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May 28, 2007

is one hechsher better than the next?

Yesterday I wrote about an interesting discussion written about in Mishpacha, a popular chareidi magazine/newspaper. There was a second article in this past weeks Mishpacha that was similarly enlightening.

The Mishpacha staff went to investigate the status of kosher and glatt kosher meat. They did this because of some recent problems that have come to light in the world of meat kashrut, including one recent event in Israel in which non-kosher meat was found being packaged with kosher meat.

They make some fascinating statements early in the report.

  1. They say that the reason the regular Rabbanut hechsher is looked upon as a "b'dieved" hechsher is not because of the quality of the hechsher, but because they maintain two different levels of hechsher under the name Rabbanut (not including mehadrin). They run a hechsher for regular, non-glatt meat, and they also certify meat under the hechsher "chalak" which certifies glatt meat under the authority of the Rabbanut. The fact that the same organization runs two levels of kashrut under the same name, leaves it open (in poeple's minds) to problems.

  2. They clearly state that the problems discussed in the article are just as likely to happen in any of the mehadrin and badat"z hechsherim. The only reason the article discusses solely the Rabbanut is because the Rabbanut is an organization with oversight. When problems arise, they are publicized. With the private hechshers, everything is kept as secret as possible and they do not publicize when they find problems. So the impression is created that they have fewer problems, if at all, which is not true. they just don't talk about their problems, while the Rabbanut does (or has to).

  3. The private hechshers (a.k.a. non-Rabbanut - meaning all the various badatz and mehadrin hechshers) refuse to talk about these things. They would not answer questions about why they consider themselves as better hechshers, nor about what differentiates them from other hechshers.

That is, I call them fascinating because I have never seen a chareidi publication, or heard from a chareidi rav, any such statement before.

Here is an article in a serious chareidi publication explaining the positions of the Rabbanut. Not only do they not make any claims that chareidi hechsher organizations are any better at the business, but they clearly say the "best" chareidi hechsherim are plagued by the exact same problems, with the additional feature of their ability to cover it all up and keep it secret.

Not only that, but the article goes into the various systems and methods the Rabbanut has put into place, and changes they will keep making in order to meet the demands and deal with the problems that will crop up in the future.

So why are we, the frum public, the chareidi public, the chardal public, the ultra dati leumi public, whatever other group you consider yourself part of, so beholden to the "better" hechsherim? Why do we only eat Badat"z or She'airis? Why do we only eat Rubin or Landau? Do we really know that these hechsherim are better than the Rabbanut?

The Rabbanut at least comes clean and tells us what the problems are and what they do to correct them. According to the article in Mishpacha, the "better" hechsherim refuse to respond to such queries. Are they really better or are we victims of manipulations and PR and good marketing? Do we really believe, with no basis, that they are better or is there something to it? Do we just not want to be caught eating from a "lesser" hechsher because it will ruin our childrens shidduchim and acceptance into certain schools and social groups?

I do not have the answers. I do not know that they are better or not. I do know that one of the most serious, and definitely the most popular, chareidi publication just published a serious article that pretty much forces one to ask these questions.

I understand if one wishes to be machmir on himself (an Ashkenazi - for a Sefardi Jew this is basic law, not a chumrah), and only eat glatt meat. It is also fine by me, and is perfectly kosher in my mind, if one (again, an Ashkenazi Jew) follows the Rama rather than the chumrah of the Mechaber, and chooses to eat non-glatt meat as well.

There were recently some very interesting posts by Am Kshe Oref and DovBear on the topic of how society has come to totally reject eating non-glatt meat and how difficult it is for someone who wants to eat non-glatt (to cut down on costs for example). At least in Israel one has the choice - the Rabbanut offers a hechsher that includes non-glatt meat. However in the US it seems it has become difficult to find non-glatt meat. The chumrah of glatt has been imposed on society to the exception of the Rama.

But let's say that is not you. Let's say you choose to be machmir and eat only glatt meat. Ask yourself this - how do you know the "better" hechsherim are really better? Why do you only rely on some and consider others b'dieved kosher at best?

I am sure there must be some differences, at least in the non-meat category. Maybe how often a mashgiach shows up. Maybe whether or not they use bug-free produce, sifting the flour and rice, maybe other things. I don't know, but at least regarding the meat situation the picture just got fuddled...


