohen, the rav of Congregation Gvul Yaavetz and a prominent posek in Flatbush. Laden with wisdom and delivered with wit, he began with the pronouncement that a shiur must begin with a milsa d’bedichesa — a joke.

“Three years ago,” he began, “when Rabbi Sholem Fishbane asked me to speak at this conference, I said, ‘Everything is fine, I just have to check out the kashrus.’ ”

Rav Cohen was asked whether a kashrus organization may hire a mashgiach currently employed by a different agency.

He prefaced his answer with a fascinating, behind-the-curtains look at how rabbanim rule on halachah. The mesorah of Lita, from Rav Chaim Volozhiner to Rav Moshe Feinstein, was to study the sugya and issue a psak based on their understanding of its conclusion, even if it differed with Rishonim. The mesorah in Hungary, though, was to cite all opinions, and then rule based on the majority.

As to the question itself, Rav Cohen said that all such queries — hiring a chef away from a different caterer, offering a higher salary for a cleaning lady, or hiring a rebbi who teaches at a different mosad — have the same answer. One may not directly ask the employee to leave his place of work, but one may advertise in a place that the person will notice it and call him on his own.

“This is the minhag ha’olam, and this is the acceptable psak,” Rav Cohen declared.

Some of the questions dealt with thorny issues that had no clear answer. What is the kashrus agency’s responsibility regarding the “ambience” of a facility where it provides a hechsher? One kashrus organization recalled having a Christian symbol at an event, and another recoiled at having to provide a hechsher at an event that featured inappropriate activity.

“I don’t know,” the rav responded. “It’s a judgmental thing.”

If there is pritzus, he said he would advise against it, but if it’s primarily a staid affair that also has some objectionable content, then he would permit it. But he emphasized the responsibility kashrus organizations have to save uninformed Yidden from eating treif.

What should a kashrus organization do if a mashgiach it employs is credibly accused of withholding a get from his wife or not paying child support? These things are a massive chillul Hashem, Rav Cohen responded.

“You are part of Klal Yisrael, and Klal Yisrael must help free an agunah,” he said. “I’m not saying to fire him yesterday. But you should replace him. Tell him that we are going to look for another mashgiach. You’ll probably find someone else.”

Are there grounds to be lenient when it comes to kashrus issues in retirement homes? Rav Cohen said yes, noting that a common expression in the Shulchan Aruch is that “a sick or elderly person is allowed.” He said, “It doesn’t say that the elderly people are sick, it says sick or old.”

I left the conference with a new appreciation of the Mishnah in Avos, “Hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, d’kula bah.” Turn the Torah around and examine it from every angle, because if you do so, you will discover that it addresses every issue and every question.

Tossing Rivalry to the Winds
One of Rabbi Moshe Reich’s early assignments after coming to work at the Kof-K kashrus agency was to take a senior Pepsi official out for lunch. It was approximately 13 years ago, and the soft drink giant’s vice president of operations was coming to the Kof-K headquarters in Teaneck.

Pepsi was the agency’s client, and Kof-K CEO Rabbi Dr. Zechariah Senter tasked Rabbi Reich with handling the executive. Rabbi Reich searched for an upscale kosher restaurant and took Rabbi Senter and the executive there.

As they were seated, a waitress came over to take their order.

“I’ll take a Diet Pepsi,” said Mr. Pepsi.

“I’m sorry, we don’t carry Pepsi,” she responded. “Can I get you a Coke?”

“No,” he said. “I’ll just have some water.”

Rabbi Reich, mortified for not thinking of this simple hitch, questioned him: Would he really not drink a Coke?

“I don’t understand, Rabbi,” Sherman replied in astonishment. “You’re from the Kof-K, would you eat from the OU?”

“Sure,” Rabbi Reich said.

Sherman stared at him in shock. He then told him that he had once taken his son to a game at Yankee Stadium, where Coke has the franchise. He told his son beforehand that there would be no drinks at the game. However, in middle of the game, his son begged for a drink.

“You know the rules, we only drink Pepsi,” he told his son. “I’d rather buy a beer and get arrested than drink a Coke.”

“That,” Rabbi Reich tells me, “is what real competition looks like in the outside world.”

The Jewish version of competition was on intense display at the recent Association of Kashrus Organizations conference, where 150 representatives from 75 kashrus agencies hobnobbed, traded tales from the field, and swapped ideas.

Rabbi Reich, who organized the confab, said it was “the largest conference AKO ever had.”

“I appreciate that Mishpacha is dedicating time for this, because I don’t think the kashrus world realizes how much we actually work together,” he said.

As a symbol of the unity, the conference was dedicated in memory of Rav Senter and Rav Don Yoel Levy. Rabbi Levy was niftar on Acharon shel Pesach at the height of Covid and had a quick levayah; Rabbi Senter was niftar a year later to the day and also had a rushed levayah to make a flight to Eretz Yisrael for kevurah.

Rabbi Ari Senter, the current director of kashrus standards at Kof-K, wanted to do something for them, and he worked with AKO to dedicate the conference in their memories. He asked each kashrus organization attending to take one of the ArtScroll Shas’s seventy-some volumes so they could make a siyum haShas, which took place alongside a hachnassas sefer Torah.

Rabbi Senter of Kof-K spoke about Rabbi Don Yoel Levy of OK, and Rabbi Meir Fogelman, Rabbi Levy’s son-in-law, paid tribute to the late Rabbi Senter.

“Everyone thought we made a mistake,” Rabbi Reich said. “People were asking, ‘Why is Rabbi Senter talking about Rabbi Levy, shouldn’t it be the opposite?’ But we told everyone we did this on purpose.”

