THE LOCAL VAADS (AGENCIES)
The local agencies all are busy looking over their shoulders to see what more right-wing groups are doing and saying. As a result, local agencies have gone out of their way to sell us on standards that bear little or no relation to reality or halachic need.
As an example, let us look at the Queens (NYC) vaad. They once told their stores to use only Bodek brand vegetables and fruits. Bodek uses hydroponically grown produce and is well known for their care in producing bug-free produce. In and of itself, that is not a problem. However, there is another company that does the same thing, for a lower price. The Queens Vaad has members who also serve on a large, national agency, and that large, national agency certifies Bodek. As a result, telling the stores under their supervision to use only Bodek may have been a form of corruption. It also hurts the small store owner whose livelihood depends on the small profit margin he can eke out by selling kosher. Why pay more for product X if product Y is also certified by a most reputable, rigorously Orthodox agency and costs less?
One year, we saw a mashgiach for the Queens vaad seal off a microwave oven so it could not be used for Passover. We asked him why. He said that because there was a rubber gasket around the door of the microwave, it could not be made kosher for Passover. Considering that every microwave oven has that gasket, and that pretty much every kosher agency in the US tells you how to make your microwave kosher for Passover, what was the justification for that mashgiach to seal off the microwave? Who knew that the Queens vaad had standards so beyond those of any other agencies?
For 25 years, we gave hashgacha to a bakery on Staten Island. It was owned by Gentiles. Our standards of kashrut were so high, the New York State Kosher Law Enforcement Agency used that store as a training site for their inspectors. We were not a member of the local vaad. As a result, the local vaad told the community that we were not kosher. They did not say that they did not like our hashgacha; they said we were treife.
There was a small bakery that was under the vaad. No one actually baked anything there. It was what is called a commission bakery. That is, they bought the baked goods elsewhere and resold them. Several times, the original owner was caught weighing his knife with the cake. But, he was acceptable to the local vaad. We finally went to the head of the vaad and threatened to go public with an exposé if they did not yank his kosher certificate. Ultimately, they did force him to sell the store to another buyer.
There was one kosher pizza place on the island. At one point, a second kosher pizza place opened up in a mid-island shopping mall. The local vaad refused to certify the new store. The new store hired a national kashrut agency to supervise it. The rabbi of the largest Orthodox shul on Staten Island, and head of the local vaad, stood on his pulpit and said it was forbidden to buy there as the place was not kosher.
KOSHER WATER, ETC.
Kosher supervision is a huge business. The income generated runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In particular, the large agencies need to continue raising revenue by having the public perceive that more and more products need supervision.
Water is a classic example. Spring water does not need kosher certification. Try to find any bottled water in the USA that does not have a kosher mark on it. The nationals tell us that they tell the water companies that they do not need kosher supervision, but the companies see having it as a selling point.
That may well be true, as market surveys have shown that a large number of consumers believe that kosher products are somehow cleaner, better, and safer than non-kosher products. So the large agencies can certify bottled water at a very low price, because they may visit the source only once or twice a year. That supervision is almost (almost) pure profit. Meanwhile, consumers think that water needs kosher supervision.
We once asked the big rabbi at a major kosher agency why they give their hechsher to laundry detergent. Jewish law is abundantly clear that we do not need to use kosher soaps on our dishes, so why on our laundry? The rabbi admitted that kosher soap is not ever needed for anything. So, we again asked the question.
The answer we got was classic: (This is a quote) Should we tell a Jewish housewife that the table cloth she puts on her Sabbath and holiday table, and upon which she puts her kosher dishes and silver ware, upon which, in turn, she puts her kosher food, that that table cloth can be washed in non-kosher soap?
So instead of being honest, they make money by putting their kosher mark on things that do not need it.
We once saw a bottle of methanol with a kosher mark on it. It is poison. Three kosher bloggers, including this one, all published on the same day, the same article asking the agency to remove their kosher mark. The agency never responded. The only thing we can think of is maybe there are people who want to kill themselves but only want to do it with kosher poison. (God forbid)
We can’t begin to list the number of times we have heard uninformed people, again with the certainty born of ignorance, state that aluminum foil must have kosher supervision. They claim that non-kosher aluminum foil is extruded through rollers coated in a non-kosher oil. There are just two problems with that bit of nonsense. Number one, the oil used is not non-kosher. Number two, the oil is totally burned off in the process, leaving absolutely no residue behind. Yup, just one more “everyone knows” bit of misinformation.
Some years ago, a company advertised that it had kosher for Passover window cleaner. That was a classic. Someone actually wrote to us and wanted to know why she had to use only KP window cleaner. We told her that just because someone sells something does not mean that you have to buy it.