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They Sold Us a Bill of Goods: A Series on the State of Kashruth Today



We believe with all our heart and soul in the value of keeping kosher.  We are certified in Nikur (deveining meat according to halacha) by the Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate. We trained to be a mashgiach under two rabbis who each served as a Rav Hamachshir in their respective agencies. We  worked as a mashgiach for over 35 years. As you will see later on, the New York State Kosher Law Enforcement Agency used a store where I was the mashgiach as a training site for new inspectors.

Along the way, we gained some measure of expertise in food technology and ingredients.  For a number of years, we ran the Passover Hot Line (the very first 1-800 number for Pesach questions) for the Union for Traditional Judaism.  We created the Kosher Nexus Newsletter, and own the Kosher Nexus Daily Blog.

It pains us, therefore, to observe the current state of affairs in kosher food supervision today. We have remained silent for too long. Today, we speak out.  This is a long article which will appear on the Kosher Nexus Daily Blog over the next many days.



Recently, there was a thread on Facebook concerning whether or not a certain bakery was kosher or not.  The bakery is under the hashgacha (supervision) of a single rabbi.

For those who drank the Kool Aid that was enough for them to say, with the certainty born of ignorance, that it could not be kosher.  The reasons were varied:

  • The rabbi who certifies the place is Conservative.

2) The rabbi is a single-person agency, so how good could his hashgacha be?

3) The rabbi is not a mashgiach temidi (ie, on the premises all the time).

4) The food is not prepared under his careful, full time watchful eyes.

5) The store, owned by Gentiles, is open on Shabbat.

The above reasons were, in turn, absurd, false, ill stated, and wrong.

The rabbi is the graduate of a prestigious Orthodox institution.  He is a deeply religious man. He visits every one of the places he supervises every single week.

Very few kosher businesses (outside of meat purveyors) require full-time supervision. Take national brand sodas, for example. The rabbis are not there full time. Take the Costco stores that have kosher bakeries.  The rabbis come and go on an occasional basis. Costco bakes on Shabbat. Soda companies bottle on Shabbat.  If it is OK for those businesses to be open on Shabbat and to cook/produce on Shabbat, then the people who said the bakery was not kosher on those grounds were both wrong, and uninformed.

One concerned citizen wrote that she absolutely knew the place was treife (not kosher).  That was not even close. The best (worst??) she really could say with anything close to the truth or integrity was that she felt the standards of the rabbi were not high enough for her. But, then again, she probably had no clue what the rabbi’s standards were.  She was comfortable making her ex cathedra proclamation based on nothing.


This is a huge problem in the kosher world.  We have been sold a bill of goods, and we have swallowed the Kool Aid without ever asking any questions.


A rabbi wrote an article saying why vegan restaurants are not the same as a kosher restaurant. He raised many issues, some of which were accurate and worrisome.  It was clear from what he wrote, however, that the man had no real experience with vegan kitchens.

Of course, his first issue was insects.  He stated that eating, even the tiniest, of insects is “worse” than eating pork.  Apparently, he based this statement on the fact that eating insects can contain several forbidden practices, whereas eating pork involves only one sin.  As this posture is not explicit in the Torah, we can assume that he was indulging in what our Galitzianer teacher would have called Litvak musar.  Treife is treife.   There are no degrees of treife-ness.

Vegan restaurants check vegetables very carefully, because the presence of insects would render the food not vegan.  Apparently, however, it did not matter to the rabbi who wrote the article.  Either he had no clue that they check for bugs in vegan places, or he lied.

What leads us to believe that he was less than honest was found later in his article. He claimed that a man wrote to him and thanked him for showing him the true light. He wrote that the man told him that the chef at a vegan restaurant went out and bought a hamburger (not kosher of course) and “reheated it in the deep fryer.”  Really?

First of all, who reheats a hamburger in the deep fryer?  That would ruin the meat.  It would also seriously compromise the vegan status of the restaurant. How did the chef get away with this thing?  Was no one watching?  Did no one see this man place a hamburger in the deep fryer of a vegan place?  Last of all, what kind of idiot would jeopardize his job that way? On a scale of one to ten, what are the odds that this story is true?  We say not even a one.