  1. this may happen in israel as well, but here in chicago, I spoke to a rabbi who does hasgacha work and does so for various orginizations. He laughed at the situation b/c he says "what, you think I am less makpid for one than the other? I do the exact same hasgacha and follow the same halachos no matter who I work for. When someone tells me they only eat X, or refuse to eat Y, I just sit back and laugh at them, b/c they are just so ignorant to the world of hasgacha". This is almost verbatim.

  2. rafi,
    you said "I am sure there must be some differences, "
    -don't be so sure!!!

  3. So- you going to start only trusting your own Shechita?

  4. Amazing Post.

    It's what I've been saying for years.

    To quote Rabbi Berel Wein:

    "The rabbanut hechsher is as good as any other for what they tell you they are certifying. What? Do you think the rabbanut is run by a bunch of conservative and reform rabbis?"

    Raffi- Now we need the post discussing the Eida Chareidit's recent contract with Gaza farmers to purchase a minimum of 60 tons of produce during Shemitta.

    Will the Kassam rockets now say on them "This deadly rocket sponsored By Moishy Shternbuch"?

  5. shaya - I have heard that from Rabbis involved in kashrus as well in the past. But on the other hand I have also heard from other Rabbis invvolved in kashrus that even though they give the hechsher (on certain hechsherim) it is using standards below what he would accept and he would not eat it himself.... so I do not know how to balance it..

    anonymous - I guess we will never know!!

    anonymous - no. I pretty much trust most people. Most of what I eat at home is my own shechita already, though far from everything (I hardly shecht chickens anymore....).. but it is not practical..at least for me.

    DA - the issue is not whether the Rabbis are trustworthy or not. They give a hechsher using standards that each individual hechsher insists upon. some are using more lenient standards and some more stringent standards. But I understand your point.

    the shmitta post is coming... thinking about it a lot. YNETnews.com wrote an article on the topic yesterday....

  6. The article specifically points out that there is a difference between meat and packaged products. Meat uses the same shochtim, knives, etc. It is either kosher or not. There are not many nuances with meat. With packaged products there are a lot more gray areas such as:
    avkat cholov nochri
    relying on bitul
    heter mechira

    Another issue with the Rabbanut hechsherim is that a regular Rabbanut hechsher has to accept every other Rabbanut hechsher (Rabbanut Mehadrin does not). In other words, if Rabbanut A uses some kula that Rabbanut B doesn't like they are stuck, Rabbanut B cannot force people under their hashgacha not to use products from Rabbanut A.

  7. It is lots of politics but I believe that there must be some truth to some hashgachas being better than others, I can't believe it's only politics.

  8. Except for what Bluke said, it's all politics. At least in Israel.

  9. moi - I am pretty sure it is also in america....

    bluke - I have heard that as well, but I am not sure how it applies. Every rabbanut has to accept every other rabbanut? on everything?

    swfm - that is the reality. Maybe it is not 100% politics. Maybe there are some differences. But it is pretty high percentage of politics.

  10. Rafi,

    Yes, this is what people who are involved in kashrus in Israel told me, a regular Rabbanut hechsher has to accept every other Rabbanut hechsher. Rabbanut Mehadrin does not , this is the main difference.

  11. One of my favorite stories from my very limited stint in the army is about the guy who was always late for davening, wasn't particularly interested in any of our peilut and was basically one of the laziest guys I'd ever met (religiously or otherwise).

    One day we were all talking about our jobs and he told us that he had the "easiest job where you don't have to do anything."

    What was he? A mashgiach for one of the so-called Charedi heksherim. He told us how he'd stop by restaurants in the Holy City, chit-chat, have a bite, occasionally look in the kitchen and move on to the next establishment. It was "sooo easy."

    IMHO, it's all "beyadei shamayim" as the Jews of Gulus/New York recently learned (or were reminded). The same thing happened in Baltimore in the early 1980s.

    The Torah wasn't given to angels, just to Benei Adam. I just try my best and hope no one is being fraudulent. As such, I eat Rabbanut on principle and buy meat from only from reputable chains such as the SuperSol rather than the shuk or out of the back of a truck.

    Let me conclude that I'm impressed with the honest approach of LaMishpacha. I hope it continues... and spreads.

