JKN Is Back!

Eve 5 Shevat 5772

January 28, 2012

Well after a hiatus of a number of months I am back. I do not seek nor expect applause, but I decided, influenced by those around me – the very same rabbonim and others who give me the ‘push’ to keep it going that the service must continue for if not, the voice is silenced. From my perspective, while I enjoyed not doing some of what JKN entails, it has been too quiet and too many things are going unreported – hence the decision to return, albeit a bit of a different format. I have come to realize that in many cases I am the garbage can, the place rabbonim and mashgichim pour out their hearts realizing I will address it when others are afraid.

Yes, there is what to fear for the people in the kosher business are making megabucks and when you rock the mega boat, there is much anger and worse. Believe me, I have been there! It is not all about being righteous and giving the Jewish People what they require, for if it was, there would be nothing but cooperation when we seek transparency. Instead, the dark veil of professional silence continues to dominate. The last things the rabbis want is for you to really learn. Yes I know there are wonderful lectures and information around the world today, truly good stuff in the form of CDs, lectures, web programs and more, but I am talking about opening your books to the public. Let me see if you are doing your job and that my friend demands third party auditing.

More on this subject in the future, I promise.

To my dismay, kashrus has deteriorated in many areas in Eretz Yisrael, not due to my absence, but due to the fact the public at large is interested in eating without asking, without inquiring as to standards. This diminishes the need for competent kashrus since store owners realize “Why waste my money if they eat anyway”. Baruch Hashem in an area like Ramat Beit Shemesh, things have changed after two years of kashrus guides, dozens of lectures, and rabbonim working to educate. If you only knew. When I walk around our holy capita with my wife and see where many frum people are seated and eating I cry. It is painful but unless you care enough to learn, there is no hope for a better tomorrow. The hashgachas don’t want me out there making noise, because when you get it, you begin asking the questions they don’t want to address. Yes, it’s about money, money, kovod and least but not least, money.

Some of the Changes

For one thing, shuk tours are a thing of the past (for the time being). We never say never for we do not know what the future holds. In addition, I stopped lecturing to schools and do not plan to resume for the time being. Why you ask – simply because I do not want the responsibility. At the risk of sounding haughty, by and large students from abroad are clueless as to the basics of kashrus.

(Sad note about chinuch abroad but for you subscribers outside of Israel. On the brighter side, Israeli kids learn about the same, close to nothing about kashrus so don’t be too offended).

I am unwilling to give a crash course in two hours when the general interest surrounds eating out as part of the year’s “Israel experience”. Hence, speak to your rabbonim. I opt out. Any school in Israel interested in a weekly class – please contact me and we can talk.

I approached a number of schools in the USA seeking to inquire about lectures for seniors, naïve enough to hope to lay the groundwork for them before arriving in Israel in Elul or Tishrei, but who cares. That’s right – if the schools that send the students abroad cared, they would at the very least have the rabbonim learn about kashrus. Instead, I hear “my rabbi said this hechsher is fine so what are you talking about”. And I say “then eat it”.

“Everyone eats it” is a poor response that carries no credibility when one knows in Israel today there are simply many bogus and incompetent hashgachas. This is fact as unpleasant as it may be and it crosses religious political boundaries.

Sadly, most of the rabbonim I have met from abroad are truly clueless about the kashrus in Israel and it is sad that rather than just saying so, and telling congregants to inquire in Israel, they approve one hashgacha or another because the name of a prominent rav is attached to it or do not wish to exhibit their ignorance in the field. Well excuse me for being blunt, that doesn’t do it for the rav in the office does may write policy and if the mashgichim of that hashgacha are asleep at the wheel, than the kashrus isn’t worth the paper the teudah is printed on – all too often the case. We won’t even address hashgachas that send mashgichim around the world when those very mashgichim don’t even speak or function in English, yet alone the language of a particular country. You can rest assured of the kosher integrity of that product.

And lastly, some of problems stem from the fact that Am Yisrael’s level of adherence to kashrus has reached curbside with our life sustaining need to eat anything and everything the goyim have – from ostentatious hotels to cruises – we have it all! As a result, when one speaks straight Halacha without looking for leniencies; one appears to be a lunatic pushing chumras (stringencies).

I am not saying we need to look to make our lives increasingly difficult, but we need to understand why the rabbonim instituted law of non-Jews touching wine, drinking wine in the presence of goyim, having non-Jews bake bread and cook our food. Chazal, in their infinite wisdom wanted to keep us apart – to live separate and not ‘fit in’ – the very issues that make us uncomfortable since we do not wish to stand out. Yes, that is what it is about. We are a holy nation and that demands ‘not fitting in’ and yes, I too lived in the United States and understand this is taboo – but nonetheless, reality. Say what you will but the intermarriage rate proves Chazal were correct.

Postings on the list will continue, albeit at a different pace and format perhaps. Making a living simply takes too much time and I do not get around as much as in the past so I will share with you what I can.