No way, rabbi. Stick with the truth and spare us your urban myths.

The problem is that there are too many urban myths out there in kosher land.  When someone starts a sentence with the words, “Everyone knows,” you know that what they are about to say is most likely not based in kashrut reality.

We Orthodox Jews like to tell people “Ask your local, Orthodox rabbi (aka LOR).”  The problem is that very few rabbis- of any stripe- have any in-depth knowledge about commercial kosher supervision.  They rely on bad, or often outdated, information. They rely on nebulous statements of the “everyone knows” variety.  On top of all that, very few rabbis have ever given any critical thought to what we are told by the major agencies.  We just accept their statements as God-given truth, even though we have learned over and over again that much of what those agencies tell us is just not accurate.

When we were kids, there was kosher for Passover peanut oil, but we were told that we could not eat peanuts.  Sometimes, agencies would even tell us that the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote that we could not eat peanuts. That was a total misstatement of what the rabbi actually wrote. People were confused, so they did not buy the peanut oil, or so we are told. Hence, no more KP peanut oil.

Apparently, kosher consumers are presumed to be stupid.  Or, at least, the big agencies think we are.   They could have taken the time to educate the community.  They could have taught that peanuts- absent a total community custom forbidding them, as per Rabbi Feinstein– are not forbidden on Passover. They could also have explained that even if peanuts were forbidden on Passover, the oil would not be.  The same applies to other oils that are derived from kitniyot (legumes).

The OU has long taken congratulatory, self-credit for changing the kosher meat market in America to almost all glatt.  They smugly told us that the kosher meat industry was so corrupt, that the only way to be sure that your meat was kosher was to buy glatt.

There are two things wrong with that.

First of all, it is specious to say that only by buying glatt meat could you be sure that your meat was kosher.  Why was no attempt made to tighten the controls to make sure that all was according to Torah? Although we like to think of glatt as super kosher, the truth is that kosher is kosher is kosher.  You may subscribe to a higher definition of what is acceptable as kosher meat, but that does not minimize any other definition.  If the meat meets the definition of kosher meat, it is kosher.

The second thing wrong was the law of unintended consequences.  Back then, cattle free ranged, and ate everything they could pick up from the ground.  I remember seeing soda bottles, shoes, wallets, and clothing inside the stomachs of kosher slaughtered cows. As a result, scabs on the lungs of the animals were very common.  Similarly, finding a nail piercing the lung of the animal was also fairly common.

The law of glatt is that the lung should be glatt, i.e., smooth.  Classic rabbinic text allowed up to three sirchot (scabs) on the lungs provided that they could be easily flicked off by hand.  (Note, Beit Yosef glatt {a Sefardic standard} is actually glatt.)

The result was that out of 100 head of cattle taken to kosher slaughter, a really good yield might have been 12 glatt kosher cows. The result of that was that the cost of glatt meat was astronomical.

In order to avoid an open revolt, the large agencies decided to allow up to five sirchot on the lungs. By allowing up to five, the number of so-called glatt animals yielded out of 100 slaughtered was much higher which, then, allowed for ever so slightly lower prices.

They dumbed down the definition, and they sell us meat that is clearly not glatt and call it glatt.  What really confounded us was that back when we gave supervision to a non- glatt butcher store, we often got meat that was labeled glatt, but was sold to the butcher at the lower, non-glatt prices, because it was a non-glatt shop.  How could it be that the wholesalers could sell glatt meat at the lower price to the non-glatt shop?  Was there an excess of glatt meat?  That just defies all logic.

On top of that, a well-known NYC area scandal was the fact that the total weight of the amount of kosher-sold brisket was out of the statistical range of probability (i.e., the amount of kosher brisket was higher than the number of kosher animals slaughtered) for kosher beef.  Once glatt became de rigeur, the situation did not change.  Huh?  So what did going glatt do for us?