Better than the OU?

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39 Responses

  1. marc says:

    I dont think its a matter of a better hashgacha. They capitalize on a tactic tgat appeals to tge most base part of a human being – Us vs them.

  2. Michoel says:

    what I find most objectionable is the fact that all the chasidish hechsherim rely heavily on the OU themselves.

  3. southern belle says:

    What was the l’toeles point of this article?

    [YA – The obvious one is defending the honor of all those who work in OU kashrus, after they were maligned. There are a few more, but I’m not going to spell them out.]

  4. dr. bill says:

    In a sicha a good number of years ago, RAL ztl added another dimension to your point. He noted that our ability to spend, as a community, is bounded. Spending on (unnecessary personnel / chumrot / etc.) in one area, negatively effects our expenditure in another. Kashrut and chinuch were his illustration of the point.

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    If I remember correctly, there was an article in Ami Magazine by a former OU rabbi who reminisced about his interactions with various other rabbonim. He mentioned that years ago, a famous Chasidishe Rebbe called the OU to have a joint hechsher on a new baby food, and that the Rebbe mentioned that the need for heimishe baby food was in order to give his Chasidim parnasah in the baby food business! Has anyone seen this article ?

  6. Mordechai says:

    Shades of Gray – I remember something like that, though not that it was baby food specifically.

    Good job RYA!

    FYI, (Some, esp. large, major ones) Different Hassidic groups in the NY area have their own butcher shops and/or shechita, and members of the groups are expected to buy meat from their group/its hashgacha. Whether that is portrayed as a halachic/reliability decision, or trying to support their own community, it is a fact. And to some degree there are similar situations with other products as well, among some.

  7. Natan Slifkin says:

    Excellent article, as always. It’s far from clear that it is necessarily a hiddur to want food with a “better” hechsher. The Shevus Yaakov (II:58) was asked about a move to reject the kosher status of meat that was slaughtered in outlying villages by Jews that were insufficiently learned or pious. He strongly condemned this approach, arguing that one must not cause resentment, that one must also be considerate of the needs of travelers and most of all that the Jewish community must be united and not splinter into groups with different halachic standards.

  8. Former "Mashgiach" says:

    About twenty years ago, when I was a teenager who could tenuously be described as religious, I worked as a “mashgiach” for a prominent Heimishe Hechsher in Flatbush. I put mashgiach in quotation marks because while I was officially a mashgiach, and was supposed to report on kashruth irregularities, in reality I was employed by the restaurant as a cashier. This meant that if there were to be any kind of breach of the standards that I was supposed to maintain, I was supposed to report those to the head of the kashruth organization. However, being that my monthly salary was coming from the store and not the kashruth organization, if I were in fact to report them I would lose my job. This is all from a purely practical POV, not to mention that I never in my life met with anyone from the kashruth organization, and giving my lack of almost all religious observance at that point, had they even laid eyes on me I cannot imagine that they would have employed me. Rest assured that there were an overabundance of kashruth irregularities and breaches, including maginally kosher meat being sold under the aegis of the reputable kashruth organization not one of which was reported by me.

    So much for the “hiddur” of the Heimishe Hechsherim.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    This can resemble identity politics – vote for me because I’m just like you.

  10. DF says:

    As others here correctly note, the claim of “wanting a better hechsher” is really little more than a marketing ploy. The OU is orthodox, not “heimishe”, and there is a big difference. The problem is that the OU doesn’t seem to grasp that. Much the same way as some on the left side of orthodoxy have an unrequited hankering to be recognized by the right, the OU always seeks to appeal to the lowest common denominator. In the kosher setting, that means following every chumrah and daas yachid, all in an attempt to appeal to the right wing, who are really more interested in style than substance anyway. Its been a long time, but my last inquiries revealed that the OU wont even use bittul – at all – in the misguided belief that this will somehow make them more acceptable to Lakewood. Likewise, they hold that “ain mivatlin issur lichatchilah” applies even to faceless corporations who, needless to say, have no intention of being “mivattel” anything. It’s obvious that this has no application to the modern industrial setting, but, again, the OU adheres to a minority opinion that says somehow it does, all in a bid to be as frum as possible. If I’m wrong on that, I would genuinely love to hear otherwise. Perhaps new policy has recognized the futility of trying to be all things to all people.