This was Rabbi Reich’s third stint as AKO conference organizer.

“I felt like I was making a chasunah but I didn’t have to pay for it,” he joked. “I had to make a seating chart, trying to make sure that people who have things in common sit near each other.”

His first conference was in 2018, followed by another in 2020, which ran alongside the Siyum HaShas on daf yomi on January 1. The AKO organization was established in 1985 but reached its current format two decades ago. Responsibility for the annual conventions rotates among several agencies.

The current one was originally scheduled for the end of December, but with the Omicron variant spreading, Rabbi Senter felt it would be a chillul Hashem if there was a Covid outbreak because of it, so it was canceled.

Aside from the US and Canada, four other countries were represented — South Africa, Britain, Israel, and Australia. Several heimishe agencies attended for the first time. Rav Dovid Cohen was there as a guest the entire time, making himself available to answer questions privately.

One priority of conference organizers was the smaller kashrus agencies, since the Kof-K regularly travels to their cities to train in their mashgichim. There are seven major kashrus certifiers in North America — OU, OK, Star-K, Kof-K, and cRc in the United States, and COR in Ontario and MK in Montreal — and some five dozen smaller ones spread out throughout the country, from AKC in Atlanta to OVK in St. Louis to the Rabbinic Council of California. The conference held a special session on how to certify kashrus properly utilizing just one or two staffers.

Reflecting on the conference, Rabbi Reich said, “You had the new guard and the old guard getting together, having that handshake and getting to know each other. It was a tremendous display of achdus. I’m still getting messages from people who say they are still riding the coattails of the conference. That should be the ultimate message.”

 

 

Kosher Certification Has Gone Mainstream

Posted on: April 14th, 2022 by Kosher Michigan

Republished from Food Safety News

By Cookson Beecher on April 19, 2022

For the approximately 15.2 million Jewish people in the world, this is a time to celebrate Passover — the festival commemorating the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery in the 1200s BC. This year the holiday runs from April 15 through April 22.

As with other holidays, food is an important part of this annual celebration, with the main observances centering around a special home service called the seder, which includes a festive meal. The foods served must all be kosher.

Kosher Certification Agency Near Me - Kosher Supervision

Derived from Hebrew, kosher means to be “pure, proper or suitable for consumption.” It’s a term that describes foods that comply with dietary guidelines set by traditional Jewish law. Not only do these laws set forth which foods may be consumed, but also how they must be produced, processed and prepared. And which foods should not be eaten.

With the extra supervision required to be accepted as kosher, with oversight by rabbis for example, kosher food is perceived by many people — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — as being healthier and cleaner.

No wonder then that a kosher label on food attracts shoppers of all kinds. In fact, according to research in 2017 by Kosher Network International, the global market for kosher foods was worth $24 billion, with growth expected to hit 11.5 percent by 2025.

OK Kosher, one of the largest kosher certification organizations in the world, has certified about 700,000 products made by 4,000 manufacturers, which include Kraft, Heinz, Kellogg and General Mills. Even Coca Cola has gone Kosher.

Rabbi Eli Lando, executive manager of OK Kosher, said that by and large, “consumers see a kosher certification as a verification that a product is healthy, clean and safe. And while the certification has roots in religious traditions that are thousands of years old, it now speaks directly to the modern consumer’s demand for wholesome foods.”

Although there are 6 million Jews in the United States, according to World Population Review, Lando said Jewish people represent only 20 percent of the kosher product consumer base.

In other words, kosher has gone mainstream, with social media helping to boost people’s awareness of it.

Roger Horowitz, author of “Kosher USA,” describes a Kosher seal as a “silent salesman.

“It may seem ancient,” he said, but the people doing it are modern and in the modern marketplace.”

What’s kosher and what isn’t
Food that is kosher must adhere to specific Biblical-based dietary laws. Some of these rules require only eating animals that are kosher — cloven (split) hooved mammals that chew cud. These include cows, sheep, goats, lambs, oxen and deer. Cuts of beef from the hindquarters of the animal, such as flank, short loin, sirloin, round and shank, are not considered kosher.

Some meats, such as meat from pigs, rabbits, squirrels, camels, kangaroos and horses are not considered kosher.

Pigs? Pigs can transmit trichinellosis, or trichinosis, a disease transmitted by eating raw or undercooked pork contaminated with the parasite Trichinella, which is not visible to the naked eye. Symptoms range from nausea to heart and breathing problems. In the past, trichinosis was fairly common and can still be a problem in rural areas.

The best way to prevent trichinellosis is to cook meat to a temperature of 71 degrees C (160 degrees F). Freezing, curing or salting, drying, smoking, or microwaving meat may not kill infective parasites. Of course, In the case of kosher, you can prevent infections by not eating pork altogether. In Biblical days, this was a practical safeguard against it.

Certain domesticated fowl, such as chicken, geese, quail, dove and turkey may be eaten. But predator birds such as eagles and hawks may not.

Fish is considered kosher only if the fish has fins and scales. This would include tuna, salmon, halibut and pickerel. But shrimp, crab, oysters, lobster and other types of shellfish are not permitted. That’s because they have spread typhoid and are also a source of a type of hives.

Meanwhile fish and eggs and plant-based meats are classified as “neutral,” meaning they don’t contain milk or fish.

Fruits in their unprocessed forms are kosher but they can’t contain insects, which means they must be inspected to make sure no insects or larvae are present before being sold or eaten. Specially trained rabbis do the inspections.