I hope blei neder to offer an “Ask the Rabbi” section in which rabbonim who truly know kashrus will respond, not I.

Overall, and I plan to have it reflected in the postings, I am more cynical and more burned out. I think one too many calls from someone in a hotel and restaurant calling and asking if it okay to eat. If you really care, after you book reservations is not the time to ask.

And last and far from least, Eretz Yisrael is sadly not yet a kosher haven. Because the national language is Hebrew does nothing to enhance the kashrus and we are no different than any other country, INCLUDING JERUSALEM. That means if you do not see a reliable kashrut (hashgacha) in a store, you should not be eating there. As to what is reliable, this is not something that can be addressed in a simple email posting.

If you really wish to learn, here are two options:

1) Sunday night class in English in my home in the Nachlaot section of the capital. We begin at 20:00 and we go for about 90 minutes. This week G-d willing we begin learning the laws of separating challah.

2) Monday nights in Ramat Beit Shemesh at Congregation BTYA (http://www.btya.org/) beginning at 20:30. Maariv at 20:00. At least three more to go since this is the second Shovavim series. Here too about 90 minutes. 20 NIS a session. I think there are lower rates for multiple lectures. Visit the shul website.

Options one and two are open to men and women alike. It is not enough to want to know and understand, but it takes action, learning, listening. Please, join the empowered and open your eyes. It’s a wonderful feeling to understand what is going on around us in Eretz Yisrael kashrus wise that is, and that’s no easy task – but it is possible.

Remember, my voice may be abrasive at times, unwanted even, but I am not for sale and I am not connected to any hashgacha, so I tell it like I see it. If you really care, this is the forum for you. If not, unsubscribe and spare yourself the heartache. And if this all sounds wonderful, pass it around and encourage others to join the list.

Wishing you all a Shavua Tov, Gut Voch and a health winter.

Yechiel Spira.

37 Comments

  • D G
    January 28, 2012 - 21:20 | Permalink

    Welcome back! Yiyasher kochacha, and much appreciation for doing this at all.

  • January 28, 2012 - 21:23 | Permalink

    B”H

    Good to have you back !!!

  • Leah Mark
    January 28, 2012 - 21:23 | Permalink

    Dear Rabbi Spira,
    Delighted to have you back, since it is truly a huge service which you render albeit not appreciated by the Klal.
    Respectfully, Leah Mark

  • Esther Ivgy
    January 28, 2012 - 21:25 | Permalink

    Despite your difficulties and frustrations I want to thank you for continuing.

  • sheila shraga
    January 28, 2012 - 21:37 | Permalink

    Welcome back! We have missed you!

  • Zvi Aginsky
    January 28, 2012 - 21:41 | Permalink

    Welcome back and we will be in touch .
    BeHatzlacha

  • Alizah Hochstead
    January 28, 2012 - 21:50 | Permalink

    Kol HaKavod for returning to educating the tzibbur. It is a thankless job but necessary. Once again we had “sem” girls for Shabbat and the talk turned to Kashrut. The ignorance is great. I wish more people in my community cared about the topic and did not just think that the Rabbinute is out for money and trying to make their lives difficult.

  • Phyllis Koenigsberg
    January 28, 2012 - 22:02 | Permalink

    Welcome BACK!! We’ve missed you and look forward to the valuable information we had depended on from your website. We wish you much hatzlacha.

  • Y.preiss
    January 28, 2012 - 22:21 | Permalink

    As a restaurant owner you are a breath of fresh air

    May Hashem continue to give you the koach to teach the jewish people the realities of kashrus in Israel

  • sobi&moshe beylus
    January 28, 2012 - 22:23 | Permalink

    thank”s for coming back

  • January 28, 2012 - 23:05 | Permalink

    Yechiel:
    Good to hear from you again. I was wondering what had happened to JKN.
    It will be good to have your insights again, even if in a slightly different form.
    Shlomo

  • Chaya Moncharsh
    January 28, 2012 - 23:17 | Permalink

    So glad to have your newsletter back. Look forward to your updates as I have in the past. All the best and a BIG THANKS!!!

  • Pith from Pinhas
    January 28, 2012 - 23:49 | Permalink

    WELCOME BACK. You have been sorely missed. I honestly hope your burnout will be cured and you will see results.

  • Reuven
    January 29, 2012 - 00:13 | Permalink

    Welcome back!
    Looking forward to you holding ppl responsible for their actions!
    Keep on lifting that ‘veil’ of darkness, little by little.

  • Avraham Rosenthal
    January 29, 2012 - 00:37 | Permalink

    Welcome back. We missed you.
    Cheileich LeOraisa!

  • Chaim Malinowitz
    January 29, 2012 - 01:14 | Permalink

    Welcome back!A much-needed and hoped-for piece of news.Let me know what I and others can do to help.
    One more thing–ma’ariv at BTYA is 10:15 pm, not 10 .(They need the `15 minutes to ask you more questions!)

  • Hoshea Lewenstein
    January 29, 2012 - 04:51 | Permalink

    Great to have you back.