  11. Y says:

    Your article raised various valid points. There is a need for a OU (and/or OK) organization with published standards and access in formation etc. The “chassidic” community has a need for various kashrus concerns such as Cholov Yisroel, Pas Yisroel. While we can argue all day if they are chumros os required, these poeple follow their Rabbonim who consider it a requirement. That is whay their is availd reason to have a “speacial brand” with OU and “other” hechshers. OU to make sure it is kosher and the “others” to (hopefully) make sure it meets the “other” requirements.

    If you want to get ahead of this offer to do the same thing. How about an OU+ certification. This is already done by the Rabbanut in Israel.

    [YA – There is validity to this. There is no validity to calling the additional hechsherim “better.”

    (And there is only some validity to the first point, because the OU is perfectly capable of supervising Cholov Yisroel and Pas Yisroel products – and does so! In fact, each Elul the OU publishes as list of baked goods that are Pas Yisroel for use during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah)

  12. Shlomo says:

    Here is an ironic story: I used to work for a heimish food distribution company. Our products had both the heimish and OU hechsherim, except our vegetable oil and margarine, which were made by a company under the OK, so the OU was not on our margarine. I delivered to David’s Cookies, which is under the OU. The receiving manager was a Haitian, and the mashgiah was not there at the time. The receiving manager rejected the margarine because he didn’t recognize the hechsher!

  13. Shmuel says:

    IMHO, this is more about conflating brand preference/acceptability with actual hashgacha standards. Poland Spring or Dasani are as kosher as Mayim Shuvim brand – but there’s a preference toward buying from “unzer” companies. I don’t think the heimishe purveyor meant to cast aspersions on other hechsherim as being “not kosher” enough in the literal sense; the individual in question probably lacks the ability to articulate it in any other way.

  14. L says:

    Many years ago I knew a particular yeshivishe family in Brooklyn who didn’t trust OU kashrus, because they felt it was “too big” to be reliable. A year later I heard a talk from one of the top rabbinic coordinators in the OU, in which he demonstrated how absurd that mentality was, and related an anecdote of having been informed casually by the head of a particular chasidishe hashgacha that the food dyes on their colored sprinkles didn’t have any supervision, because, he said rhetorically, “does a color need a hechsher?!”. Several years later I took a job working in the OU Kashrus department, which was all the convincing I ever needed that the OU provides airtight, diligent hashgacha on all of its certified products. Their in-depth knowledge of food science and the inner workings of the industry, combined with the Torah scholarship and yiras Shamayim of the personnel should leave no one with any doubts. Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein, for defending their reputation.

  15. Sarah Elias says:

    It has always been my understanding that while the OU is tops when it comes to mashgichim who know their job and are on top of their clients, the OU’s psakim on certain shailos in food production are different than those of chassidishe poskim. Not necessarily better/worse or machmir/meikil, but different. You can hardly blame chassidim for preferring food manufactured under their own rabbonim’s guidelines, can you?

    [YA – Correct. Can’t, wouldn’t, didn’t. We would be remiss, however, if we did not object to the word “better.” Adopting different standards are neither better nor worse. They are appropriate for some people, and inappropriate for others. Using the word “better” injects a value judgment that leads to gaavah, superficiality, and rejection of others.]

  16. Mark Richards says:

    1. It is absurd to lump together ‘heimishe hashgachos’ as one. There are different ones with different standards and the educated consumer will know what to look for.
    2. The idea that we would be better off with just one Kashrus authority does not make sense. The OU fixed up its act when society, and other hashgachos, demanded more. They improved a lot, both in fact and in their image. That just shows us how important it is to have a multiplicity of Kashrus organizations.
    3. The OU may not be machmir on certain shitos due t their mandate of providing Kosher food for all. How is a person who has a mesorah to eat just cholov Yisroel (a halocho not a chumra according to the Chasam Sofer, even in today’s generation, see Igros Moshe for the source material) or who does not use cottonseed oil on Pesach (as per the Vilna Gaon) or a Sefarady who has different standards of meat or bishul akum etc. to be able to purchase anything for their own use? Their is a real need for multiple hashgachos to represent the different traditions amongst us.
    4. The ‘Heimishe Hashgachos’ provide business for their customers, the manufacturers. Does Beech Nut ‘deserve’ our custom any more than a heimishe company? When I bought soda, I tried to buy Be’er Mayim instead of Coke. I prefer that my brother, who will probably give his ma’aser to a fund that could benefit me or someone I know, make the profit on my transaction. I would choose a heimishe mechanic for the same reason. That is a valid way of thinking, and if you do not think like that, go buy Beech Nut. Nobody said it was ossur.