Nuts and seeds and the oils from them are kosher, although sometimes the processing of these foods can make them non-kosher because of possible cross-contamination from equipment that was used for meat or dairy products.

Also, under kosher rules, meat and dairy may not be made or eaten together. In other words, it’s one or the other at mealtime. This is based on the belief that dairy foods and meat digest at unequal rates, which is hard on the body.

Grains for the most part are fine. But during Passover, all leavened grain products — those made with yeast or a leavening substance — are forbidden. But unleavened breads such as matzo are allowed.

Kosher slaughtering . . . and after
Kosher requires that an animal or bird be slaughtered by a trained kosher slaughterer. The process involves severing the trachea and esophagus with a special razor-sharp knife. This also severs the jugular vein, which kills the animal or bird instantaneously and is said to cause a minimal amount of pain to the animal or bird.

After the animal has been slaughtered, the internal organs are inspected for any abnormalities that would make the animal non-kosher. The lungs are also checked for abscesses and other health problems.

The blood, which is a medium for the growth of bacteria, is drained. Meat must be “koshered” within 72 hours after slaughter so that the blood won’t congeal. Eating the blood of an animal or bird is forbidden.

Labeling is important
Because foods nowadays can contain so many different ingredients and also because of the complexities of modern food processing, it would be hard for a consumer to know if a product is kosher or not. That’s where labeling comes in. A kosher label on the packaging indicates that the product has met all of the necessary requirements. For those who want to adhere to kosher dietary guidelines, the advice is to choose only foods with these labels as a way to avoid accidentally eating something that isn’t kosher.

In North America, kosher certification ranges from around $5,000 to $15,000 for annual certification. As well as regular inspections, unannounced inspections are also part of the certification process. Rabbis are involved throughout the certification process. This gives consumers added trust in kosher products because an extra set of eyes are involved.

According to the JIFA, the Jewish Initiative for Animals 74 percent of Americans chooses kosher based on concerns for food safety. In fact, of the people who buy kosher products, the majority point to food safety as their key concern. And previous research has shown that American shoppers believe that kosher food is safer.

Washington state dairyman Dick Klein, who isn’t Jewish, is one of them. He said he always buys kosher, if it’s on sale, because “it’s healthier and safer.”

Some problems
Meanwhile, JIFA, says that despite the fact that people think kosher food is inherently better, this is despite the fact that almost all kosher and non-kosher meat, poultry, dairy and eggs come from animals raised on factory farms, which raises concerns about the overuse of antibiotics.

When it comes to how kosher animals are bred and raised, JIFA says that kosher certification has no relationship to antibiotic use, health genetics, confinement, or access to pasture.

Food safety enters the picture
Although many people consider kosher foods to be safe when it comes to standard food-safety requirements, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Kosher Check, a Canadian certifying company, is a full-service certification agency — but one with an important difference, according to its website. While kosher agencies worldwide aim to certify that the ingredients and manufacturing processes of their clients follow the Jewish laws of kosher as set out in the Torah (the Jewish Bible) Kosher Check goes further.

Formerly BC Kosher, it was the only agency in the world that required its clients to be in good standing with all applicable food safety rules as a condition of kosher certification.

Now Kosher Check certification has been introduced for those manufacturers that want to promote not only their kosher compliance but their commitment to food safety as well.

The company says that certification of a company’s products and manufacturing processes by Kosher Check is a mark that “not only guarantees your ingredients and products kosher status, it also acts as a mark of assurance that food safety laws have been strictly followed to a minimum level of HACCP compliance.”

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) compliance requires businesses to identify potential food safety issues and review their entire food storage and handling processes and procedures. The goal of using HACCP is to ensure a business is HACCP compliant. Compliance implies all aspects of food storage and handling are conducted in a safe manner.

Kosher Check says it can work with companies that don’t meet this standard to achieve it.

The company’s website also says that this double-layered guarantee formalizes and reinforces the widely-held belief among consumers that Kosher products are safer to consume. Besides attracting Jewish shoppers, the Kosher Check label will attract “the throngs of shoppers concerned about food safety issues,” thus greatly expanding the market for a company’s kosher products.

Kosher Foods Industry Grows in U.S. and Globally

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Kosher Michigan

The awareness regarding health and wellness is rising rapidly. This trend has caused the demand and availability for various types of kosher food to grow speedily in the past several decades. This growth is expected to continue to rise over the next decade and beyond.

The global kosher food market is expected to reach a market size of $28.85 billion by 2028, and project a CAGR of 4.16% during the forecast period, 2019-2028. The base year considered for the market study is 2018, and the forecast period is between 2019 and 2028.

Key factors fuelling the global kosher food market growth: High prevalence of lactose intolerance, the demand for kosher food products among non-Jewish consumers, and an increase in the number of health-conscious consumers.

Rabbi Jason Miller of Kosher Michigan Kosher Certification Agency

 

In the 1990s, only 18 kosher certification agencies were functional across the world. With the expansion of the global kosher certification industry, the current number is estimated to be over 1,600 kosher certification agencies led by rabbis. Of this number, approximately 600 are found in the United States. Of the 600 kosher certification agencies in the U.S., the vast majority are run by Orthodox rabbis. Since the mid-2000s, a small number of U.S.-based kosher certification agencies have been started by non-Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, the founder and kosher director of Kosher Michigan — KM Kosher Certification Agency, based in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Rabbi Miller’s kosher organization now boasts hundreds of clients around North America plus dozens more in India. While Miller faced much pessimism when he launched KM back in 2008, he was determined to grow his kosher agency, which is now the largest non-Orthodox kosher certification agency in the world.

