Why is 41% of America’s Packaged Food Kosher

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.

David Kraemer’s Review of Roger Horowitz’s “Kosher USA”

From Treif to Treat: How Oreos, Coke and Jell-O Became Kosher

‘Kosher USA’ is a detailed account of the scientific and business-related aspects of the history of kashrut, including the battles to allow observant Jews to enjoy forbidden favorites.

By Professor David Kraemer
Haaretz Daily

 

“Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food,” by Roger Horowitz, Columbia University Press, 320 pp., $35

 
Not so very long ago, obtaining kosher food was a relatively simple affair. The food you ate was available in your garden or local market. Ingredients were seasonal, simple and few. There were no preservatives as such, so durable foods could be stored; perishable foods might be smoked, pickled or salted. In general, you acquired, prepared and ate your food all within a day or two.

By virtue of the transparency of such markets, there were no kosher signs or organizations granting formal kashrut certification; your meat had to be slaughtered by someone who was approved by the local rabbi, but nothing more was demanded.

Kosher USA Book - Roger Horowitz

Kosher USA Book – Roger Horowitz

 

Then, in the 20th century, kashrut changed forever. Increasingly, food production was industrialized, the sources of ingredients often distant and obscure. Whereas in earlier times you could see the grain or potato or onion you were buying in the market bin, and you knew what kind of fat you were using to fry or flavor your food – now everything was prepackaged, and ingredient lists, filled with chemical names and technical terms, did an inadequate job of allowing you to separate the kosher from the non-kosher. Only professional rabbinic overseers, increasingly employed by kashrut organizations, had the expertise to determine what you were permitted to buy. Kosher symbols on packaging became essential to the observant community.

Nowhere did this process occur earlier or more completely than in the United States, which also happened to be, and continues to be, home to one of the largest Jewish communities on Earth. The experience of this community, therefore, is of extraordinary interest to anyone interested in modern Judaism. Thus, Roger Horowitz’s “Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food” is a rich account of its path through the transition just described. There is no prior book that documents the history of kashrut in America with such detail (though Sue Fishkoff’s “Kosher Nation” covers some of the same territory from a different perspective).

The story Horowitz’s book tells is a fascinating one, and he does a masterful job sleuthing and documenting the development of kashrut and the kosher food industry from the major waves of Jewish immigration in the early 20th century through the status quo of the early 21st.

After a cursory history of the origins and development of kashrut from antiquity, Horowitz begins his account with a discussion of the complications and controversies regarding the kashrut of Coca-Cola — not merely a soft drink but a symbol of American culture and power.

Recalling the important place Coke had on his seder table when he was a child, Horowitz reports that when he looked into the story of its kashrut, he quickly discovered that the standard account — according to which Atlanta Rabbi Tobias Geffen persuaded the company, in 1934-35, to change the drink’s formula to make it acceptable — is full of holes. He recounts that the controversy over Coke’s kashrut began before Geffen got involved, and continued until the late 1950s.

So what was the full story? The ingredient that rendered Coca-Cola — and many other processed foods — a kashrut problem was glycerin, derived primarily from the fats of unkosher animals. An earlier rabbi had declared Coke kosher, but didn’t understand the origins of glycerin. Geffen ruled that such glycerin was unacceptable, even in minute quantities, but he persuaded Coca-Cola to use glycerin of vegetable origin, and thus saved Coke for the kosher table.

Coca-Cola. Author Horowitz remembered how important it was at the seder meal and looked into the story of its kashrut. Bloomberg
However, an Orthodox chemist by the name of Abraham Goldstein, whom Horowitz views as the protagonist of the story, demanded greater stringency, insisting that Coke’s sourcing of glycerin was still suspect. He challenged the expertise of rabbis in rendering such opinions, insisting that, in the modern industrial context, only someone trained in chemistry, like himself, could make an educated judgment.

Goldstein was relentless in promoting this position, championing it through the increasingly popular publication, the “Kosher Food Guide,” put out by the Organized Kashrut Laboratories (aka OK Labs). Ultimately, it was his approach that prevailed, making scientific considerations central to kashrut decisions until the present day. Coke “remained” kosher by changing its formula to conform with Goldstein’s standards.