  17. joe cohen says:

    I heard from a current head of a large Kashrus organization who worked for the OU for ten years, that while no one can match the OU for professionalism and competence, there are definitely some areas where the “Heimishe” Hashgochos have advantages, specifically in regards to Bishul Akum and Kashering procedures.

    According to him, the OU is forced to rely on certain Kulos for economic purposes, that the Heimishe Hashgochos who are working on a much smaller volume are able to avoid.

  18. Chochom b'mah nishtanah says:

    Interesting to note that RYA did not write such a lengthy and scathing piece about the “Magen Tzedek” heksher.

  19. Yonah Levi says:

    “a hashgacha like the OU in which pecuniary gain is not a direct issue.”

    You don’t actually believe everything you type, do you? The OU uses cholov stam (for products that are in violation of Rav Moshe’s heter, such as chocolate bars) and is staunchly zionist. Why should they get the support of the klal? Why shouldn’t we support hashgachos that share our values?

  20. Yossi says:

    I’m a little puzzled about the point of his article, and I’m surprised by the tone of what seems to be a knee-jerk reaction. While what RYA writes here is pretty well known by those in kashrut, it is by no means certain that the OU is always better either. Everyone recognizes the technical and professiona expertise of the OU, and indeed almost all kashrut organizations may be relying on them in one way or the other. However, there definitely are some heimishe hechsherim that rely on less leniencies, and may indeed be better. I’m not saying this one own; I heard from a high up in the OU that there are some heterim that they rely on that aren’t the strongest.

    But that isn’t even my point. While it is certainly debatable whether many heimishe hechsherim are better, it isn’t a given that the OU is better either. Perhaps it is better than many, but likely not better than some. Who’s to judge? It seems to be a matter of opinion or preference. If that is the case, then RYA taking offense on their behalf doesn’t seem sll that different than the person quoted saying the heimishe one is better. It’s like “My Tati is stronger than yours”, and the other kid says “my Tati is”. Especially with the ending lines of the article- the one who uttered those “ill considered words” was “having a bad day- must have been something he ate.” The kind of sarcasm calls into question the quality of the product, which I think RYA has no right to do and is beneath him. The person interviewed, if I remember correctly, was a twenty-two or twenty-four year old chassidish yungerman trying to make a parnasah who was quoting something that he’s been taught culturally, however ignorant that may be. But i couldn’t detect any malice or “snark”.

    RYA is undoubtedly (I’m just assuming) a much bigger Talmid Chacham and I’m disturbed by the tone at the ending of the article. As the chassidism might say, “past nisht”. The same point (or opinion) could have been stated without the tone at the end, and in my opinion should have been.
    I respect RYA tremendously as NOT being sectarian, petty, etc and always look to him for balanced, rational, non-personal commentary. I don’t think this article met his usually excellent criteria.

    [YA – You could be right about the end. It was an attempt at humor, not snarkiness, but I may have overreached. Do understand, though, that the point was not to skewer some 24 year-old who is entitled to make a parnasah and was clever enough to find a vacuum and resourceful enough to fill it. The villain here is an attitude that runs the gamut of the frum world – feelings of superiority of “my” way in avodas Hashem, and bitul of that of the other. The word “better” that was used (and should have been caught by one of the proof-readers) was not just a pleitas ha-kulmus. It is a slice of life of the community. Aimed at the dozens of talmidei chachamim in the OU, it could not go unchallenged.]