What has fueled the growth in the kosher market?

This growth is primarily attributed to customer demands for allergen-free, clean labels, organic, and vegan foods. As companies are continually adapting to kosher certification, it has become mandatory for raw material suppliers to be kosher certified. This upsurge in demand for kosher food products around the world has renewed prospects for enterprises, including raw material suppliers and kosher food manufacturers.

The consumption of kosher food by non-Jewish consumers is also propelling market growth in the kosher segment. The snacks and savory, bakery, and confectionery product segments, under the product category, are estimated to witness a significant compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during the forecast period. Snacks and savory items comprise rolls, wraps, sandwiches, bread, nachos, crackers, chips, gushers, and peanut butter, among several others. Bakery and confectionary products like cookies, pies, pastries, and muffins are usually prepared using flour. The growth of these segments is driven by emerging and new market players, and assorted food items.

The North American region is estimated to be the major contributor to the global market in terms of market share. The United States is second to Israel in terms of Jews and is one of the most lucrative markets for kosher food manufacturers. Therefore, the presence of Jews in the United States and Canada bolsters the kosher food market growth in the North American region. Furthermore, the adoption of kosher food by the non-Jewish community, owing to its benefits, is anticipated to offer potential expansion opportunities for the market players in the region.

The global market is witnessing potential lucrative opportunities, owing to the rising presence of varied kosher food products. The professional culinary sector has emerged as a positive trend, increasing the popularity of kosher food. Chefs are the key cuisine trend drivers. Online shopping is one of the leading distribution channels for kosher food products as a result of consumer behavior, availability, and variety.

Kosher Food Industry Set to Expand Greatly

Posted on: November 12th, 2021 by Kosher Michigan

Kosher Foods Market to See a Big Increase in 2023 and Beyond

“There’s no question that the kosher food industry has already grown significantly and is on a path toward historic expansion,” said Rabbi Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi and the founder of Kosher Michigan. Kosher Michigan is a kosher certification agency based in Rabbi Miller’s hometown of Metro Detroit, Michigan. Launched in 2008, Kosher Michigan (KM) has seen immense year-over-year growth in both the number of kosher clients as well as the shear number of food products KM has certified as kosher. An expansion to India and some Far East countries in 2015 has led KM’s advancement in the spice and dry foods industry.

Rabbi Miller, the kosher director of Kosher Michigan Kosher Certification Agency, referenced a recent competitive landscape summary of the “Kosher Foods Market” report that detailed the essence of what is driving the record numbers of growth in the kosher food industry. The report Rabbi Miller referred to evaluates historical data on the kosher foods market growth and compares it with current market situations.

Rabbi Jason Miller of Kosher Michigan Kosher Certification Agency

 

Further information about the Kosher Food Industry report also focuses on market share, the highest growth rate of emerging players, business strategies, production, and prospects. The report provides data to the customers that are of historical & statistical significance informative. It helps to enable readers to have a detailed analysis of the development of the market.

The Kosher Foods market report provides a detailed analysis of the major market players with the overall market overview of their business, recent developments, expansion plans, gross margin, profit status, and strategies. Additionally, this report includes the current market opportunity of the market. The research report contains development restraints and challenges faced which can control the market growth and risk. The company profile discovers a business overview and financial information include economic growth and recovery during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kosher Foods Market Segment and Scope:

The Kosher Foods market report growth depends on product application, type, technology, and region. This report covers a comprehensive outlook on market size, regional sales, growth rate, global opportunities, and manufacturing costs in the respective regions. It provides detailed information on emerging trends, leading competitors based on the technology-oriented innovations to demonstrate the Kosher Foods market growth and portfolio strategies. Each market segmentation allows readers to grasp the difficulties of the current market situations. Our report provides insights into the financial fluctuations of all the major players, along with its product benchmarking and SWOT analysis. The competitive landscape includes development strategies, market share, and market ranking analysis globally.

The global Kosher Foods market report provides a holistic evaluation of the market for the forecast period (2021–2027). The report comprises of various segments as well an analysis of the trends and factors that are playing a substantial role in the market. These factors; the market dynamics, involves the drivers, restraints, opportunities and challenges through which the impact of these factors in the market are outlined. An extended view of regional analysis aims to bring readers closer to market opportunities and risks. It also examines the economic scenarios with the impact of Covid-19 analysis is expected to grow the market on a large and small scale.

Geographical Analysis:

The global Kosher Foods Market research report provides compressive data of the current market, geographical regions, and sub-regions are worldwide. This report gives market size estimates and forecasts in different countries. The report focuses on quantitative records with applicable qualitative insights. The report highlights the significant regions are North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and Africa, South America.

Some of the key questions answered in this report:

What will the market growth rate, growth momentum or acceleration market carries during the forecast period?
Which are the key factors driving the Kosher Foods market?
What was the size of the emerging Kosher Foods market by value in 2021?
What will be the size of the emerging Kosher Foods market in 2027?
Which region is expected to hold the highest market share in the Kosher Foods market?
What trends, challenges and barriers will impact the development and sizing of the global Kosher Foods market?

Why is 41% of America’s Packaged Food Kosher

Posted on: March 9th, 2018 by Kosher Michigan

Less than 2% of the US population is Jewish. So why is 41% of the country’s packaged food kosher?

By Deena Shanker

Considering how few people keep kosher in the US—Jews make up less than 2% of the American population, and only a portion of them follow Jewish dietary laws—it’s fairly astounding that more than 40% of the country’s new packaged food and beverage products in 2014 are labeled as being kosher. That makes it the top label claim on food and beverages, according to market research firm Mintel, beating out the ever-present “gluten-free” label and even allergen claims.

