Knowing the Kosher Code Words
Fear of law suits has made all of the kosher agencies very careful in what they say about other hashgachot (supervisions). The phrase NOT RECOMMENDED is their way of saying they believe the product is not kosher, or, at least, not acceptable to them.
This plays out in many ways. For example, most of the national agencies will never comment on products supervised by other agencies. In the case of small, single rabbi agencies, the big boys say not recommended because they want us to believe that the single rabbi agency cannot possibly be acceptable as kosher.
The irony is that often times the local, single rabbi certifying a local, mom and pop business is probably more reliable than alternatives. The rabbi knows the community, knows the operator, and recognizes his reputation as a mashgiach is at stake.
Yet, this is where the Kosher Code Words game begins. An innocent customer, perhaps not familiar with the kosher label, phones a major kosher agency and asks about a product. Should you phone and ask for information about a product that is not under their supervision, they will tell you either that they do not know, or, that they have never heard of the supervision about which you ask.
Some years back in Teaneck, NJ, the local Stop and Shop had a bakery certified by the KVH (Boston). A rabbi we know phoned the local vaad, the RCBC, and asked if the certification was good or not. The response he got was most illuminating. The rabbi who took the call said, “We have never heard of that certification. “ Of course, that was just absurd. There is no kosher agency in the United States that has not heard of the KVH.
We phoned the RCBC and asked them if they allow Kellogg’s cereals at events. We were assured that Kellogg’s was entirely acceptable. Really? Back then, Kellogg’s put a simple K on it products. The K in that case was the KVH. (Now the OU certifies Kellogg’s.)
So why the game? Why can’t all the kosher agencies cooperate? They do manage to hold an annual meeting of so-called “Kashrut Officials” whereat they all collude on certain things and standards.
No agency ever explains why something is not recommended. Why is it such a secret? What don’t they want us to know? Are they afraid that educated consumers might make their own decisions about a product?
At times, we actually agree with the mainstream organizations that a practice by a particular mashgiach/agency may not represent our standards, and we have no problem explaining that to anyone who asks. The laws of “motzi shem rah (besmirching a name)” and of denying a livelihood are grave. Yet, in the world of kashruth, they are the rules of which games are played.
There was a kosher certifying agency that did not require places to change their dishes for Passover. There is a basis for that in the Shulchan Aruch, but, by and large, people have rejected that position. The position of the large agencies was to tell people that the supervision was not reliable. No explanation was ever forthcoming.
We had no argument with the position other agencies took in regard to that matter, because we knew from inside information that the supervising agency was very lax in its rules and in its supervision. There was also the problem that the rabbi of that agency took a position regarding the kashruth of cheeses that was unique in the field, and basically rejected by pretty much the entire world of kosher supervisors. The problem was that no one ever said to the kosher keeping public, “We reject the stance of Rabbi X on cheese. Rabbi X claims x, y, z, and we believe him to be wrong.”
No More Games
It is time for the games to end. If you feel that a product is not recommended, tell us why. We have a right to know just what went into your decision. The kosher agency being rejected deserves to not have its reputation sullied without its day in the court of public opinion. Let the consumer decide, for example, whether non glatt meat is acceptable, rather than suggest that regular kosher is not kosher. Let the consumer choose whether to hold by a leniency on cheese even if most of the kosher keeping public does not.
Some years ago, the Vaad of the Five Towns decided that a certain brand of matzah was not acceptably kosher for Passover. The matzah for years had been under the personal supervision of a major rabbi. Later on, when the rabbi passed, his son took over, and that is when things got interesting. The Vaad of the Five Towns piously told us that, while the rabbi’s father was a great rabbi of huge stature and probity, they just were not so sure about the son.
They did this just before Passover when people had mostly stocked up on Passover supplies of the nonperishable sort. Then they said that you should not buy it, but if you had, you could use it on Passover. It fell into the category of Not Recommended.
Huh? You cannot have it both ways. Either it is kosher for Passover or it is not. Clearly, the whole thing was economic blackmail meant to get the company to pay for a different supervision.
Frankly, the whole thing was disgusting. As is telling people something is not recommended, but not saying why.