  21. Dovid says:

    I think the writer is missing the point, the OU is a wonderful hasgacha and very professional, however even they admit that they are trying to make kosher as available to the masses as possible. So therefore for example they will permit chalav stam, or their tuna fish has no mashgiach temidis and is cooked by a goy, now while they have valid opinions to rely on, many people might not be so comfortable with these lenience’s and would prefer a hasgacha that is more makpid, has more hidurim and doesn’t rely on various tzirufim. If the OU is fine for you then great, if you would like a higher level also great, Live and Let Live

    [YA – Exactly my point. Live and let live – without the value judgment and the superciliousness. I wouldn’t call it a higher level. In fact, for some people, latching on to the easy route of external hidurim rather than focusing on their avodas pnim is a decidedly lower level. And for the record, I don’t believe that Beech-nut baby carrots are plagued by any admixture of pas palter, cholov stam, or tuna fish]

  22. lacosta says:

    Yonah Levi is probably correct, and i hope he will point out to us the anti-zionist hechshers , so a different ‘klal’ can avoid them like treif….[we knew as children already that Mayim Chayim couldnt come into the house on pesach..]

  23. Raymond says:

    My feeling about the kosher laws and Jewish law in general, is that life itself is so challenging as it is, and people who follow Jewish law live on a spiritual plane so much higher than all other humans, that I figure it is not really necessary to follow more than the minimum required by Jewish law. Of course, if any given individual Jew wishes to be more stringent than that, that is a private matter between him and his G-d, just not the path that I would follow.

  24. farrockgrandma says:

    Philosophically speaking, Kashruth is one example of a halacha and way of life that should be uniting us and instead has become a source of division and discord. We truly are living in times of galus.
    Practically, with the volume of OU products, we are relying on the diligence, knowledge, and integrity of hundreds of mashgichim. However, this would be just as true if we relied on many smaller hashgachas. For the OU, we have an experienced and knowledgeable management team providing training, supervision, and support. Which do you think works better??

  25. David says:

    1. It’s truly mind-blowing how many commentors apparently don’t understand (or don’t want to understand)the point of this piece.

    2. Apropos heimish: I remember going in to a bakery in Brooklyn and upon looking for the hechser being told that “we don’t have one, we’re heimish”. I told them that I didn’t see what connection that has. I mean, OK, so the cookies are just like home-made – so what? They didn’t get my sarcasm.

  26. jolly Charedi says:

    “latching on to the easy route of external hidurim rather than focusing on their avodas pnim is a decidedly lower level.”
    so for those who focus on both avodas pnim and kashrus standards is it truly a higher level?

    [YA – It definitely can be. It can be the opposite as well. That is part of a larger conversation about the value of chumros, which clearly have a place in avodas Hashem, depending on which perek in Mesilas Yesharim you see yourself holding. At the wrong level, chumros create a wonderful opportunity for the yetzer hora to push back, usually subconsciously, creating all kinds of mischief. They lead to eivah (see Shut Shevus Yaakov, chelek 2 #28 – Thank you R Slifkin for the cite!) and gaavah. At other times, the increase in dikduk in halacha is the best hedge against change from a hostile surround (See Eyn Ayah of R. Kook, Shabbos vol.1 pg 12 – at least the way I read it.) והדברים עתיקים]

  27. L. Oberstein says:

    Rabbi berel Wein when he was head of OU Kashrus was asked by a satmar guy if he could come in to a plant and give a better hechsher on the product. Rabbi Wein told him that thare was nothing better the guy could do but agreed to go to the Satmar Rebbe and follow his advise. The Rebbe told him that this guy needs parnassa and that the only reason to give him permision is so he cold make a living. it had nothing to do with kashrus improvement in any way.l My issuse is that we, the modernish community, are too intimidated by people who claim to be frummer/stricter than us. We don’t have the courage of our convictions to stand up for our normality and give in to the ones who saythey are stricter. We never fight back, we just erase the women from the picture as if that wasn’t a sin against their tzelem Elokim,etc. We are all a bunch of wimps.

  28. mb says:

    I can only imagine what these guys think about the London Beth Din!