“Kosher” food meets the broad range of requirements of Jewish dietary laws. The laws define, for example, which animals are and are not allowed to be eaten (cows and chickens are ok, pigs and shellfish are not), as well as how the animals are slaughtered, and how their meat is prepared; the laws also lay out which foods can and cannot be mixed (no meat with dairy, for example), and even, when it comes to wine, who is allowed to touch it.

To be certified as kosher, food companies must work with certification bodies like the Orthodox Union (“OU”), which says it certifies an estimated 65% to 71% of kosher foods, an endeavor that involves both paperwork, on-site supervision, and payment to the certifying bodies.

In 2009, market research firm Packaged Facts estimated the kosher industry to be worth as much as $17 billion. And the label’s relative popularity seems to be growing: While it was on only 27% of packaged foods in 2009, in 2014 it appeared on 41%. New business for OU certifications grows by about 10% each year, according to Phyllis Koegel, the group’s marketing director.

But if less than 2% of Americans are Jewish, and not all Jews even keep kosher (an estimated 80% to 85% don’t), then who is buying all of this kosher food?

“[T]here are other consumer groups that buy these foods,” Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel, tells Quartz.

Muslims are one such group, she says. While there are even fewer Muslims than Jews in the US, their numbers are growing. They now account for 0.9% of the US population, according to the Pew Research Center, up from 0.4% in 2007. Muslims have their own set of dietary laws, called halal. But “if they’re not able to find halal, they rely on kosher,” says Koegel.

However, there are differences between kosher and halal, and not everyone agrees with OU and Mintel’s assessment: “We have no statistics to indicate any appreciable number of Muslims seek kosher products,” says Roger Othman, CEO of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.

Many consumers go for kosher foods for completely non-religious reasons. Some “gravitate toward kosher products for positive health or taste perceptions, or for vegetarian reasons,” says Topper. Others buy kosher to avoid certain allergens, like shellfish. But not all of these reasons are based on a correct understanding of what “kosher” actually means.

The word “kosher,” says Koegel, has connotations of healthfulness and cleanliness. But as she points out, plenty of kosher foods, like OU-certified candy, are decidedly unhealthy. As for cleanliness, she says, the OU does provide an extra set of eyes on a facility and wouldn’t certify a company that wasn’t meeting its standards. (But whether it upholds its own standards has been questioned.)

Some of the kosher market’s expansion has come from already popular, non-kosher foods making the switch, like when Oreos removed lard and got certified in the late 1990s. And now and then the kosher aisle will have a cross-over hit, like when Lil’ Kim rapped about Moscato wine in 2005, and Bartenura, a kosher wine company, became an unexpected favorite for hip-hop musicians and their fans.

Rabbi Jason Miller Meets Demand for Kosher Products (Oakland Press – December 1, 2013)

Posted on: December 1st, 2013 by Kosher Michigan

Rabbi meets demand for Kosher products

Rabbi Jason Miller of Kosher Michigan
Rabbi helps meet demand for Kosher products. Rabbi Jason Miller launched Kosher Michigan, (KM), to help bring Kosher products to market. Miller works with restaurants, bakeries and manufacturers.His is the first kosher certification agency owned by a non-Orthodox rabbi to have a booth and exhibit at Kosherfest.

He was an exhibitor at the 2013 trade show in Secaucus, NJ, Oct. 29-30.

Kosherfest marked its 25th anniversary as an annual meeting and trade show and product resource for the kosher trade industry: supermarket, restaurant and foodservice buyers.

According to Miller, founder and director of Kosher Michigan, “My certification agency has grown over the past five plus years and becoming a part of Kosherfest for the first time is a milestone for me.”

Menachem Lubinsky, co-producer and founder of Kosherfest said, “In the last 25 years we have seen the number of kosher-certified items grow from a few thousand to almost 200,000. Major food companies have changed their ingredients and equipment in order to get kosher certification, and consumers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, seek the kosher symbol on the food products they buy more than ever before.”

Attendees to Kosherfest represent a broad spectrum of the industry, from chain and independent restaurants, caterers and specialty markets, to grocery/supermarket, big box and club chains, independent retailers, manufacturing ingredient buyers, distributors and buying agents, among many other industry professionals. Kosher Michigan was a co-exhibitor with Excalibur Seasonings, a large spice company in Pekin, Illinois that has been certified by Kosher Michigan for the past few years.

“As a non-Orthodox rabbi it has certainly been an uphill battle to gain acceptance in the kosher certification industry,” Miller explains. “However, it has been a worthwhile endeavor for me. Today Kosher Michigan certifies over fifty businesses and that number is growing each month. KM has expanded outside of Michigan and the KM hechsher (kosher symbol) is found on products sold throughout the U.S. and Canada.”

Miller started Kosher Michigan in 2008 to promote the observance of the Jewish dietary laws. KM is endorsed by the International Rabbinical Assembly and under the rabbinic advisement of Rabbi Joel Roth, a world renowned kashrut expert.

People of all faiths are purchasing kosher food for health and safety reasons. Additionally, people are purchasing kosher food for lifestyle and dietary reasons such as vegan, vegetarian, and lactose-free. There are more than 400,000 kosher certified products in the United States.

FYI

Kosher Michigan, 5657 W. Maple Road, Suite B, West Bloomfield Township 248-535-7090, koshermichigan.com.

