“Kosher?” Or “Kosher!” – Part 3

kosher-symbolsPart 3 in the series prepared for JKN by Rabbi Tzvi Liker

III – “Kosher?” Or “Kosher!”
In our first columns we raised the question of establishing a kashrus system for those who interest in kashrus is minimal at best.  This week I would like to deal with that topic more in depth.

(Note:  The term “Rabbinate” in these articles refers to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.  “Rabbanut” refers to the local Rabbanut of each city.) 

In order to approach this issue we need to clarify a number of issues.  For the sake of clarity we will frame these issues as business questions:
1.    Who is my client?
2.    What service does my client expect me to deliver?
3.    What price is my client willing to pay for that service?
4.    Is my client willing to pay more for better service?

Answering these questions honestly will help us understand not only how the Israel kashrus system is set up, but more importantly, why.

We, the religious population, want to “sell” a product – Yiddishkeit – and in this particular case, kashrus, to other Jews.  Some of our “customers” really want the product, some want it but not at too high a price, and many others are willing to go along with it, but really couldn’t care less.

We all know that kashrus is not a free-for-all.  There are rules and regulations, (read:  Halachos), that must be followed.  We also know from our own lives that there is normative Halacha that we follow l’chatchila, in the first case, and the b’di’eved halachos, for post-facto situations, when problems arise.  Let’s take milk and meat as an example.  L’chatchila we keep them separate.  But what do we do if we took a fleishig spoon and stirred hot milk?  Do we need to throw the milk out?  Depending on the circumstances, b’di’eved, post-facto, the milk might still be considered kosher, while at other times it would have to thrown away.

Now, let’s sit in the driver’s seat for a while and try to maneuver our way through some issues.   Remember, we can’t sidestep problems.  We can’t abstain when the time comes for decisions.  We must face the issues head on and make some difficult choices.

You are the rabbi in charge of a local Rabbanut kashrus department.  You want to do your job properly, however, you are in a truly unenviable position.  You have limited resources – both monetary and manpower – available to you and now you must decide where to focus your kashrus energies.  Do you focus on the “maximalist” crowd, those who want high-quality kashrus, but are in fact a minority of the population?  To meet their requirements, you would have to require all restaurants and factories to follow strict(er) kashrus guidelines.  Should you attempt to impose these standards on those whose commitment is marginal?  More to the point, if you know that stores, restaurants, kiosks, etc., that serve thousands each day, might be tempted to forgo kashrus altogether rather than follow the stricter guidelines – with their significantly higher price tag – dare you make that demand of them?  If you do make the demands, and they forgo your hechsher, how will you feel knowing that tens of thousands of people might be eating traif (of one sort or another) because of your (“unreasonable”) requirements?

Let us now turn the questions around:
You have determined that these strict requirements would be unacceptable to the majority of your clients and have opted for lower standards.  In that case, what kind of service will you offer the “maximalists”, the public that is interested in quality kashrus?  By serving the “minimalists”, only “regular” kashrus will be available, kashrus which almost by definition would be “second best”.  Should they be forced to buy products of dubious (kashrus) quality?  Should they, the ones who do care, be forced to lower their standards to “appease” those who don’t?

Let’s take a very practical example.

There are special Halachos that apply here in Eretz Yisrael, known as mitzvos ha’t'lu’yos ba’aretz – loosely translated as mitzvos dependant on The Land (of Israel).  One of these mitzvos is that of orla.  Orla are the fruits that grow during the first three years after planting.  Not only may these fruit not be eaten, one may not derive any benefit from them in any way, similar to chometz on Pesach.  We can’t sell them to our Arab neighbors or our overseas clients, nor can we use them to make fragrances.  We can’t even give them away.  The only thing we can halachically do with them is to destroy them.  This is not a chumro, a stringency, and it’s not even a Rabbinic prohibition.  It is a Torah law.

We also have a Halachic rule that when there is a doubt if something is prohibited, and that prohibition would be of Torah and not Rabbinic status, then we generally rule that it is prohibited.  (This rule is known as Safeek d’Oryso L’chumro.)

When “new” trees are planted in Israel, (producing orlo), and the non-religious farmers who are (hopefully only) ignorant about these halochos (and not being spiteful), are selling their produce in the market along with their “regular” crops, how does that affect the other, non-orlo fruit in the market?  Since I do not know which is which, do the all the fruit in the market now become saffek orlo (suspect)?  Must I now refrain from eating any of that type of fruit?