Glycerin wasn’t the only ingredient that created such problems. The kashrut of a variety of foods popular in the 1950s and ’60s, such as Jell-O and marshmallows, was subject to question on account of the gelatin that was essential to their manufacture. Gelatin might be extracted from various sources, kosher and unkosher, and earlier rabbinic authorities had mostly given it a green light, whatever its source, on account of the radical transformation of the original substance in the process of making gelatin. But during the period in question, gelatin came to be made primarily from collagen originating in pigs. This, Horowitz writes, was a “ticking time bomb,” because kosher consumers would never accept an ingredient with such a source, no matter how changed it might be.

Partly as a response to this reality, the rabbinic establishment came to accept the more restrictive view championed by Goldstein with respect to ingredients with unkosher sources. However, Horowitz perceptively writes, “such a dramatic change indicates that something more than a rethinking of kosher law was at work… something that closely touched basic issues of Jewish identity in postwar America.”

What was this “something?” In Horowitz’s view, the “Orthodox were becoming more stringent to ward off the challenge posed by Conservative Judaism.”
This may well be part of the explanation. But then why admit the crucial place of science in questions of kashrut, particularly since attention to science and other modern disciplines was part of what characterized the approach of Conservative Judaism in the first place? Besides, the rightward direction of kashrut practice was part of a much larger rightward inclination in Orthodoxy, as amply documented by Samuel Heilman in “Sliding to the Right.”

What was it about life after the Holocaust that might have influenced these trends? What about changes in the demographics of Jews in the U.S.? About what was happening in religious practice in Israel and how Israel affected the Diaspora? There is a considerable literature on all of these questions, yet Horowitz seems not to be familiar with it; in any case, it doesn’t influence his analysis, and this is an unfortunate weakness.\

One of the great strengths of the book is Horowitz’s discussions of business considerations in shaping the growth or shrinkage of the market for kosher foods (Horowitz, as a historian of American business, is the person to write this history). Energizing growth were such factors as the greater efficiency of manufacturing a single product for both observant Jewish and other markets rather than having different production lines — which led, for example, to the decision to make Oreos kosher so that they could be used in Cookies and Cream ice cream. This was the answer to many a Jewish child’s dream, as before they could only long for the popular but forbidden cookie!

Also crucial to successes enjoyed by kosher food manufacturers was the perception among gentiles that a kashrut mark was a sign of purity and quality, making kosher products more desirable. Kosher manufacturers consciously sought to take advantage of this broader market, and their advertising often targeted non-Jews directly. Hebrew National hot dogs, sold in super markets and not just kosher butcher shops, and advertised as “answer[ing] to a higher authority,” is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon.

Horowitz’s discussion of kosher wines is particularly well done, weaving a story of both a growing and a shrinking market – a trajectory that, in his view, leaves observant Jews in a more marginal position than is commonly understood. Horowitz begins by recounting the growth of the market for sweet kosher wine — made by Manischewitz — among poorer minorities, who appreciated its lower cost and sweeter taste.

Correctly sensing a potential boon to its sales, the company enthusiastically promoted its product to this market. But — in some measure due to racist attitudes — Jews began to eschew the wine, and even led some to question its kashrut. Most Jews turned to other kosher wines, and, with the development of more refined tastes, to drier wines. But the need, in America, for wine that was mevushal (“boiled”) — so that non-Jews would be permitted to serve it at Jewish affairs (in general, the touch of a non-Jew renders kosher wine impermissible, but Jewish law permits it if is mevushal) — meant that the quality of kosher wines was compromised.

Unlike many other kosher products, kosher wine never developed a reputation for quality, and the market for such wines remains overwhelmingly limited to observant Jews. The final chapters of the book are devoted to the production and sale of kosher meat. Again, Horowitz offers a fine history of kosher slaughter in the U.S., along with the kosher marketplace and its changes. He describes how kosher slaughterhouses were originally a local affair, located, for example, on both the far west and far east sides of Manhattan (the meat-packing district and the present property of the United Nations).