Thanksgivukkah: Light Menorah, Pass Turkey (Detroit News – November 27, 2013)

Posted on: November 27th, 2013 by Kosher Michigan

For Thursday: Light menorah, pass turkey

Mark Hicks | The Detroit News

This Thanksgiving marks a first at Margo Grossman’s home: Menorah candles will burn while latkes as well as blue-and-white Star of David-shaped sugar cookies accompany heaping portions of turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and other dishes.

Thursday is the national holiday honoring the Pilgrims’ harvest with help from the Wampanoag American Indians in the 1600s. It’s also the first full day of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates emancipation from religious persecution in the second century B.C.

For many Jews across Metro Detroit, the rare convergence is a chance to combine celebrations of each holiday — shared goods, family gatherings and more to show an appreciation for blessings — into a joyful period some have christened “Thanksgivukkah.”

“It’s a cool, once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Grossman, a transition consultant from Franklin. “I’m definitely welcoming it. Doing the holidays together is fun and different. … It’ll be interesting.”

By some calculations, this is the first time since 1888 Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah have fallen on the same day. And, according to a Chabad.org article, the two holidays would next coincide in 2070.

To traditionalists and grateful diners alike, the unusual occurrence this year — Hanukkah begins at sundown today — links national history with spiritual heritage.

“It really highlights the fact that the Jewish-American community is American,” said Rabbi Steven Rubenstein of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield Township.

To some, the holidays share similarities.

Having fled Europe seeking economic viability and freedom to practice their religion, the pilgrims faced enormous challenges — including the threat of death from disease and starvation — adapting to a tough new terrain, said the Rev. John Staudenmaier, a history professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

“That’s the context that originally framed the Thanksgiving feast and it is deeply important for the people who ate that feast,” he said. “They knew they couldn’t have done it on their own. … Thanksgiving is a celebration of survival but also of bravery by people desperate for a fresh start.”

Hanukkah — also known as the “Festival of Lights” — marks the victory of the Maccabees and their allies over Syrian forces, allowing them to recapture the desecrated Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

It also recalls the belief that a single day’s supply of lamp oil miraculously lasted eight full days during the temple’s rededication.

While non-Jews have associated Hanukkah, which often has fallen in December, with Christmas, this year the proximity to Thanksgiving and the holidays’ related themes seem more sensible.

“Thanksgiving fits a lot better with Hanukkah,” said Debra Darvick, a Jewish author from Birmingham. “It resonates more.”

With the overlapping observances in mind, some are creatively mixing traditions.

Rabbi Jason Miller of Kosher Michigan, a certification agency, and Patrick Coleman, owner of the Southern Nosh restaurant in Southfield that serves kosher vegetarian items and soul food, created a sweet potato latke.

A traditional Hanukkah item, latkes typically are cooked with potatoes and oil. But the Southern Nosh version uses a sweet potato — a popular ingredient in African-American and soul food kitchens, Coleman said.

Since adding them to the menu this month, cooks have averaged about a dozen orders a day, he said.

“Folks are really enjoying them. They think they’re very tasty. … They’re literally going out of the restaurant like hotcakes — no pun intended.”

The day after lighting the first candle in their menorah for Hanukkah, Lisa Soble Siegmann of Bloomfield Hills and her family plan to visit a relative’s home in Ohio for turkey, latkes, cranberry sauce, challah stuffing, pecan and chocolate gelt pie; games with dreidels, the four-sided spinning tops; and songs extolling both holidays.

“It’s going to be a night of fun and family and being together,” she said.

For Leah Gawel’s family in Novi, the convergence is more of a curiosity.

After a feast complete with latkes Thursday, they will light the menorah and let their children open gifts. Holiday decorations — colored lights, a banner — adorn their home.

“It just makes it interesting, makes it a little fun,” Gawel said. “It will be something the kids will remember.”

Partly to accommodate those celebrating Thanksgiving, organizers of the third annual “Menorah in the D” plan to hold the public lighting of the 24-foot-tall steel/glass menorah and the related community party in Detroit’s Campus Martius next week, said Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov of the Shul-Chabad Lubavitch in West Bloomfield Township. The ceremony usually occurs earlier during Hanukkah.

Some of the coordinators also are expected to display a dreidel-shaped mobile and distribute tin menorahs along with chocolate coins during America’s Thanksgiving Parade on Thursday, said Ben Rosenzweig, a member of the Shul.

That underscores a central theme of Hanukkah that dovetails with Thanksgiving, he said. “The idea of Hanukkah is good defeating evil and the idea that everybody has the freedom of religion to practice what connects them spiritually.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2117

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131127/METRO08/311270030#ixzz2mun1VBa1

Passover and Pet Food

Posted on: March 26th, 2013 by Kosher Michigan

As a kosher supervisor (mashgiach) and the owner of a kosher certification agency, I am constantly impressed by the level of attention, respect and genuine care that non-Jewish business owners demonstrate for their kosher observant customers. I once again witnessed this first hand when I met the owner of Premier Pet Supply last week.