  12. I am hearing more and more of these stories. the one you mentioned, Louis, is very interesting... that guy probably got his job because he knew someone. I am sure most mashgichim are not lazy and have integrity in their work. I would not want to say all mashgichim are like him.

  13. I don't think that all mashgihim are lazy (chas v'shalom) and I purposely didn't write the name of which heksher as it doesn't add to the conversation.

    It simply made me realize that one heksher is really no "better" than another. We'd like to believe that we're relying on the Rav who's running the show--but we're not. We depend on his shaliach who probably has never met or personally vetted.

    From my days in Mishmar Ezrachi, I met another mashgiach who confirmed my stories. He was definitely an upright Jew who was a mashgiach for several heksherim--and he gave his all for all of them--even though some people would consider some of them "good" heksherim while denigrating others.


    it is all politics in america as well


    when i was in yeshivah in israel we volunteered for a few weeks on kibbutz tirat tzvi. i worked in the meat factory (tiv tirat tzvi). i don't remember the exact story, but back then some products had a rabbanut and some had badatz. what was the difference in production? there was none. just that an extra mashgiah came around two days a week and the boxes i packed on those days received an extra sticker.

  15. here in the states, great example. twizzlers get a "paskez" sticker right over the regular label. who here really thinks twizzlers runs a seperate run, with "more kosher" ingredients?

  16. So since it's a high percentage it's tricky to know if I should eat all of the hechsherim or just the machmir ones.

  17. shaya g:

    that's exactly what i was thinking about.

    although the record goes to israeli lettuce. i bought a bag once that had at least 6 hechsherim!

    maybe that's why it cost 6 times what the treif stuff costs.

  18. I could be mistaken but im pretty sure that Rubin is rabbanut--he's rabbanut rechovot and mehadrin rechovot and the best hechsher in Israel as far as im concerned(not that others arent good but hes certainly the best). feel free to correct if im mistaken.Brad

  19. That's why I think my policy is the best: If there's a hechsher, it's not counterfit, then I eat it. Though I actually try to avoid (though I can't do it often) Badatz Eidat Haredi b/c it's a non-Zionist hechsher and I beleive that rejecting Zionism is against halakha.

  20. amechad - I remember once reading about a group pushing such a position against the eida chareidit. I do not remember what it was called. maybe I will look for it...

    anon - Rubin is considered one of the best. I met one of his head mashgichim once. My daf yomi shiur had arranged a shchita of a sheep when we learned chulin. The rav wanted us to bring a mashgiach and he put us in contact with this guy who works as one of Rubin's chief mashgichim.

    During the process he told us that all the hechsherim (he was referring to the mehadrin hechsherim, but I would guess it also applies to the Rabbanut Chalak hechsher) pretty much all keep just about the same chumros. He explained that it is so because all the companies want everyone to be able to buy from them.

    ari - I always wondered if Tirat Tzvi had two different factories, one for regular and one for mehadrin. It made no sense to me. I "knew" there was no way it was really different stuff. Thanks for that story.

    shaya - great example.

    swfm - I don't know. that's the big question

  21. Rafi,

    You're somewhat out of your league here. Seriously, Mishpachah is hardly a serious mag even though its widely read. There aren't many options and they're full color so people buy it. I do as well but for gods sakes, know their limitations. They're not investigative journalists by any stretch of the imagination.

    Are all Hechsherim the same? No. Are they all as good or bad as people say? No. Spend some time in the industry and you'll see what I mean. There are those who are consistently better and those who are consistently worse but alot depends on the individual Mashgiach and complexity of the job.
    For the most part, the well-known and serious ones are better because they can afford to pay for better supervision which is what alot of it boils down to. Also, the other agencies will not rely on them if they dont have basic standards.

