These questions and answers are sequenced in a progressive fashion, designed to lead the reader along a journey of discovery.
1. May I ask you any Kashrut questions, even if I do not disclose my true identity? I will respond to those who wish not to disclose their identity.
2. What is a rabbi? How does one become a rabbi? Do all rabbis have beards? I can not know if your queries are sincere or in jest but I will answer nonetheless. Yes, I do have a beard. No, not all rabbis have beards. Facial hair has nothing to do with being a rabbi or being wise. Many faces of ignorant people are adorned with luxurious beards, and many clean skins are very wise and sagacious.
A rabbi is a teacher. The word derives from the Hebrew root RV which means ‘great’ in many senses, including "revered". Moses is fondly and universally known as Moshe Rabbenu generally translated to – Moses our Teacher. It can also mean "master". As a sign of respect, some great rabbis are simply called "The Rav".
The title Rabbi is not found in the Torah. Leaders in the Tanach are identified as Judges or Prophets. Titles such as "Rabban" and "Rabbi" are first mentioned in the Mishnah (c. 200 CE) and appear to be first used for Rabban Gamaliel the elder, Rabban Simeon his son, and Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai.
The title Rabbi is conferred through ordination and is known as Semicha, literally “leaning”. It refers to the image of Moshe Rabbenu placing his hands upon his successor Joshua, thereby signifying his authority over the people. (Numbers – Bamidbar, 27:18) This process continued for many generations providing a continuous unbroken chain linking all the way back to Moshe Rabbenu. At some time in our history this system could not be continued and attempts to re-establish it failed. Today, this same term is used but refers to a system of obtaining ordination by being tested on various sections of our Code of Law.
3. Are all rabbis equally qualified? Well, that’s like asking if all doctors or engineers are equally qualified. The rabbinic academies jealously guard their standards and rigorously vet those who they qualify, just as all world class engineering academies do. Of course just as there are variations between engineering academies, there are variations between Semicha academies. Furthermore, just as engineering academies recognise better qualified students so too with Semicha academies and the Semichas they issue.
More importantly, ordination is not a one time test. A rabbi must maintain a demanding learning regimen. This is not just to remember and hone his memory and understanding of the relevant laws but because the teachings are an endless pursuit. Besides, learning Torah is the primary means by which Jews devote themselves to Gd. A life that focuses on learning Torah is the ultimate proclamation of loyalty to Gd.
4. What is Kosher? Why is it so complicated? Kosher is the system of food laws that govern which foods we eat and how they are to be prepared. It is at base level not that complicated. However, as in all pursuits of life, when our quest is for perfection, little things make a big difference. For example, millions of man-hours have been invested in the development of the Formula 1 racing car and there is no end in sight to its continued development.
There is however, one very important difference: alterations to the car are tangible, discernible and measurable; they are empiric. In the field of Halacha we theorise and debate but have no way to evaluate how close or far we are from the truth. Consequently, there are a vast array of opinions, many of which are aligned with a particular strand within the orthodox world and their particular customs and perspectives.
5. Why and how did the Sages forbid foods that are Kosher by Gd’s Torah Law? This is the power and responsibility that Gd authorised to and imposed upon our Sages. Although various foods are made with Kosher ingredients and utensils exclusively, they are prohibited by the decree of our Sages unless various safeguards have been met. They used the laws of Kosher to manipulate the society and provide for the strengthening of Jewish identity.
It is safe to say that without the myriad decrees enacted by our Sages, our Jewish identity and continuity would likely be far more eroded and vulnerable. Our communal and family life would be vastly different and weaker. However, this power to promulgate binding national decree is no longer active.
6. Why do we keep Kosher? Jews keep Kosher because it is a declaration of allegiance to Gd. We do it this way because that is the way Gd wants it done. Any parent and more likely grandparent will do impractical, silly things because they wish to declare their love for their children and grandchildren. In fact, if what is done is pragmatic, it loses its significance as an act of love and loyalty.
And there is little doubt that we pray as parents and grandparents that our children will do things for us that may not be the most pragmatic but are true declarations of their loyalty and allegiance to us.
7. What qualities are required to provide Kosher certification? In order to provide Kosher certification for a commercial food plant, one requires a pragmatic and patient disposition. Food plants are not usually constructed to comply with the requirements of Kosher, so in addition to knowing the detailed laws of Kashrut, one must be able to innovate and apply the theoretical principles one has learned and morph them from the textbook to the machinery and situation at hand. This requires patience to get to know the engineers and food technologists and understand their concerns and needs. Once that is established, it is far easier to develop a plan that accommodates both their needs and the requirements for Kosher.
