I promised when I first got Canonist going again after the server outage that I’d be producing some reporting on the kosher supervision industry.
I kind of got lost on that story, but current events offer a great opportunity to get back into it. Over the next week or so, I hope to provide a lot of my reporting in posts at Canonist and Kosher Bachelor, toward an article I’m writing for Radar.
Most obviously, there’s Kosher Fest, which I hope to attend today.
As well, there are two interesting posts over at Jewschool, coming from essentially opposite ends of the kosher-supervision credibility spectrum.
First, L’chayim wrote about the kosher certification of Coca-Cola, something that developed in the 1930s when a local rabbi asked the company to change certain ingredients and then certified that the product was kosher. He writes:
Coke originally had a derivative of beef tallow in it! People, know what you put in your mouth. That’s part of what keeping kosher is all about.
Around 1990, about 20 years after Rabbi Geffen’s death, there was a bit of a scandal after the Jewish population realized that there was no one certifying Coca Cola as kosher anymore but we were all drinking it anyway. What if they decided to put back in the beef tallow glycerine or something else? In 1991, the OU took over certification of Coke, at least in North America.
As to that latter assertion, it’s not entirely true. One of the bigger stories about kosher supervision that’s been little told is how the Orthodox Union gained the contract to certify Coca-Cola as kosher. The issue wasn’t one of going from no certification to the OU, but of going from the certification of the Triangle K under Rabbi Jehoseph Ralbag. I interviewed people at both the OU and Triangle K in my first round of reporting, but failed to get into this issue. But there’s a lot more to it, certainly, than L’chayim says.
But there are further questions to ask about L’chayim’s post in light of the criticisms of Rabbi Yitzchok Abadi. Would a derivative of non-kosher beef tallow really render a product unkosher? How and why — and according to whom? Under contemporary assumptions about kosher in the Orthodox community, such questions are stupid, because the answer’s supposed to be an obvious no. But when we peel back the historical layers of understanding the kosher situation five, ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred years, we find a very different world, as regards many questions relating to kosher.
Moreso, are such concerns really of the present-day? How often is glycerine produced from beef tallow, as opposed to other means? And would one be able to tell whether that was the case from a food label?
The second Jewschool post comes from DeityBox, who touts Abadi’s recent declaration that Cinn-a-Bons are kosher. Her presentation, too, earns a lot of criticism. To be precise:
1) Abadi’s statement here applies only to the packaged Cinn-a-Bon items that you can buy at a grocery store, not to those sold fresh at restaurant-type establishments.
2) Anyone who’d been following the kosher supervision agencies’ definitions all along could have eaten these products. They’ve been certified kosher for quite some time (indeed, my reporting on Kosherfest from last year, now lost with the rest of the KosherBachelor archives, discussed this item). In this case, it was one of Abadi’s being more stringent than the kosher supervision agencies (in which he asserted that the agencies’ assumptions about cheese might be off) over a period of time that kept him from declaring the products kosher.
3) This is more just an extension of 2, but there are plenty of products that kosher supervision agencies say are kosher to which Abadi replies that they’re not. It’s important to understand these differences in philosophy, that they may be evaluated on their own grounds, instead of some corporate vs. the public breakdown.