  29. DF says:

    It seems a lot of people *assume* the OU is more meikel because it is more professional and less “hemishe”. That is a misconception based on nothing more than appearance. As the examples I gave in my comment above show, the opposite is true. It is precisely because of concern for that image that they bend over backwards, far too much in my opinion, to conform to minority opinions and chumrahs. I could have cited their move away from the DE, and onto a generalized D. [Ironically, anecdotal evidence tells me that particular move backfired, as it resulted in people simply reading the ingredients to determine for themselves if a product is truly dairy or not.] Again, as the commenters show, “heimishe” hechsherim are frequently much less rigid than the OU, and to reiterate, that is the correct approach to take.

    No doubt the OU will read this and say “some think we’re too meikel, some think we’re too machmir – that means we’re doing it right!” That’s not correct, but cant address everything in one comment.

  30. Bob Miller says:

    Anyone involved with quality assurance in a major corporation that caters to finicky customers (makers of aircraft engines, medical/dental implants, pharmaceuticals…) knows the complexity and difficulty involved in maintaining complete traceability and control at all levels. This is a discipline unto itself. Kashrut was its forerunner and continues as a major example. Heimish might not mean unprofessional by definition, but it often has that look.

  31. Steve Brizel says:

    A “better hechsher”-ask anyone who is in Kashrus today who has the ability to deal with the metzius in terms of both analysis of any halahic issues, food chemistry, etc of any product that is seeking a hashgacha-the overwhelming answer is the OU.

  32. CJ Srullowitz says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, Yasher kochacha! I believe this to be the best essay you ever wrote. Love, love, love the bang ending.

    Mori veRebbi, Rav Berel Wein, shlit”a, has spoke many times, and writes in his latest book, about how people would bash the OU to build up their hechsher and then call him, when he headed their Kashrus department, to answer questions they had about particular suppliers, ingredients, etc. They would do this without the slightest regard to the hypocrisy they were perpetuating.

    The OU, not without problems, is one of the great stories of American Judaism.

  33. Yossie Abramson says:

    I was surprised to find out the reason why most of the bakeries in Brooklyn are under the CRC and not the OU/OK/*, etc. Apparently the CRC does not require the taking of challah on bakery items, even though the bakeries are baking well over the amount needed. The OU does require challah and so the bakeries opt for the CRC to save dough (and dough).

  34. CJ Srullowitz says:

    There’s a terrific book that came out about a year ago called, “Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food,” By Timothy Lytton, publised by Harvard University Press. It’s a great read and far less daunting than its title suggests. Everyone with an interest in Kashrus should read it. Prof. Lytton interviewed all the names in Kashrus: Rabbis Wein and Genack of the OU, the Senters from the Kof-K, the Levys from the OK, and many others. He paints a detailed picture of how these organizations work, and provides agenda-free conclusions.

    Two things become clear.

    One, the “Big Five” as they are known (OU, CRC, Kof-K, Star-K, OK) have agreed-upon standards that allows them to utilize each other’s hechsheirim (for example, if the OK is certifying a product that uses ingredients certified by the Kof-K) as well as the hechsheirim of other smaller kosher agencies. These standards appeared to this reader to be, in the main, stricter that many would deem necessary.

    Two, the logistics of properly supervising a plant, a hotel, a store, are daunting. You can have all the chumros you like, but without sufficient manpower – not to mention a Chinese wall between the paid mashgichim and the paying clients – corners will be cut.

    Most of all, you will put the book down with a sense of nachas that, despite the occasional scandal, the kashrus industry is a tremendous success and kiddush Hashem.

  35. Aperion says:

    While I don’t know if the term “better hashgacha” is warranted in this case – to my knowledge OU is one of the best hashgachos out there, RYA seems to disagree with calling any chumra or hanhagah “better” or “worse”. If we’re noheig one way the entire year and another way during Aseres ymei teshuva, shouldn’t we assume that the latter hanhagah is “better”? If Rav Moshe writes that the klal can be noheig one way with regard to chalav stam but that “Bnai Torah” (and mekomos chinuch for all children) should be noheig another way, can’t we call that other way better?

    [YA – IMHO, no and yes.

    The idea of foregoing pas palter during Aseres yemai teshuva does not presuppose that this is a “better” hanhagah. Primarily, the chumros we adopt during that time are meant to show (ourselves) that we needn’t be creatures of habit, but can change our ways. This is an important part of teshuvah.