8. What is the most important consideration for providing Kosher certification? Don’t laugh or scoff, but I think it most important to be on good terms with and gain the trust of the staff. There is no way to stop a disgruntled staffer from surreptitiously tossing some butter into the main meat course. And it is next to impossible to know every nook and cranny of a vast and confusing commercial industrial factory.
9. What is “Kosher VeYosher” and “its Kosher!”? Kosher VeYosher is the name first selected to identify the Kosher agency previously run by Rabbi Shlomo Rudski. Rabbi Rudski insisted that Rabbi Meir G. Rabi take over his Kosher service and expand it.
In order to make the persona of this service more approachable and simple, the name, its Kosher! was adopted. For all intents and purposes the two entities are identical twins.
10. What prompted you to undertake providing Kosher services? I actually never dreamed or ever intended to undertake this onerous task and heavy responsibility. It was the insistence of Rabbi Shlomo Rudski, the Chief Minister of the South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation that corralled me into accepting this undertaking. Rabbi Rudski ran a Kosher certificate and in his later years apprenticed me to assist him. Eventually he commanded me to take over and expand the operations with the clear instruction that I “ensure that Melbourne have a Kosher foods and services that cater the needs of the entire Jewish community”.
11. What are your objectives in this field? I would like to see and am actively pursuing the provision of Kosher foods and services that make Kosher a very attractive and accessible opportunity for every Jew who has even the slightest interest in Kosher food. 12. Why do Jews seem to have a special affinity for keeping Kosher? Eating Kosher is an opportunity to be intimate with Gd. It is an opportunity to invite Gd to join you for a meal and a chat at your kitchen table.
Unlike other commandments that connect us with Gd through various rituals which occur at fixed times and in particular locations or settings, eating is a ubiquitous and very ordinary experience. Having Gd join us at such occasions is having Gd join us in our ordinary life. 13. What is the meaning of Glatt Kosher? "Glatt Kosher" today means something like "extra kosher" and is applied without regard to its true meaning. Originally Glatt Kosher was used to describe the state of the lungs of a slaughtered beast. If they were smooth or Glatt, meaning free from adhesions that could potentially prohibit the animal as a treifa, this was a superior standard of Kosher than the lungs that had some small adhesions that were successfully removed without the lungs being damaged.
However, Glatt also applies to a straightforward arrangement and may reflect that this Kashrut does not employ unusual Halachic rulings. 14. What is the difference between “approved” and “certified” Kosher foods? Some Kosher certifiers have two standards, “Certified” Kosher and “Approved” Kosher. They say that “Certified” products are “investigated, audited and monitored in a manner that ensures the strictest standards of Kashrus are maintained”. However, “the strictest standards of Kashrus” is like the burial location of Moses our Teacher, visible but not accessible. Besides, it appears to be a constantly escalating standard.
“Approved” Kosher products they say, “are acceptably Kosher but the strictest standards may not apply. They are carefully audited and monitored but may be relying on leniencies”. It appears that these orgs are not sure rhemselves if they are relying on various leniencies.
Unless the Kosher org discloses what these stringencies or leniencies are or may be, the consumers are utterly “in the dark” and unaware of what they are deciding upon.
15. Does KVY differentiate between “Certified” and “Approved” Kosher standards? No. KVY discloses the details of its Kosher processes and explains the systems and rulings utilised. That permits the consumer to make their own decisions about their preferences for Kashrut.
We try to keep away from vague terms such as “Glatt”, “Certified” and “Mehadrin” which do not offer real or meaningful guidance as to what is actually being provided. Similarly, we avoid generalities such as “most reliable Kosher agencies”, preferring to list the opinions and discussions of internationally recognised leading Halachic experts.
The Mizrachi Kosher website (Aug 2010) explains that they do not list or accept many other Kosher certifiers because they wish to "maintain a reliable and consistent standard of Kashrut supervision, equal at least to those practiced by the major accepted international Kashrut authorities and not many authorities maintain such standards. Some organizations are known to be sloppy or otherwise unprofessional in their investigative work but in many cases there is simply not enough information required to make a decision."
There is no disclosure here of any facts; the message simply expresses a point of view, presumably proposing that it should be accepted. The galling observation is that a similar message may be published on a different website which asserts that Mizrachi Kashrut is unsatisfactory.
16. Do Australian K orgs accept oil from plants that also produce non-K animal oil? Yes. I paste from a local website, “Oils produced in equipment shared with tallow are in some plants produced in a manner that still allows them to receive “approval” as Kosher.”
17. How can Kosher oil be produced on machinery that also processes tallow? That’s easy, the machinery must first be made Kosher. I paste from a local Kashrut website, “Many factories produce Kosher and even Mehadrin foods on the same machinery used for processing non-Kosher foods. For example, Chalav Yisrael is produced in dairies that usually produce ordinary unsupervised milk. The equipment will be “koshered” prior to the Kosher production.”
