Effect of Modern Food Technology on Kashrut Discussed at Harvard

Plans to form an institute on food technology and kashruth in cooperation with local colleges and universities were announced today by the Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts following a seminar on the subject held at Harvard University.

The seminar, sponsored by the Vaad, was told that the impact of modern food technology on the Jewish Dietary Laws has profoundly changed the procedures for kosher certification. The moderator was Prof. Samuel A. Goldblith, Professor of Food Science and executive officer of the Department of Nutrition of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He serves as chairman of the Vaad’s Advisory Board of Food Technologists.

Professor Goldblith told the seminar that the rabbinate now “must not only deal with commodities as did the rabbis of old, but with mixtures of commodities, parts of commodities, with chemical substances, with compounds such as the emulsifiers, anti-oxidants, anti-tacking agents, and coating adjuvants, with polymers and copolymers, with adhesives, sizing agents, vitamins, amino acids, fumigants, librucants, release agents, insecticides, fungicides, bacteriostatic agents and on the list goes.”

“Thus the modern rabbi must not only be well versed in rabbinic theology but must also have an understanding of the chemistry of the additives and processes used in food production today,” he said. “This is the function of the scientist and technologist–to assist the clergy in an understanding of these compounds, their origin, their function and an understanding of the processes.”

ADAPTATION OF DIETARY LAWS TO ADVANCES OF SCIENCE IS URGED

Such changes, he added, underscore “the importance of studies on modern foods, their components and their processes in terms of a code of dietary laws written some 3,500 years ago. If Judaism is to survive, it must adapt itself, as it has done in the past, to advances in other areas of knowledge, to advances in science, technology and engineering.”

Raising the question of whether a system based on statutes “cudified some 3,500 years ago” could survive in the twentieth century, he said “the answer is unquestionably yes.” He cited as one of the reasons for his reply the work of such organizations as the Vaad to spread understanding of the problems created by modern technology for kosher certification and supervision.

Professor Leo Friedman, Professor of Food Technology at MIT and former Director of the Research Division of Nutrition of the Federal Food and Drug Administration, told the Seminar that the federal and state governments looked to the rabbinic authorities of the Jewish community to determine what was admissable for kosher consumption. He asserted that it was “extremely confusing to Government authorities when they receive conflicting views from different rabbis on the same subject” on a kosher certification problem.

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