Following World War II, when meat production was increasingly industrialized, moving to massive plants in the Midwest, maintaining kashrut presented a problem: To assure that the blood could still be extracted from the flesh through salting, carcasses had to be washed every three days while being transported to local markets. This was common practice in the 1950s and later, until the slaughtering plants began salting and packaging the meat themselves.

However, solving such problems created other issues, as animals came to be treated as mere meat-producing commodities, and cruelty to animals (in how they are raised and slaughtered) has led to disgust and condemnation. This is not problem unique to kosher meat, but it is particularly difficult to ameliorate, as kosher slaughter does not permit stunning before the knife is put to the neck.

Horowitz offers a fine history of both the ethical problems involved in kosher slaughter and the development of organizations that seek to improve conditions in the slaughterhouses. As a journalistic history of kashrut in America, Horowitz’s book is to be recommended. But its journalistic quality is both a strength and a weakness. Horowitz is a reporter who does superb research, and, as a business historian, he is very attentive to the dynamics of the market. But the market is never the full story, and his reportage is rarely accompanied by a fuller analysis. He almost never incorporates consideration of sociological or social-religious factors, and when he does, his analysis is cursory, at best.

There are, for this reader, other weaknesses that should also be mentioned. Seeking to render his discussion more accessible, Horowitz frequently cites his experiences with his own family and neighborhood. But his virtually exclusive reference to the life of Jews on the Upper West Side of Manhattan makes both the author and the neighborhood seem parochial, and leaves the reader asking, “What about the rest of Jewish America?”

Finally, I have some question about the author’s Hebraic proficiency: his translation of b’lios as “taste” (as opposed to “[material that is] absorbed”) is incorrect, if serviceable for his purposes, and he repeatedly — and incorrectly — refers to the “ethical kosher” organization Magen Tzedek as Magden Tzedek, an awkward error.

Despite these problems, I strongly recommend Horowitz’s books to anyone interested in the topic. His history is superb, and his work will allow others to offer their own analyses and interpretations. He lays a very strong foundation here, and for that he is to be commended.

 

David Kraemer is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the author of “Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages.”
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/books/.premium-1.722415

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

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)

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

Kosherfest 2013 Includes Conservative Hekhsher (JTA – October 13, 2013)

At Kosherfest, a 40-pound chicken nugget and a Conservative hechsher

JTA.org | Julie Wiener | October 28, 2013

Since the whole point of chicken nuggets is bite-sized convenience, showing off the world’s largest one — as Empire Kosher Poultry plans to do tomorrow — seems a bit oxymoronic, kind of like “jumbo shrimp.”
Not that any shellfish — jumbo or otherwise — will come anywhere near Empire’s record-setting nugget, which will be displayed at the Kosherfest trade show.

The 25th-annual, two-day kosher food expo kicks off in Secaucus, N.J., tomorrow and is expected to draw more than 6,000 people, all of them ready to nosh.
In addition to the 40-plus-pound nugget, Kosherfest will feature products from over 300 companies and more than 20 countries.

For the first time, the expo will also include a kosher supervisory agency run by a non-Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Jason Miller’s Kosher Michigan certifies more than 50 businesses and is one of only a handful of non-Orthodox supervising agencies in North America. In an email interview, Menachem Lubinsky, Kosherfest’s founder and co-producer, said that Kosher Michigan is “the first non-Orthodox agency that has even attempted to exhibit at the show.”

Interviewed by phone, Miller, who is based in suburban Detroit and certifies over 50 companies, most of them in the Midwest, emphasized that he had not hidden his Conservative identity; in fact, Kosher Michigan’s exhibitor blurb, which he said has been on the Kosherfest website for months, states in the first sentence that the agency was founded in 2008 by a Conservative rabbi.

“Certainly the ultra-Orthodox do not want to believe a non-Orthodox rabbi is able to run a successful kosher certification agency, but the facts on the ground are that that’s what’s happening,” he said. “The marketplace — the consumers — have the loudest voice in this industry so the market will dictate which certification agencies are authentic and which are not … My goal has always been to increase the number of kosher options without increasing the cost.”