    Is eschewing cholov stam “better” than drinking cholov Yisrael? Here you can make a stronger case – but only because doing so should not be called following a chumrah. Rather, it is closer to ikar ha-din, with R Moshe coming up with a line of reasoning that is a reliable but somewhat novel kulah. That said, it is not always “better” to embrace even the ikar ha-din when reliable kulos exist. For some people, it would be the wrong decision. I hope to have lots more to say about this in a follow-up post.]

  36. HalachicFellow says:

    RYA-

    If you admit that OU relies on heteirim which are not universally accepted (and you do), why then are the others not better hechsheirim? Wouldn’t you agree that Glatt meat is “better” than non-glatt?

    [YA – I wouldn’t. It is better for some, and worse for others. For those who will benefit and understand the inyan of being machmir, they will be held accountable if they are not. For others, it will be atzas ha-yetzer. I do hope to write a full analysis as soon as I get an opportunity, BEH]

  37. Danny Rubin (Baltimore MD.) says:

    Allow me to share my personal experience with the OU and the world of Hashgacha.

    One week after receiving smicha, I received a call from a kashrus organization asking if I would supervise a kashering at a juice factory. The caller proceeded to give me oral instructions about tanks and hoses (none of which I had ever seen before in my life.) and said “Don’t worry, the workers will know what to do!” Needless to say I turned down the job.
    One week later the OU contacted me and wanted me to get involved with supervising a winery. They paid me to spend a week on premises before starting and this was only to be qualified as a substitute mashgiach who is “on-call” when others cannot make it. My responsibilities with the OU increased from there and with each job I not only encountered exemplary standards of kashrus but high standards of organization as well. I was never at a job where I could not get through to the subject matter expert that I needed at the OU office. In addition each person I spoke to, knew the situation well enough to describe the factory as if he visited it yesterday.

    I’m amazed when I encounter people who somehow can’t find enough “Daas Torah” to return a voice message or give an ounce of intelligent information as a shidduch reference but are completely comfortable condemning OU kashrus with 5th hand hearsay!!!

    Thank you for bringing this issue to light.

  38. mycroft says:

    “RAL ztl added another dimension to your point. He noted that our ability to spend, as a community, is bounded. Spending on (unnecessary personnel / chumrot / etc.) in one area, negatively effects our expenditure in another. Kashrut and chinuch were his illustration of the point.”
    Similarly each time one raises the bar and increases the costs of being Orthodox others are pushed out of the possibility of being able to live an Orthodox life.

    “You can have all the chumros you like, but without sufficient manpower – not to mention a Chinese wall between the paid mashgichim and the paying clients – corners will be cut.”

    Without rotation of mashgichim it is natural that mashgichim will tend to get too close to those they supervise. If auditors have to rotate certainly mashgichim should. Say maximum of 4-5 years at any individual company.

  39. Tal Benschar says:

    @Aperion

    Keeping a chumrah is not always “better” and certainly not for every person.

    There is a famous gemara in Chullin (105a) that discusses eating dairy after meat:

    Mar ‘Ukba said: In this matter I am like vinegar the son of wine compared with my father. For if my father were to eat meat now he would not eat cheese until this very hour the next day, whereas I do not eat [cheese] in the same meal but I do eat it in my next meal.

    From various interpretations of this gemara come various customs of waiting (1 hour, 3 hours, 6 hours) between meat and dairy.

    Less well known is R. Yisroel Salanter’s explanation of this gemara. What does it mean that Mar Ukba was “vinegar the son of wine” in that he did not wait 24 hours to eat dairy, but already ate it at the next meal? Did Mar Ukba have such an uncontrollable desire for cheese that he couldn’t wait 24 hours? That makes no sense — Mar Ukba was among the great amoraim, and it certainly would not have been all that difficult for him to wait. (Even today, it is not unimaginable that we would keep such a chumrah.)

    Rather, the explanation is, he was not fit to be as stringent as his father. You have to be on a high level to keep such a stringency, and Mar Ukba felt that he was not sufficiently pious to adopt such a chumrah. For his father, yes, for him, no.

    Today, the thinking seems to be that chumros are for every Tom, Dick and Harry. (Or, perhaps, every Chayim, Yankel and Mordechai.) That was not always the view.

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