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Taking a kosher scandal and turning it into a gift




The Managing Director of the Kosher Department of the Beth Din, Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, has been inspired by the recent review of the Beth Din’s kashrut department by high-ranking members of the international Association of Kashrus Organizations (AKO).

The overall findings of the AKO delegation, Rabbis Menachem Genack, Moshe Elefant, and Sholem Fishbane, was that the “general setup of the kosher supervision system was sound”, albeit “outdated”. This, they said applied to all areas of kosher supervision, including food service, factories, and shechita.

The experts found the need for improved lines of communication between all relevant stakeholders including office personnel, mashgichim, and consumers. They found that not enough factory inspections were being conducted, and suggested ways to improve the situation.

They recommended ways to streamline the bulk of the work in preparing vegetables and eggs for checking. They also suggested using regular food-service staff that would allow mashgichim to concentrate on other areas of their kashrut work.

The experts agreed that it was necessary to train new shochtim to ensure sustainability, and to make sure their working hours were acceptable.

Most importantly, they suggested the importance of a liaison officer who could cater to the diverse needs of the community.

Goldstein feels energised by the experts’ recommendations, and sees this new chapter as an “exciting challenge”.

He says the kashrut department is already investigating the feasibility of taking a DNA swab of a piece of meat or chicken, entering it into a central database, and determining its journey from source to plate.

Unlike most countries, having everything under one kashrut department in South Africa creates a unique opportunity to monitor meat and chicken, he says. It allows the department to record how many kilograms leave the abattoir and cross reference this with the amounts used in stores or at restaurants.

“We are in a position to do what no other country in the world can,” he said.

The three kashrut experts visited Johannesburg in May on behalf of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues following the Stan & Pete scandal. Their mandate was to review the kashrut supervision system, and to make recommendations for improvements based on international best practice. The three senior American-based experts spent four days scouring the inner workings of the Beth Din’s kashrut department and its supervision systems.

“It is good news that we have a sound kosher system,” says Goldstein. “We just need to innovate and modernise to make sure that we are in line with global best practice. We do not have to re-invent the wheel. We have listened to how the best in the world do things, and now we are ready to implement their suggestions and recommendations.”

He said that ever since the Stan & Pete incident, members of the public had been raising their hands and asking how they could become involved.

“The community wants to become involved in all areas of kashrut. I’m receiving lots of requests from people wanting to offer their time. We welcome this enthusiasm.”

The department has already started implementing changes based on the recommendations.

The first port of call is to offer refresher training courses and an annual conference for the 104 registered mashgichim, he said.

“Mashgichim are integral to the entire kashrut operation. They are the ones out in the field often working under difficult conditions in a pressured environment.”

Goldstein said that many do it as a calling, and it was recommended that there should be greater engagement with them, including an annual conference, and setting up a WhatsApp group to enhance communication between the department and Mashgichim. “This is not a difficult thing to do, and it’s cost effective,” said Goldstein.

He said the department had started to examine the feasibility of implementing modern technology as part of a check-in system for the mashgichim, such as an application that would monitor mashgichim.

“Two members of the community have offered to help with the costs of this call-in system for the mashgichim, which would enable them to call into the main offices of the Beth Din when they start and end their shifts.”

Each kosher establishment will be encouraged to install CCTV with live access granted to the Kosher Department. This will be a fully automated internal control centre at the Beth Din, the feasibility of which is still under investigation.

Goldstein is particularly excited by the use of the “thrip cloth” method being used overseas to check vegetables. “It makes the process less onerous and more accurate,” he said.

After soaking vegetables in soapy water, the produce is removed and the water is poured into two colanders that have a cheesecloth sandwiched between them. The cheesecloth is then placed on a light box where the mashgiach can see any signs of infestation.

In order to increase factory inspections – as recommended – the department is considering using local Rabbonim on a part -time basis to undertake inspections in their area. They would be paid per inspection rather than a fixed salary. This will also cut down on travel expenses.

Goldstein said the department had been granted access to the Universal Kosher Database which would allow it to find ingredients already certified by reputable agencies worldwide. This would cut down on the current system of reviewing ingredients, which the kashrut experts agreed was too onerous.

Rabbi Goldstein said the newly created kosher desk WhatsApp line had already received 1 500 queries even though it was still in start-up phase.

He said the department was aware that the community was under financial pressure, saying that it would be holding robust budgetary discussions to best prioritise the recommendations made by the visiting kashrut experts.

Most importantly, these changes and updates are not going to have an impact on the community’s pocket. “None of the steps we’ve outlined are going to cost the community extra money,” says Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein.

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  1. alice goldman

    Jun 29, 2018 at 7:43 am

    ‘isn’t this all just wonderful.

    and yet,  NO ONE  takes responsibility or admits  to a breach of protocols which happened in the Stan&Pete debacle.   Unless of course there is something we all don’t know……  all we seem to have are ‘outdated’ methods.’

  2. harvey rose

    Jul 2, 2018 at 10:11 am

    ‘Great news for foodies like me.

    The best way to my heart is a lovely piece of brisket that  has been under the best  Kosher Supervision.

    Perhaps the Mashgichim can be paid a LIVING WAGE ‘

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