He emphasized that he uses the same standards as Orthodox supervisors. “If you look in the Torah or Talmud, nothing says a certifying agent has to have Orthodox smicha,” he said.
While there may not be room for both Orthodox and Conservative at Kosherfest, the overall kosher industry itself seems boundless: According to Lubinsky, it’s a $12 billion market.

Mark Your Calendars for Thanksgivukkah (Detroit News – October 8, 2013)

Mark your calendars for Thanksgivukkah

Not since 1888 have Thanksgiving, start of Hanukkah fallen on the same day

LEANNE ITALIE | ASSOCIATED PRESS
Woodstock-inspired T-shirts celebrating Thanksgiving and Hannukkah have a turkey perched on the neck of a guitar and implore ‘8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes.’ The creators nabbed the trademark to ‘Thanksgivukkah.’ (AP)

New York— It’s a turkey. It’s a menorah. It’s Thanksgivukkah!

An extremely rare convergence this year of Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah has created a frenzy of Talmudic proportions.

The last time it happened was 1888, or at least the last time since Thanksgiving was declared a federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln, and the next time may have Jews lighting their candles from spaceships 79,043 years from now, by one calculation.

A 9-year-old New York boy has invented the “Menurkey” and raised more than $48,000 on Kickstarter for his already trademarked, Turkey-shaped menorah. Woodstock-inspired T-shirts have a turkey perched on the neck of a guitar and implore “8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes.” The creators nabbed the trademark to “Thanksgivukkah.”

Songs have popped up with lyrics like these from “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah”: “Imagine Judah Maccabee, sitting down to roast turkey and passing the potatoes to Squanto …” Rabbi David Paskin, the song’s co-writer and co-head of the Kehillah Schechter Academy in Norwood, Mass., proudly declares his the Jewish day school nearest Plymouth Rock.

Some observers in Metro Detroit say the convergence means Hanukkah, which often has fallen close to Christmas, could this year absorb the flavor of Thanksgiving.

“Because of Hanukkah’s usual proximity to Christmas, it’s taken on this gift-giving culture. So it’s possible that this year, because of it coinciding with Thanksgiving, there might be more of a focus on being thankful … for what you have,” said Rabbi Jason Miller, director of Kosher Michigan and based in West Bloomfield Township.

Let’s not forget the food mash-ups commemorating the staying power of the Pilgrims and the fighting prowess of the Jews, along with the miracle of one night’s oil lasting eight days. Pumpkin latkes, apple-cranberry sauce and deep-fried turkey, anyone?

“It’s pretty amazing to me that in this country we can have rich secular and rich religious celebrations and that those of us who live in both worlds can find moments when they meet and can really celebrate that convergence. There are a lot of places in the world where we would not be able to do that,” Paskin said.

The lunisolar nature of the Jewish calendar makes Hanukkah and other religious observances appear to drift slightly from year to year when compared to the U.S., or Gregorian, calendar. But much of the intrigue over Hanukkah this year is buried deep in the history of Thanksgiving itself, which hasn’t always been fixed in the same spot. That caused some initial confusion over Thanksgivukkah.

In 1863, Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November (the month sometimes has five of those) and the holiday remained there until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress fixing it as the fourth Thursday, starting in 1942.

Since 1863, Thanksgiving and the first full day of Hanukkah on the Gregorian calendar have not overlapped. Jewish practice calls for the first candle of eight-day Hanukkah to be lit the night before Thanksgiving Day this year, so technically Thanksgivukkah falls on the “second candle” night.

Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., puzzled on the convergence last January, in a blog post with buzzed-about line graphs picked up by others online.

More than 100,000 people have visited the blog since then, he said, including some who questioned his calculations and prompted him to post a couple of clarifications.

He hadn’t made it clear that he was referring to the “second candle” night of Hanukkah, and he hadn’t realized Thanksgiving had shifted from the last to the fourth Thursday of November.

While the whole thing is lots of fun, is there anything truly cosmic happening here?