“Mehadrin/certified products will usually have a Kosher supervisor present to ensure that the Koshering and subsequent production are carried out at the proper standards.”
“If the cleaning protocol applied in the plant meets Halachic standards for Koshering, that may be satisfactory for Kosher production. Such foods would be “approved” but not “certified” as Kosher.”
“Rabbi Yoseph Glicksberg of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, confirmed that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate certifies as Kosher oils produced in shared plants after a vegetable oil flush."
KVY does not rely on this leniency of Koshering with oil, but on the stricter standard of using boiling water.
18. What are the processes used by KVY to manufacture Kosher oil? KVY inspects and approves oil production in Victoria that is fully automated and driven by a computer programme. This ensures that there is no room for human error or corner cutting. This also permits KVY to inspect, at any time, the complete and comprehensive production records.
Kosher production is assured through the following monitored procedures.
Prior to Koshering all machinery is cleaned.
Machinery is Koshered after it has been shut down for at least 24 hours.
Machinery is Koshered with boiling water.
All Kosher production is completed prior to beginning non-K production.
19. Is it true that the London Beth Din also accepts such oils? I must inform the readers of a strident protest against misleading information pasted on a local Kashrut website (Aug 2010) that suggests that the London Beth Din approves or certifies oils produced on equipment that also processes non-Kosher animal fats. “The latest London Beth Din Kosher Food Guide (page 66) lists ALL vegetable oils as being acceptable without exception, without distinguishing between those produced in dedicated or shared plants”
My research has discovered this very strong denial, made many years ago.
26 Jan. ’04 Dear Reb XXXXX
I am writing to confirm to you that in order to be 100% sure that what I said was correct I have done as you requested and verified with the relevant people and found that it is exactly as I said to you over the phone yesterday: The London Beth Din does not certify or even approve any vegetable oil which is refined and deodorised in the same refinery as tallow (Chelev).
This means that we do not approve oils that are processed on the same refinery and using the same steam system even if they are not actually processed on the same equipment. On the rare occasion that we do certify oils or emulsifiers etc. that are processed in facilities that have processed in the past tallow or other Trief fats we insist on Koshering the entire facility Kedass ve’Kedin and we also drain and change the entire boiler water to ensure there is no risk of ‘cross-contamination’ from the previous non-kosher productions.
Once again I thank you for bringing this matter to my attention and giving me the opportunity to state our position clearly and to refute any rumours circulating accusing us of such a practice.
Wishing you Kol Tuv, I remain sincerely yours, Rabbi Akiva Padwa Senior Rabbinical Coordinator London Beth Din Kashrut Division
20. Why does Kashrut spark such passion and division amongst orthodox Jewry? I suppose we must keep in mind that food is the opportunity for socialising and sharing. For example, when we pray together the variations in individual customs do not prevent us from forming a unified group. And so it is with most commandments and events that bring us together. Food however, impinges on our personal private space and the particular customs and attitudes that individuals have undertaken in their religious commitments. There is also the perspective that foods are ingested and become a permanent part of us. Many view non-Kosher foods or foods of compromised Kosher status to be like a poison that contaminates and corrupts. Lastly, one must also keep in mind that Kosher certifiers are affiliated or belong outright to various communities within orthodoxy and consumers are loyal to “their” community and possibly hostile to those perceived as rivals.
21. Does Rabbi Meir G Rabi eat all the foods that he certifies as Kosher? Of course, Rabbi Rabi eats all foods certified by KVY and its Kosher!
22. Why is it that not all rabbis eat foods from all Kashrut orgs? Yes, this is true. The reasons for this are obscure and shrouded in mystery. There are many “potential problems” that are suggested. The main issue appears to be an undefined super-standard of Kashrut. This is linked to a lack of trust in other rabbis and Kashrut orgs and the standards they do or do not maintain.
23. Why would rabbis not eat the foods they certify as Kosher? Being particular about the standards of food Kashrus is perceived as a very important measure of ones piety. It is easy to understand this when viewed from the perspective that by doing so one is in essence depriving oneself of enjoying the earthly pleasures of this coarse world.
In the Hamodia Magazine Vol 13, Issue 619, July 29 2010; it is reported that some Gd fearing Jews will not eat any meat at all other than chicken, even if they slaughter it themselves because they maintain that the knowledge of what constitutes a blemish that renders a beast Tereifa, is lost. Thus any beast might be a Tereifa and we would not be able to discern that.
