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International experts in SA to investigate kashrut

  • NicolaStanandPete
“This is not a trivial trip. We don’t fly this far for window dressing.” These are the words of visiting kashrut expert Rabbi Menachem Genack. Together with two other senior kashrut experts, he has been in the country to inspect every nook and cranny of the Beth Din’s kashrut supervision system. The three are part of the Union of Orthodox Synagogue’s (UOS) “programme of action” following the Stan & Pete incident.
by NICOLA MILTZ | May 10, 2018

The three senior American-based kashrut experts have spent the past four days scouring the inner workings of the Beth Din’s kashrut department and its supervision systems. The visiting rabbis include Genack, Rabbi Moshe Elefant and Rabbi Sholem Fishbane.

They are the three most senior rabbinic executives who form part of the executive committee of the Association of Kashrus Organisations (AKO), which is the international governing and accreditation body of kashrut organisations throughout the world.

According to the UOS, the terms of reference for their visit are: “To review the kashrut supervision system of the Beth Din, and to make recommendations, if necessary, for improvements to the systems based on international best practices.”

The AKO delegation will be looking at every aspect of the kashrut system, from kosher restaurants, butcheries, bakeries and caterers to certified factories and the shechita. They have met with inspectors, mashgichim and kashrut personnel and will look at the data processes.

Genack told the SA Jewish Report that while the Stan & Pete incident was “catastrophic” and he could understand the community’s shock, it was something that can happen anywhere.

“This situation is not unique at all,” he said. “No system is perfect if you are determined to cheat. It can happen and does happen. We have to be alert so it doesn’t happen consistently. It doesn’t happen often, though.”

He cited one example in Chicago in 1987, when Shelat Kosher Foods of Chicago put kosher labels on products that were prepared in a plant and not under rabbinical supervision, then sold the goods as kosher – for a higher price.

There have been incidents of consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices in other parts of the world too, with several cases in America as well as in Israel and in other countries in Europe.

“It is important how you respond to it,” said Genack. “We will evaluate and see how best to strengthen the system.”

He added that they were not here “to catch people out”, but here to evaluate systems and make recommendations where necessary.

“We are representatives of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division, a supervisory organisation of kosher food, and we have a very high regard for the Chief Rabbi and South Africa’s communal structures with regard to things like the Shabbos Project. We are taking this seriously.”

Said Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein: “These are the three most senior kashrut executives in the Orthodox Union. They are people with such high standing and their integrity is attached to whatever reports they come up with. What they put their name to has enormous credibility. We are not paying them for their services.”

Elefant also spoke to the SA Jewish Report about his impressions so far. He said the visit to South Africa had been “very tiring”.

“They have worked us to the bone,” he said.

He added that, apart from holding meetings with Goldstein, dayonim and every employee at the Beth Din, and having assessed the computer systems at the Beth Din offices, he and the other rabbonim had also met with several members of the community, stakeholders in kashrut and rabbonim not involved in kashrut.

“We have a very positive impression so far in terms of the willingness of the people,” said Elefant. “People are great listeners; they don’t get offended when you ask them questions or criticise.

“The most satisfying and gratifying thing is that everyone is anxious to move forward and do better. The best thing is the great attitude across the board.”

He said the visiting rabbonim had spent a lot of time with the mashgichim at the various establishments they had visited. He said there was no worldwide standard of accreditation for mashgichim or formal blueprint for the training of a mashgiach.

“Every organisation should have their own internal processes. Firstly, one must be able to identify who is and isn’t qualified to be a mashgiach. Not everyone can be a mashgiach.”

And secondly, adequate and ongoing training is vital.

“A mashgiach needs strong supervision and hands-on training,” he said.

According to Goldstein, the three rabbis’ CVs speak for themselves.

Genack is the CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher (OU) Certification Agency since 1980. The OU oversees the certification programme of over 10 000 food production facilities in 94 countries. It is the largest and most widely recognised kosher certification agency.

Genack is the author of eight books, the co-editor of the Torah journal, Mesorah, and the editor of OU Press. He is a member of the Board of Trustees and Professor of Talmud at Touro College in New York.

Elefant is the chief operating officer and executive rabbinic co-ordinator of OU Kosher. He manages the day-to-day operations of OU Kosher and has a broad understanding of the global kosher certification industry and the practical applications of kosher in the manufacturing and consumer market place.

As director of the New Company Department, he oversees the processing, evaluation and implementation of the hundreds of applications received by the OU each year requesting kosher certification. He is the author of two books on halacha and has an international reputation as a Maggid Shiur.

Fishbane is director of kashrus for the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC), one of the five leading kashrut organisations in the world. Many of his innovations in procedure have become standard in the industry. His proficiency in all kashrut-related issues has made his opinion and advice widely sought after. He has lectured throughout the world and is widely published. He is also a certified shochet.

The UOS has appointed Rabbi Dovi Goldstein as the new Managing Director of the Kosher Department. He has worked closely with the three visiting rabbis this week.

“Part of Dovi Goldstein’s mandate will be to implement the recommendations that will be contained in the visiting rabbi’s assessment report,” said the Chief Rabbi

“This is not so much about appeasement as about the fact that we are determined to have a world-class kashrut infrastructure and we want the best people in the world to advise us on our weaknesses and on how we can improve.”

The Chief Rabbi said that there was a “vision to be a world-class community in every respect”, and that in so many ways, “we have achieved this”.

“We have a Jewish school system that is the envy of the world. The South African kashrut standards have been highly respected around the world for years, but this doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes.

“We need to continue to strive to ensure that we maintain world-class standards with regard to all aspects of Jewish life and never ever accept mediocrity.”

The visiting rabbis will submit a report on their findings and recommendations in the weeks to come.

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