Well, there’s Comet ISON, which is set to pass close by the sun on Thanksgiving and may provide a nice show — possibly even during daylight. Or not, since comets can’t always be counted on.

Detroit News staff writer Mark Hicks contributed

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131008/NATION/310080034#ixzz2mulywrrm

Conservative Heksher Can Expand Kosher Market (The Jewish Chronicle – July 23, 2012)

Conservative heksher can expand kosher market, rabbis say
by Toby Tabachnick, Staff Writer

When Avi Olitzky, a Conservative rabbi, moved from New York to Minneapolis in 2008, he quickly became frustrated with the relative dearth of kosher offerings in the Twin Cities. The options he did find — a dairy café, a meat deli, a kosher market and a couple bakeries — were costly and limited. “I began to explore the scenario here,” said Olitzky, who is the junior rabbi at the 1200-family Beth El congregation in St. Louis Park, Minn. “I came to the conclusion there was no move to expand the kosher options in town. There was a split between those thinking it was unnecessary, and those thinking we don’t have a community to support it.”

What Olitzky found, though, was that both opinions were “erroneous,” he said. The proof is the success of Olitzky’s MSP Kosher, a free of charge, kosher certification organization that the rabbi founded in 2010 as an alternative to the Orthodox-run Twin Cities Community Kashruth Council. Olitzky launched MSP Kosher, “not with the goal of breaking the Orthodox monopoly [on kosher supervision],” but to lower the cost of kosher food, to increase the quantity of kosher food, and to create transparency in kosher certification in the Twin Cities, he said. While historically, local kosher certification agencies in most cities have been run by Orthodox rabbis, more and more Conservative rabbis are stepping up to the plate in order to expand kosher dining options for their communities.

Olitzky’s MSP Kosher began its work with the certification of Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream, “one of Minnesota’s real gems,” Olitzky said, noting that the ice cream maker was “invested in the cause,” and made  “a lot of serious changes” in order to gain the certification of MSP. “Their sales went up exponentially,” Olitzky said, “and they credit it with going kosher.”

Since then, MSP kosher has certified several establishments around the Twin Cities, including a kosher hot dog stand at Target Field, which Olitzky said could only afford to become kosher because of MSP’s policy not to charge for certification, and because MSP allows it to remain open on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays. “We got some flack in the press because it is non-glatt,” Olitzky noted, “but it’s kosher. It is open on Shabbat and yom tov, but we go in the next morning and blowtorch the grill. We know that with the arrangement we have, they can’t substitute in non-kosher products, but on the slight chance they do, we blowtorch.” Olitzky stressed that his goal in forming an alternative to the Orthodox-run Twin Cities Community Kashruth Council was simply to provide more kosher options in town.

Likewise, Conservative Rabbi Jason Miller founded Kosher Michigan in 2007 in order to offer more kosher options in the Jewish community of Metro Detroit, where kosher certification previously had been dominated by its Orthodox Vaad Harabbonim. Miller now certifies some 30 businesses as kosher, including bakeries, spice companies, and ice cream parlors, and oversees kosher catering for Michigan State University.

Having an alternative kashrut certification agency brings many advantages to a community, Miller said.

“It brings the cost of kosher food down significantly. When there is a monopoly, there is price gouging, and it’s not good for anyone,” he said. “The goal is to provide some competition to local certification without lowering standards, to make it easier to manufacture kosher food, and to create more dining options for those who keep kosher.”

Kosher Meals MIchigan State UniversityMiller entered the world of kosher certification as the year-round rabbi and kosher supervisor of Tamarack Camps, a large Jewish camping agency.

“Once I started doing that, businesses began calling me,” he said. “Some were not certified kosher because they couldn’t be — the owner was Jewish, but Reform, or open on Shabbat, and the Vaad wouldn’t certify them. There was a kosher butcher that was certified by the Vaad, but there were too many restrictions. They had to pay a mashgiach $15 an hour, even if they were closed. They couldn’t keep the keys to their own establishment.”

