Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Is the OK - OK?

Banner from the OK website
It feels like déjà vu all over again.* About 16 years ago a Charedi Bucher in Monsey, New York sold Treif (non Kosher) chickens to his strictly observant patrons – repackaging them as Kosher. He was eventually caught. But not before a huge number of people had been cooking and eating those chickens for quite some time. 

The uproar at the tine was huge! Pots and pans had to be Kashered. Expensive fine china that had absorbed Treif from those hot Treif chicken dinners had to be trashed. Or rely on leniencies for re-use that would take a year to be fully executed. 

Needless to say the justifiable anger at the ‘Monsey Butcher’ was palpable. I believe he was forced to divorce his wife and was ostracized from his community. 

I was told at the time that his reason for deceiving his customers was that he needed to support his sons and sons in law in Kollel. He simply could not do that with the high wholesale cost of Kosher chickens. After not paying his bills, the Kosher slaughter houses stopped selling to him. Desperate to stay in business and keep his children afloat in Kollel, he bought Treif chickens elsewhere at a much cheaper price – repackaged them and sold them for Kosher.  

If I recall correctly , he had a private Hechsher (Kosher certification). The rabbi that gave him that Hechsher was quite obviously very embarrassed at being so easily duped and stopped giving any Kosher certifications after that.

If there was ever a more insane rationale for selling Treif chicknens for Kosher, I would like to know what it is. The idea that his children staying in Kollel justified selling Treif to his devoutly religious customers is a mind boggling exercise in messed up logic. 

I guess at the end of the day, for him it was more about appearances than it was about serving God. I suspect that appearances mean a lot in the Charedi world. Perhaps even mean more than substance. As long as one wears the ‘uniform’ black hat, he does not have to be all that observant. On the other hand if ‘God forbid’ he wears a Kipa Seruga, he can be the meticulously observant and still be written off as outside the pale of the Torah true world.   

I’m not sure what this says about a community that prides itself in listening to Daas Torah. But it doesn’t say anything good. 

But I digress. 

Fast forward to today. It happened again. From YWN

OK Kosher has pulled their certification of Kosher Chinese Express in Manalapan, NJ, after damning video emerged of the eatery’s proprietor buying treif meat and chickens at a nearby wholesale store.

In a statement, OK Kosher said that “after intense and careful investigation” into the allegations, it has determined that it must pull its hashgacha from the popular restaurant, and said the eatery is no longer operational.

“In consultation with Poskim it is recommended that customers of Chinese Express that have purchased any of their products in the past 6 months and used any of their personal utensils are advised to Kasher those utensils.

I have no clue what the motives were this time. I don’t even know if the proprietors are even observant.  But what this shows is that this problem can happen even to a well respected Kosher certification agency like the OK.  Which has a very reliable reputation that goes back many years. A private ceritficaion by one rabbi - no matter how sincere and careful he might be- is a lot easier to cheat. There is no real infrastructure to help assure that every detail is thoroughly and make sure there is no hanky-panky going on. 

When that infrastructure does exist and this happens, one might wonder how we can ever rely on ANY Hechsher again? That is a good question. I believe that over 60% of all food products sold in supermarkets have a reliable Hechsher. I cannot begin to imagine the havoc that would ensue if we could no longer rely on any agency to certify the Kashrus of food products. 

I think the answer to that question is that if someone wants to cheat the system, they will find ways to do it no matter what safeguards are in place. I believe that this is what happened here. and they eventually do get caught.The fact is that anything like this occurring in major long standing Hechsher agencies is so rare  that we need not be concerned about it.  There is  a Talmudic principle that says ‘‘Milsa D’Lo Shchichi – Lo Gazru Rabbanan – The sages did not legislate any precautionary measures about rare occurrences. I am not a Posek but I believe that this principle can be applied today.

Which brings me to YWN’s editorial comment about the OK: 

YWN reached out multiple times to OK Kosher throughout the day to obtain information regarding this scandal so that restaurant patrons could gain some clarity on the matter. Despite numerous attempts through various means, multiple top OK Kosher officials refused to discuss the matter and would not provide any statement at all (essentially ignoring YWN), leaving our readers in the dark regarding this deeply concerning matter. Stonewalling patrons of a restaurant possibly being served treif in their search for information and guidance is not only disturbing, it also calls into question whether the hashgacha should be relied upon at all.  

I cannot agree at all to this. What happened was not the OK’s fault. It’s easy to cast blame on an organization when something like this happens. But to the best of  my knowledge the OK did nothing wrong here. I believe their did the same due diligence with this establishment that all Kashrus agencies do. That they were duped could happen to any one of them. 

That they didn’t want to respond to YWN’s inquiries does not prove anything. All it proves is that YWN doesn’t like being ignored and will seek revenge by casting aspersion on those that ignore them. Instead of assuming the worst, YWN would do well to give the OK a chance to fully investigate what happened and report their findings to the public. Until then, YWN ought to keep their opinions to themselves.

*HT: Yogi Berra