    That said - Rabbanut [not Mehadrin] is a complete and utter joke. If you believe otherwise you're a tool. How can the israeli govt. which shortchanges the rabbanut in every other area suddenly have gotten it right on this one? When I read this I realized that you must be very naive or maybe just simple but you're living there and you ought to know that it's not just about reporting their mistakes.
    A friend of mine [a bt] just ate at a rabbanut rest. because he was reassured that there's no difference and "its just politics." Even his non-kosher eating parents were aghast at the obvious lack of standards and insisted that they leave once they realized that they were causing their son a problem. They served meat and dairy on different sides of the room and the dishes were being cleaned off by the same busboy in the SAME CONTAINER [yes, milk and meat dishes were mixed together with all their residue] and the busboy explained that they all go through the same dishwasher so it's not a problem. The manager of the place admitted to my friend that it's not really THAT kosher and he only does what the Rabbanut makes him do but the Mashgiach only shows up about once a month and never says much anyhow.
    This is not an unusual story either. There is a reason for their bad rap and it's not because they're so honest. Gosh - that's only slightly funnier than Mishpachah's obligatory bi-weekly article on crackpot healing techniques. Do you believe those too?

  22. If you need to ask a representative of one hechsher how it is better or different from another, you are not heimish and do not deserve an answer. If you a truly frum, then you take on faith that the greater holiness of chareidi mashgichim make the product more kosher. Just as meat shechted by a heretic is treif even if the shchita is physically perfect, a purer kashruth results when a proper Yid is involved in it. Physical reality is of a lesser importance and need not be addressed by the hechsher organization.

  23. this has gotten a bit off topic, though it has been enlightening. The topic I discussed was only the hechsher on shechitta. I even mention at the end of the post that there are or must be differences in the general hechshers, and it is only on shechitta that they are the same (or seem to be).

    Also, whether you consider Mishpacha serious or not, it is the most popular chareidi newspaper/magazine and for them to write this article is very unusual and raises all these questions, at least to me.

    I have no idea what you are referring to when you say they write about crackpot healing techniques. Either I do not read those articles or we are reading different magazines... I read the hebrew edition (I do not even like the english edition). Which do you read and if it is the hebrew, where do you find the healing techniques?

    hershel - I cannot tell if you are being sarcastic or not. I think you are, but can you calrify please?

  24. Rafi - I don't know much about Shechittah so no comment there but Mishpachah is a joke regardless of how many people read. People mag has a larger readership but it's also a joke.
    The Englihs mag has an article every two weeks on accupuncture, mental healing, and every other kind of crap that's bizzarre. It's filler material for a mag that can't write gossip.

  25. as I said, I do not read the English edition. I have never seen such articles in the Hebrew edition and it is in general considered a much more serious magazine. Sure, it does not compare to Newsweek, Time or US World Report, but for the frum world it is as serious and independant as you get right now.

    I would suggest to you that you stop readin ghe english edition and switch to the hebrew. yes, at the beginning it will be slow reading. Little by little you will pick up the hebrew and improve your speed and reading...

  26. "I would suggest to you that you stop readin ghe english edition and switch to the hebrew. yes, at the beginning it will be slow reading."

    No thanks - I don't read the English and I have no interest in the Hebrew either. I buy it because my kids like the Junior Moshpachah. The adult version turns me off before I get through two pages.

  27. I am SO SO CRAZY HAPPY for this post! It should be publicized everywhere. I really wish people would talk about hechsherim.

    I called a rebbetzin once and asked about why one hechsher is preferred over another and she said: I tell you all about it....Just eat badatz!

    Okay. that was "all about it".

  28. miriam - that's not really a good answer....

  29. I wish to clarify what I wrote earlier about the Mishpachah magazine. Although I believe it has some serious shortcomings [among them it's lack of serious journalistic standards] I did not mean to imply that it has no value or is a rag etc. My children greatly enjoy the Junior Mishpachah and my wife enjoys the regular version. I, a stickler by nature, and someone who can't stand sloppy writing [not that you could tell that from my post] don't take well to it at all. I have long felt that they take on subjects that they're limited staff are not equipped to handle and thereby greatly misrepresent the subject.
    A case in point - I attended a certain conference earlier this year that was reported heavily in the Mishpachah mag. Suffice it to say that I didn't recognize the conference I'd attended from their story. It was a sensationalist account of a few going-on's that were incidental to the main theme of the conference.
    All that notwithstanding, it has many merits as well.

  30. Our local rabbi says it's motzi shem ra to say that a rabbi's word is bad about kashrut.

    There must be real proof.

  31. anonymous - sad to say, but that is true of all newspapers, even the most reputable...

    muse - I agree, but the issue is not really saying a Rabbi is not reliable, but saying that any specific hechsher uses lower standards (i.e. more kulas) than others...


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