While the food these businesses were providing was indeed kosher, the business owners found it difficult to meet other requirements of Detroit’s Vaad — such as closing on Shabbat — and contacted Miller.

“There really aren’t any differences in standards [between Kosher Michigan’s supervision and that of Detroit’s Vaad],” Miller said. “The subtle difference is that I am more eager to certify Jewish-owned businesses open on the Sabbath.”

To do so, a document is created that sells the business to non-Jews during the 25 hours of the Sabbath. “This is a document used by the Orthodox as well,” Miller said, “although they are less apt to do so.”

The Rabbinical Assembly set up its own Conservative regional kosher supervision agency in the Mid-Atlantic region about 40 years ago, Rubin said, and it operated until last year.

“There was a need at the time,” Rubin said. “ And it grew. We had about 15 vendors. We were involved in kosher supervision for some time. Forty years ago or so, there was a pretty large Conservative community [in the Philadelphia area], and it was a more natural fit. Today the kashrut world has changed, and gotten more complex.”

And so kashrut supervision in that region is now, for the most part left to the Orthodox.

“We realized over time it was a bigger project than we could handle,” Rubin said.

Conservative rabbis did not really enter the world of kashrut supervision until the 1990s, said Rabbi Paul Plotkin, chair of the subcommittee on kashrut of the Rabbinical Assembly’s committee on Jewish law and standards.

“When I was at seminary as a student in the early ’70s, there wasn’t a lot of time allotted for training in kashrus supervision,” Plotkin recalled. “The attitude was, ‘don’t worry about it, the Orthodox will handle it.’ But by the time the ’90s came, I came to see there were all kinds of times Conservative rabbis were called to do supervision, but many of them didn’t have the practical training. So I argued for a number of years that we had an obligation to teach our colleagues who were called on for kosher supervision.”

In 1990, the Rabbinical Assembly ran its first kosher supervision-training program. Eighty rabbis came from all over North America to take the four-day course.

“It proved what I’d been saying,” Plotkin said. “There was a need and a demand for it.”

The purpose of the training was to teach Conservative rabbis how to supervise kashruth operations when there was not an Orthodox alternative in a given community.

“In the ’90s, Chabad didn’t have the footprint it has now,” Plotkin said, “so in a lot of towns, the Conservative rabbi was the most traditional rabbi in the area. That’s how it started. It was never the idea that this would be a big, national thing, and I don’t think it ever will be. If you want to produce a product, and sell it all over, I am not doing you a favor by having you hire me. Most people won’t accept me in the market you want to use me. If everyone will eat O-U, and 10 percent will eat Plotkin, why use Plotkin?”

Plotkin currently certifies two facilities: a Dunkin’ Donuts, and Ben’s Deli in Boca Raton, Fla. Unlike many kosher certifiers, Plotkin does not charge for his services, but instead does it to “enhance life for my community,” he said.

He was contacted by the owner of Ben’s, Ronnie Dragoon, after Dragoon saw an article Plotkin wrote for United Synagogue Review, in which he argued against the imposition of more stringent kashruth standards that work to limit kosher options.

“I wrote we should have a new certification: K-E, for ‘kosher enough,’ ” he said. “There is a segment of the population that wants to make more rules, and make keeping kosher more costly. They’ve blackballed everyone else, with the attitude that ‘if you don’t rise to my level, we won’t take you seriously.’ If we continue this, we will have less and less food, at more and more outrageous prices.”

Plotkin agreed to certify Ben’s, although Dragoon already had an Orthodox certification. Even so, it took Dragoon three years to work through all the changes Plotkin insisted upon before the Conservative rabbi would certify Ben’s as kosher.

Dragoon has maintained the Orthodox certification alongside his certification from Plotkin, in order to satisfy an Orthodox clientele that will not rely solely on a Conservative rabbi.

“I have had an increase in business with Rabbi Plotkin, because he is very well known and respected in South Florida,” Dragoon said. “But I’d be less than candid if I said I’d be comfortable with only a Conservative heksher, because I know some Orthodox people wouldn’t be comfortable with it. But Rabbi Plotkin is at least as strict as the Orthodox rabbi.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

 

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