Furthermore, a rabbi may feel compelled to offer a broad variety of foods and services for the community and in order to achieve this, will employ various leniencies that he would prefer not to use himself.
24. Why are there so many opinions in Jewish Law? Can they all be correct? This is an extremely long and deep discussion. I will try to give a brief overview.
The Torah is not a set of Divine Laws. The Torah is a set of Divine principles and guidelines that require our engagement and interpretation. Every single page of the Talmud is perfumed with the beauty of human ingenuity, argument and disagreement and all devoted to understanding the word of Gd. Every single page of our Code of Law is similarly blessed.
An ancient Medrash relates that every law Gd taught to Moses on Mount Sinai was presented with many reasons that explained it in opposing directions. It is almost saying there is no single absolute correct understanding of any law. This is reflected in the famous Talmudic adage, “These and those are all the words of the Living Gd.”
Although our history compelled us to adopt codes of law, the spirit of our Torah’s true nature could not be suppressed. This inevitably brings us to the situation where we find a variety of opinions and attitudes throughout Jewish Law, Halacha.
25. Why are there so many Kosher agencies and Kosher symbols? In every corner of the globe where Jewish communities have been established, one finds a variety of congregations. Often most or even all are within a stone’s throw of one another. This reflects the vibrancy of the varying strands, shades and customs of our communities. Each of these communities wish to preserve their traditions and satisfy their particular preferences and attitudes about their perspectives of their customs and therefore will establish their own Kosher organisation to satisfy their needs.
Many times a Rov or group of Rabbonim will establish a Kosher org because they feel they can offer a valuable service and fill a need that is not currently met. This may be a stricter standard or a willingness to provide service that has so far not been satisfied.
26. Why are some of my friends and family not eating my Kosher food? There are countless considerations that differentiate standards of Kashrut. Many are real and substantial and many are pure fantasy. A library is scarcely large enough to accommodate all the scholarly writings that have been and continue to be compiled, on the substantial matters relating to Kashrut. A much larger facility would be required to accommodate all the rumours and fantasy generated by the politics, tribalism and rivalry of modern day Kashrut.
Since food is ingested and becomes part of our body, these considerations, be they real or fantasy, are perceived as causing a spiritual deterioration of one’s soul. It can be quite disconcerting for those who have maintained vigilance and deprived themselves of various foods in order to pursue a “higher” and more stringent standard of Kashrut, to abandon those standards just for the sake of eating out. When the cocktail of information in one’s mind includes the spices of spiritual danger, and political and tribal rivalries, we have a recipe for division based on religious intransigence. Take this following comment for example, posted on a public blog, (August 2 4.31pm, http://galusaustralis.com/2010/07/3331/cosv-president-scolds-the-rcv/) “A prominent visiting Chabad rabbi who saw the many families who were having problems with children who have ‘frayed out’ (become irreligious) said that he hadn’t the slightest doubt that this was the result of allowing children to eat and drink non-cholov yisroel (Kosher milk which however, has not been supervised from the time of its milking)– including shakes, Big Ms, mars bars and all the other ice cream and confectionary lines.”
“He told us that in places where the kids did not eat these questionable products, there are far less problems.”
This is very difficult to challenge. Such analysis is demeaning by its implied pronouncement that one Jew is superior to another and this type of mindset promotes the attitude that prevents your family and friends from being comfortable to eat your home prepared Kosher food. It boils down to the simple fact that one Jew can be trusted whilst another can not be trusted. In quite a few communities it has become an accepted norm that the rabbi himself, and other elevated members of the community, do not to eat some foods that are approved or certified by the rabbi of that community.
Our Jewish tradition and our Halacha, values family and community harmony above all else. Clearly one may not consume non-K food in order to promote or maintain peace and harmony, however, there is certainly well recognised precedent that directs one to forgo stringencies in order to pursue peace and harmony. There are various stringencies that the Halacha prohibits (in public) since they project an image of superiority over others and (may) cause resentment.
The great Gaon and world leader, HaRav Moshe Feinstein, after discussing the value of embracing a stringency relating to Kosher food, clearly relates that his own custom is to ignore this stringency when in company in order to promote harmony and goodwill.
27. Am I wrong to feel slighted by such behaviour of rabbis and friends? It is quite normal to experience such feelings but generally speaking it is pointless. Rarely do those who see themselves honouring Gd by not eating various foods when in company of others, ever consider that they are in fact not honouring Gd at all and would be doing better to set aside their personal stringencies in these circumstances.
28. Are the warnings, "May contain traces of ..." of any Halachic concern? No, these warnings are placed there for legal reasons; to prevent legal action from those who may suffer an anaphylactic reaction. The minuscule traces that may trigger such reactions are of no Halachic relevance.