The simple solution would be to ascertain if there is a bittul (nullification) number in orlo as there is in other kosher-traif mixtures, such as meat and milk, (1/60) and what that “magic number” is.  According to the Halocho, orlo becomes nullified in a mixture when it is less than 1/200th or 0.05% of the mixture.

So, if we can determine that there is less than 0.05% orlo “out there”, the fruit may be eaten.  Problem solved.  What a relief.

Oh, if only life were so easy.  There are a number of secondary rules regarding nullifications, one of which states the following:  “One may not knowingly mix something prohibited into something permitted at nullification levels in order to eat the mixture.”  I may not add one cup of milk into sixty cups of chicken soup in order to eat the mixture, even though the milk is nullified.  If I did so, the mixture is prohibited not only to me, but to anyone else I did the mixing for.  But, how do we view the farmer’s actions?  Is he considered to have acted with intent to nullify his orlo or not?  If he delivers his produce to a central warehouse and the fruit gets mixed in with other farmer’s produce, what should the rabbi do when he discovers the problem?

Let’s take this one step further.  Without going into the details, there is a discussion in Halacha as to how much orlo must be “out there” to cause concern.  (The discussion revolves around the questions of ka’vu’a, kohl d’porish, mi’ut hamotzui, et al, for those who are familiar with these terms.)  Based on what we saw above, there are those who say that anything over 1/200th is problematic.  There are other poskim – halachic decisors – who take a more lenient approach, and their opinions vary from 3 – 16%.  The generally accepted view is in the single-digit range.  As the rabbi in charge of the kashrus department, what number will you use?  If you choose the lower numbers, you could cause prices to rise significantly, since more supervision (with its higher costs) is needed in the fields.  In addition, lowering the number means that more fruit will become suspect, resulting in less “kosher fruit”.  That might cause “minimalists” to buy where there is less supervision (which results in lower prices), and where more (suspect) fruit is available.  On the other hand, if you go for a “high number”, say 13%, to ensure that the  “minimalists” eat kosher, (since they don’t really care anyway), those who follow the stricter opinion will be eating something they, and many rabbonim consider to be orlo.

So rabbi, will you accept l’chatchilo a number that many poskim disagree with, knowing that some reject that number even b’di’e'ved?  Should people eat something classified as kosher according to minority opinions, (which means it is problematic according to most opinions), when the alternative is losing any control over what they eat?  If you opt for the former, what will you tell the “maximalists”?  That they are less important, that they should eat questionably kosher food to “save” others who are not terribly concerned about these issues in the first place?  (Please remember, you are the head of the kashrus department.  You must make a decision.)

This is only one of the complex issues that rabbis dealing with a small dedicated group of people would not have to deal with, but those rabbis dealing with amcha – the general population – have to grapple with on a daily basis.

IY”H, we will continue our discussion on these and other issues in the coming weeks.

****

Rabbi Tzvi Liker was the co-founder of the Chief Rabbinate’s Kosher-Import Division, and served as a kashrus consultant to the then-Chief Rabbis Avraham Shapiro, ז”ל, and יב”ל, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.  Since leaving the Rabbinate, Rabbi Liker has been working as a kashrus consultant, working with some of the world’s largest food manufacturers and some of Israel’s biggest food importers.  In addition, Rabbi Liker works as a kashrus freelancer, and in that capacity has traveled to nearly 20 countries around the globe, inspecting factories and doing hashgochos for some of the world’s premier certifying rabbis and agencies.  Rabbi Liker also lectures in yeshivos, seminaries and kollelim in Israel on kashrus and kashrus-related subjects.

2 Comments

  • August 30, 2009 - 10:48 | Permalink

    Wow! Well put. This article puts into perspective a very sticky situation. The Kashrut supervisors are between a rock and a hard place. I guess that is what the “Mehadrin” issue is all about!

  • Michael Mirsky
    August 31, 2009 - 19:39 | Permalink

    “If you do make the demands, and they forgo your hechsher, how will you feel knowing that tens of thousands of people might be eating traif (of one sort or another) because of your (”unreasonable”) requirements?”

    That would be the outcome if the buyer doesn’t care about Kashrut because in that case the vendor would have no Teudah. So with or without you giving the hechsher, the buyer would likely eat traif anyways.

    But I think the actual outcome may be worse; the vendor may turn to another person who offers a hasgacha who is much more compliant, turns a blind eye to even “minimalist” halachic violations and people see the teudah and eat the food thinking it is fine.

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