Premier Pet Supply - Michigan
Mike Palmer, who is half Chaldean and half Italian, owns the pet food and supply store with his uncle, the store’s founder. Located in Beverly Hills, a suburb of Detroit, the store has received a lot of positive attention of late because of Mike’s knack for publicity and his people skills (he obviously has great pet skills too!). The store is consistently named best pet supply store in the area and Mike was just named one of the Elite 40 Under 40 for Oakland County, Michigan.
Mike called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would come by his store before Passover to answer some questions about kosher for Passover pet food. Since my family doesn’t own any pets and I haven’t certified kosher dog food in over a year (the dog treat company Kosher Michigan certified went out of business in 2010), I decided to brush up on the laws concerning pet food on Passover. And it’s a good thing I did because when I got to the store I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge Mike possessed concerning the kosher laws and Passover. He knew more about the intricacies of the holiday than many Jewish people I know.
As we walked the aisles of his store I checked the pet food that he had labeled as being appropriate for Passover and there were no errors. He explained that he had read an article by the Star-K kosher certification agency and felt he had a good understanding of what makes pet food kosher for Passover, but he wanted to run some questions by me. We had a long conversation about kitniyot(legumes, which most Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat on Passover) as well as the custom of feeding the family dog in the garage on Passover, which many families follow. Over and again, I heard Mike express how important he believes it is to provide quality service to his Jewish customers and ensure that they can purchase the best food for their pets on Passover while adhering to the holiday’s regulations.
Premier Pet Supply - Michigan
In terms of what Jewish law says about pet food on Passover, the most important thing to remember is that chametz (leavened products) from the five grains (barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat) is forbidden to eat or derive benefit from. Feeding chametz to one’s pet would be deriving benefit from it. Additionally, a Jewish person is not allowed to even possess any chametz on Passover.
As I explained to Mike, while kitniyot (legumes) are not eaten by most Ashkenazi Jews, they may be fed to pets on Passover. Also, one does not need to change over the dishes for pets, meaning that the usual food bowls for pets can be used on Passover but they should be cleaned out first.

Dog Food Kosher Passover

A 2009 article in the NY Times featured a Passover Seder for dogs that took place at a Chicago pet food store to promote Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company which sells Kosher for Passover products. (Joshua Lott/Chicago Tribune)

There is a custom of “selling” one’s pet to a non-Jew on Passover. The reason for this has to do with deriving benefit from chametz. Thus, if one leaves a pet with a non-Jew during Passover the pet owner will still derive benefit from chametz when the non-Jewish friend feeds the pet. Therefore, some observant Jews will “sell” the pet to the non-Jewish friend on the condition it is sold back at the conclusion of the holiday in the same fashion as the “legal fiction” sale of chametz.

While many Jews are not familiar with the laws governing pet food on Passover, it is reassuring that there are pet supply store owners like Mike Palmer who are concerned about this. It is admirable that he has taken the time to research this subject and has gone out of his way to help his Jewish customers find the right pet food for Passover.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Posted on: September 6th, 2011 by Kosher Michigan

 

Rabbi_Asher_LopatinMagnolia Bakery at 108 N. State Street, right across from Macy’s, has just opened its doors and is certified by Kosher Michigan, a supervision agency headed by Rabbi Jason Miller. Even though the Kosher Michigan label is based in Detroit, I am thrilled that Magnolia is under the direct hashgacha (supervision) of Will Kaplowitz, a member of Anshe Sholom and someone whom I trust fully. I have concluded that Magnolia Bakery in Chicago fully meets the Kashrut standards of the Anshe Sholom community. All the products should be considered dairy, and may be enjoyed at the bakery or at home.

Magnolia is a chain that standardizes all of its products and ingredients, and the five Los Angeles stores are under the top-notch supervision of the Rabbinical Council of California. Those same ingredients are used at the Chicago bakery. Will has checked out everything in the Magnolia bakery in Chicago, and he confirms that every ingredient is under strict rabbinical supervision, including the hot drinks (with the exception of unflavored coffee and plain cocoa powder, neither of which need supervision). All dishes and utensils in the bakery were bought new and were never used before it opened as a kosher institution. In Los Angeles, as in Chicago, Magnolia is open on Saturdays. However, there is no issue eating Magnolia’s products (at any time when the eating of chametz is permissible) because Jews are not doing the baking, and they are not baking on Shabbat for Jews in particular.

I have met with Rabbi Miller, and reviewed with him the strict contract he has with the bakery. The contract forbids the bakery from mixing any outside ingredients with the products they sell, and requires employees to keep personal food away from the kitchen or baking area. Even though Kosher Michigan has been supervising kosher institutions in the Detoit area for four years already, in Chicago it is a new supervision.  I am impressed by both Rabbi Miller’s sincerity and earnestness, and his willingness to consult Orthodox authorities on halachic issues (he himself has ordination from JTS). It means a lot that his mashgiach on site is one of our most respected members, who is knowledgeable, observant, and in close contact with me. I will continue to be in touch with Rabbi Miller and Will to constantly confirm the reliability of this new supervision.

To reiterate, at this time, Magnolia Bakery in Chicago fully meets the standards of Kashrut of our community here in Lakeview. Please note that Ashkenazic Jews are strict about only eating Pat Yisrael – Jewish baked breads – between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Since the baked foods in the bakery are baked by non-Jews, one should wait until after Yom Kippur to eat their products. After Yom Kippur, I would personally eat their products, both in the store and take out.

Gmar chatima tova,

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Conservative Rabbi Takes Kashrut Challenge Up a Notch (JTA – April 11, 2011)

Posted on: April 11th, 2011 by Kosher Michigan

Conservatives taking kashrut challenge up a notch

JTA | By Sue Fishkoff · April 11, 2011

Rabbi Jason Miller - Kosher Michigan

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — The Conservative movement’s ethical kosher initiative may not have been intended as a wedge into the Orthodox monopoly over kosher supervision. But the planned rollout this summer of the Conservative-backed seal of ethical kosher production, the Magen Tzedek, coincides with an increase in the number of Conservative rabbis acting as kosher supervisors.

“I see an uptick,” said Rabbi Paul Plotkin, chairman of the kashrut subcommittee of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the legal body of the Conservative movement.