    Hatzlacha Rabbah.

  • Linda Fern
    January 29, 2012 - 07:00 | Permalink

    I am so glad you are back. There are some of us who really need to learn & you are our source.
    Thank-you.

  • Y Illions
    January 29, 2012 - 07:49 | Permalink

    Shavuah Tov

  • rabbi yd webster
    January 29, 2012 - 08:43 | Permalink

    i am very happy that you decided to open up the site again the information that you supply is very usefull as a rav many people ask me shaalos about the kashrus in eretz yisroel and i always go to your site to get up to the date information
    hatzlacha raba
    yd webster

  • January 29, 2012 - 08:59 | Permalink

    Thank you for being out there. There has to be at least ONE consistent port in the storm in the stormy sea of kashrut. And, as always, we rely on you because you don’t tell us how to hold. You just demand that certifying organizations and vendors say what they mean, and mean what they say. Kol hakavod. May Hashem continue to bless you with clarity.

  • yehuda
    January 29, 2012 - 10:42 | Permalink

    Welcome back! We really missed you!! Cynical is definitely the way to go by the way. Much more interesting! Do you plan on selling those BTYA shiurim or will they all be posted regularly on their website like last year? (I live in the U.S. so I can’t attend)

  • Reb Mordechai
    January 29, 2012 - 12:54 | Permalink

    Yasher Koach,

    Glad to see you back!

    Chazak Ve’ematz

    Reb Mordechai

  • Uri
    January 29, 2012 - 15:05 | Permalink

    Welcome back! You’ve done an amazing job keeping those interested in the subject well informed and helping raise the level of kashrus knowledge among many people. Thank you and please keep up your good and holy work!!!

  • Suzanne Lieberman
    January 29, 2012 - 15:34 | Permalink

    Thank you for returning to the kashrus scene. You are a a light in a dark sky.

  • Shy Guy
    January 29, 2012 - 16:53 | Permalink

    וכל מי שעוסקים בצרכי ציבור באמונה…

    Thanks for returning.

  • Shmuel
    January 29, 2012 - 16:57 | Permalink

    baruch ha ba you are a light in the the dark world of kashrut supervision

  • Dovid
    January 29, 2012 - 17:21 | Permalink

    Welcome back. you were missed and VERY badly needed

  • shraga
    January 29, 2012 - 20:47 | Permalink

    Now that SYMS is out of business, maybe we can adopt their slogan- “An educated consumer is our best customer#. It is so true in the world of Kashrus (from a veteran mashgiach)

  • Akiva Blum
    January 29, 2012 - 21:15 | Permalink

    Welcome back! Even if your style will be different, every little bit of advice and information helps us all. Thanks.

  • Shmuel
    January 29, 2012 - 21:28 | Permalink

    It is a cause for joy to hear your honest voice speak up again. That’s the kind of thing we want to hear.

  • Moshe Weissman
    January 29, 2012 - 21:28 | Permalink

    Welcome back! Hashem should give you much hatlzlacha with your holy mission!

  • Y.Kohn
    January 29, 2012 - 23:32 | Permalink

    The idea of a kosher consumer group to oversee or at least report on the workings of the kashrus agencies is a wonderful one. The consumer knows essentially nothing at all about the food he is eating and it is high time that the veil of secrecy be lifted. R’ Yechiel notes that kashrus is about money and kavod. For the consumer however, it is about kashrus and we have a right to know.

  • Abbish
    January 30, 2012 - 00:36 | Permalink

    Kol Hakavod.

  • zvi menachem
    January 30, 2012 - 05:16 | Permalink

    As noted by all the other respondants, we are glad that you are back. you must have been deeply wounded by those who wanted to stop you. for that I say that L’poom Tzaarah Agrah.
    I hope that these words of encouragement give you the strength to persist in turning the tzibbur’s mind and hearts away from the timtum haleiv of non-kosher foods.

  • Henya
    January 30, 2012 - 13:51 | Permalink

    Glad to have you back!
    My DH has worked in kashrut for many years. We have lived and worked as mashgichim tmidi on a dairy farm in NY state under very difficult conditions. Then, for many more years DH has worked as a mashgiach in one of the NY restaurants. We do not need to be told how challenging it is “to make waves” and raise issues. Sometimes it is simply dangerous!
    Thank you very much for your reporting and your courage.
    Last year we made aliyah and to our horror discovered that kashrus issues here are even more difficult than they were in the US. We appreciate the guidance. Please, come up with a way to learn the people who want to know, but can not attend your weekly classes simply becouse we live on the other end of the country. In a way we are in even grater need of information, since products selection is much more limited here.
    We need hizuk and knowledge.

  • Eli
    January 31, 2012 - 20:04 | Permalink

    I was wondering why there were no new emails in my ‘kashrus’ folder of my inbox recently. At once point I did look back at the previous one to remind myself of the reason why but I am happy that it will בע”ה once again receive new information for me to read to keep aware of what’s going on.

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