Kosher wars


The Baltimore Jewish Times goes behind the hechshers for a down-and-dirty look at the politics behind kosher stamps, what "glatt" really means, and why Hebrew National still isn’t consumed by many Jews — despite its changeover five years ago to a new hechsher

"More than one prominent Orthodox rabbi has suggested that modern kashrut ‘is 2 percent Halachah and 98 percent ego and money and politics,’" Kenneth Lasson writes in his cover story:

“What’s glatt in Cleveland might not be glatt in Baltimore,” says Rabbi Don Moskovitz, a locally based mashgiach who works for several kosher certification organizations. Moreover, there are many Orthodox Jews — especially in smaller Jewish communities around the country — who do not limit themselves to glatt kosher meat but still consider themselves strictly kosher.

“Many people follow the higher glatt standard,” says Rabbi Moskovitz, “but there’s nothing wrong with Rabbi Ralbag’s hashgachah [endorsement] on meat. Hebrew National has to overcome some problems with its historical reputation.” He adds that he’s more concerned with the kashrut of everyday milk than he is about people eating Hebrew National.

“I’d love to make Hebrew National all glatt kosher,” says Rabbi Ralbag, “but there simply isn’t a large enough supply of meat in the world that would satisfy the traditional truly glatt standard — and demand.”

Queried about the kashrus of Hebrew National, a spokesperson for the OU said that “we do not comment on other kosher certifications.”

The response was different, however, from the “Kashrus Hotline” of the Baltimore-based Star-K organization. “You should not eat Hebrew National.” When asked why, she said the Triangle K “is not considered reliable.”

Rabbi Aharon Abadi speaks bluntly about the multimillion-dollar kosher supervision business. “You want to do business in this industry, you need to follow the rules of the ‘Kashrut Mafia,’” he said. “Most are just businesses with a touch of religion. Just enough to use it to bully us into following their program. Ask anyone in the food industry. They know. Try getting an outside hashgachah in an area that is already someone’s turf."

…Trustworthiness can be very subjective. The same Orthodox Baltimoreans who believe that Triangle K is not reliable because of past indiscretions broadly accept Star-K, even though it once certified a local non-Jewish caterer that served treife food on a “kosher” cruise.

The OU and Star-K have had numerous disputes over specific products. Each, for example, has had a policy prohibiting caterers under its supervision from using meats certified by the other.

Fans of kosher hot dogs might find this policy particularly egregious. Caterers under Star-K are currently forbidden to serve two brands of miniature hot-dogs-in-blankets, as well as 999 kosher hot dogs, all under the OU.

Star-K also bans sauerkraut marketed with the OU seal. (Consumers calling the Star-K’s kosher hotline are told that “we don’t have information” on those products. When asked if they can be used, the receptionist says, “I guess not.”)

For his part, Rabbi Ralbag has nothing negative to say about other kosher authorities. Instead, he refers obliquely to those who do with an old quote: “I think it’s sometimes more important what comes out of someone’s mouth than what goes into it.”

Full story here.

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