At a time of growing activism in the Conservative movement around the issue of kashrut, the Conservative rabbinate seems to be moving into the kashrut business like never before.

Conservative rabbis for years have been giving kosher supervision to their own synagogue kitchens, as well as to local caterers and retail establishments patronized by their congregations. But they largely left commercial kosher supervision to the Orthodox.

That’s beginning to change, say Conservative rabbis active in the field. It’s partly due to the energy generated by the Magen Tzedek initiative, which will rate kosher food manufacturers according to prescribed standards of ethical behavior regarding workers, animals, the environment and financial dealings. It’s also a natural extension of Conservative interest in promoting kashrut, rabbis in the movement say.

“Our rabbis are as knowledgable about kashrut as their Orthodox colleagues, and care about it as much as they do,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s main rabbinical group. “But our emphasis is on raising Jewish adherence to kashrut observance rather than professional ritual kashrut supervision. Magen Tzedek is our unique contribution to building awareness around the impact that kashrut is intended to have upon our full development as Jews.”

The Magen Tzedek is being tested at three kosher plants to see how well the auditing process works. Once testing concludes after Passover, those three manufacturers will go through the actual Magen Tzedek evaluation procedure, and the first kosher foods carrying the new seal should be on supermarket shelves before Rosh Hashanah, according to commission co-chair Rabbi Michael Siegel.

The identity of the companies involved in the trial is being kept under wraps, but at least one is a “major food producer,” according to Rabbi Morris Allen, Magen Tzedek’s program director.

Conservative Judaism, like Orthodoxy, accepts the Torah’s commandments as obligatory, including kashrut. While the same general laws of kashrut apply, there are some distinctions — notably the standards governing wine, cheese and certain fish.

In recent years, Conservative kashrut certification has grown.

In 2008, Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit founded Kosher Michigan, which certifies nearly 30 products and establishments. In addition to the bakeries and ice-cream parlors typically supervised by Conservative rabbis, Miller oversees a company that makes dried wheat used as an ingredient in other kosher products, and in March he opened the glatt kosher dining plan at Michigan State University.

“I got into this reluctantly, but once I did, it became a passion and a mission to show that kosher-observant individuals need not rely on Orthodox hashgachah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for kosher certification. “I wasn’t waving the banner five or 10 years ago, but once I became part of the kosher certification world, I realized the injustice of the Orthodox monopoly.”

In Minneapolis-St. Paul, a group of Conservative rabbis launched MSP Kosher last July. Headed by Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, the agency does not charge for its service, which Olitzky says is aimed at providing more kosher food for Jews who do not necessarily adhere to the stricter standards required by Orthodox supervision, such as glatt kosher meat.

“Plenty of people in the Jewish community who keep kosher will eat dairy out,” he says. “I’m not interested in going into hashgachah as a business. I don’t think it should be a business.”

In the past two decades, Conservative rabbis have spearheaded lawsuits challenging a number of states’ kosher laws on the grounds that they constitute government interference in religious matters. In every case, the courts agreed that the existing laws indeed privileged Orthodox definitions of kashrut and overturned them. New kosher laws in those states only require that establishments advertising themselves as kosher disclose their kosher standards, not that they subscribe to Orthodox certification.

“It’s a fair, nonsectarian way to acknowledge there are different approaches to kashrut,” said Rabbi Shalom Lewis, who was behind a recent case brought on his behalf in Atlanta by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Orthodox reaction to these legal challenges has varied from shrugs to protestation. In New York and New Jersey, Orthodox rabbis in charge of enforcing the new laws say they do a disservice to kosher consumers who, the rabbis say, are interested only in Orthodox certification.

In Georgia, Rabbi Reuven Stein, director of supervision of the Atlanta Kashruth Commission, said he was “disappointed” by Lewis’ lawsuit, calling it unnecessary and unhelpful.

“Conservative rabbis do give hechsherim, and we’ve never had an issue with it,” he said, using the Hebrew word for kosher certification.

Conservative leaders long have said that Magen Tzedek is not a replacement for Orthodox kosher certification, and only will be given to manufactured products already carrying a recognized kosher label, or to raw products such as fruits and vegetables that don’t need certification.

Even so, the Magen Tzedek leadership characterizes its relationship with the Orthodox Union, whose label will appear on two of the three first products carrying the new ethical seal, as friendlier than the OU describes it.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU’s Kosher Division, stands by the position he articulated soon after the May 2008 immigration raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant. The Iowa plant’s demise pushed the Magen Tzedek project to the front burner of Conservative movement priorities.

“We believe that all these important issues — the environment, workers’ rights and so on — are most effectively handled by government agencies that have the expertise and the mandate to monitor them,” Gernack told JTA.

He said the OU was “dismayed” at Allen’s appearance on a recent episode of the TV show “American Greed” devoted to former Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin, who is now serving a 27-year prison sentence for financial fraud.

“The sentence is a travesty,” Genack said.

That doesn’t mean the OU will hinder Magen Tzedek or any other additional certification a kosher food manufacturer might seek.

“If there is a company that wants to use Magen Tzedek, we will not object to it appearing on the label. We also would not object to them putting halal on their label,” Genack said, referring to Muslim dietary laws. “These are marketing decisions the company makes on its own.”

 

CONTACT DETAIL

KM KOSHER CERTIFICATION AGENCY

5657 W. Maple Road
Suite B
West Bloomfield, MI 48322

Phone: 248.535.7090

Monday – Friday 9 am – 5 pm
Closed Saturday and Sunday

 
 

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