Friday, December 20, 2013

Thoughts about Kashrus and Community Standards (after many years of living in a Chabad community).

It feels as if it has been many years since my last post.  The reason I am writing this post is because ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, I have done searches online for innocuous questions, such as whether a "V hechure" is kosher, and my own twisted articles on Triangle-K popped up (back from when I was figuring things out as far as frumkeit and yiddishkeit).  For this reason, I am writing this article.

I guess all I want to say is that there were many (many) posts in my past where I gave messed up and twisted viewpoints as far as frumkeit, yiddishkeit, halachas, and specifically Chabad and Lubavich, and all I can say is that I was certainly NOT a halachic source because I was just becoming frum myself trying to understand everything.

Like the hataras nedarim ("annulment of vows") that we say before each Rosh Hashanna, I do not "rue" the things I have said or done, especially because each blog posting was done in good faith with the intention of investigating and understanding each issue that an orthodox jew faces.  There were many times that I came to the wrong conclusion, or that I had a twisted argument or conclusion.  Now many years later, I am still growing in my frumkeit, and for many things, I am not sure whether I have understood everything, or whether I have simply taken the halacha for what it is.  As a general rule, I follow both halacha (Jewish Law) and the community stringencies simply because 1) I am a Jew, 2) I am part of a jewish community.  I no longer question as much as I did years ago because 1) I have no time, and 2) I trust that the rabbis from previous generations had their heads on "way more straight" than our self-destructing society does.  So, relying on halacha becomes that much more convenient rather than figuring things out with my limited intellect.

In hindsight, my first introduction to the Lubavich yeshiva world was a boot-camp-like school for baalei teshuva bochurim (jewish men who are returning to orthodox judiasm after many years of not practicing the faith), where we were pressured by our peers and our Rabbis, and we were indoctrinated with rules and halachas, many times without explanations.  The yeshiva I went to simply wanted me to understand the laws and know "this is what we do, and this is what we do not do," rather than "this is the halacha, and this is where we are more stringent and here is the reason for our stringency."  The fault I experienced in my yeshiva was that the "rule" often came WITHOUT an explanation.  This frustrated me, especially since I had my step father whispering into my ear things that are patently FALSE, such as "if you go to the so-and-so [not kosher] meat plant, you'll find chassidic orthodox jews working there; thus, you can certainly eat their meat without a hechure."  Chos v'sholom! Not true.

Now I obviously have no intention of slurring a company or a hechure, and I have not seen this particular "we answer to a higher power" hot dog brand in many, many years.  That being said, you obviously need a reliable hechure on the food, and if a company doesn't have it, you simply do not eat that food.  Same deal with triangle-K, and many other so-called kosher certifications -- if you are careful about only putting kosher food into your body, you eat only kosher foods with good hecherim.

Now obviously there are many hecherim -- some better and more preferential than others -- and if you have a choice, you make a judgement call whether you want to eat the OU or the star-K.  Both are probably fine.  But, if you keep cholov yisroel, then things change, because even the OU certifies foods which are kosher, dairy, but not cholov yisroel.

Last, but not least, while even now years later I hold the assumption that there is probably corruption in the various kosher certification organizations, meaning that business tactics, high prices, and possibly bullying and misinformation about other hecherim are used, I still rely on the majority of orthodox rabbis who hold that certain hecherim are good, and others are simply not.

What I like, however, is that a number of kosher certification companies put out list of other certifications which are reliable.  For example, cRc puts out a list of kosher certification that we can rely on. That way, when you're in the store and you do not recognize a hecure, you can just look it up with your smartphone.

Anyway, in sum, the rule in jewish law for most things is that "you go with the majority."  So if most of the jewish world believes a certain hechure is good, you can rely that it is kosher.  If not, then it is probably NOT okay, but 1) question the hechure yourself by calling them up, 2) ask a rav, 3) find out what those in your community do, and then 4) make your own decision.  Keep in mind that on the strict side, many people keep stringencies such as "cholov yisroel," "pas yisroel," "bishul yisroel," and many people eat certain brands of meat (e.g., various "chassidishe hechures"), so what is "kosher" does not always mean that it is "kosher for us," a distinction I often teach my children while going through the isles in a Costco.

Also, now that we have been in a community for many years, in order to "fit" with the community (e.g., to have parents have their kids over our home without ANY questions of kashrut, etc.), there are also "community standards" that various communities adopt.  For example, when the Starbucks kashrus article came out a year or so ago, many communities (including mine) were drinking regular coffee from Starbucks without realizing that it might be considered dairy (a problem for us who keep cholov yisroel).  Now, because we know more about their practices of what-hot-water-goes-into-what-shot-glass, etc., many of us now order a cafe Americano (an espresso shot poured DIRECTLY into the cup, WITH NO SHOT GLASS). 

In sum, as you'll learn when you get married, have children, and become part of a community, you not only follow halacha, but you also adopt the stringencies of your local community.  And, you keep it BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE HOUSE.  I know this personally because I myself have made mental notes to myself that "so-and-so does not keep cholov yisroel," and "so-and-so eats XYZ meat sold at Costco," etc.  I love all these people and consider them to be my friends, but when my kids go to play at their house, I'll tell the parents not to feed them or to go out to get a pizza.

One more thing I have observed -- there are a lot of bad feelings when it comes to kashrut, specifically from people who do are more lenient, or from people who do not understand or follow the stricter stringencies of halacha and kashrut.  If you are more lax, I won't fault you -- I just won't eat at your house.  If you are stricter than me (e.g., schmaltz on Pesach), I admire you, but I wouldn't want to be you.  For me, I keep all the yisroels -- cholov yisroel, pas yisroel, bishul yisroel, and I only eat meat from Chassidishe hechures.  I wasn't always at this level, but I credit my wife for this, who has been the rock that forms the basis for the kashrut in our home.  It is very easy to keep all the stringencies when your wife is the one that does all the shopping.  She is my aishes chayil, and I adore and appreciate her for the hard work she has done over the years, and with G-d's assistance, more many, many more years to come.


Anonymous said...

Just found your blog, don't know it's full history yet though. Writing's good, thinking thoughtful, content worthwhile, your narrative compelling.
I work for one of the "Big 4" national kosher organizations (OU, OK, Kof-K, Star-K) & live in that amorphous blob known as the Midwest, which to Jews is anywhere between NY & LA.
The cRc list is most helpful because the cRc is a community organization first, kashrut certifier second. Their list is to make life in Chicagoland more liveable for a Torah-observant Jew. (Their certification is excellent, as well. Their standards are both high & reasonable, & their leadership equally reasonable.) In my non-Chicago home, we work with their list as a guide, & will eat in any home that keeps the cRc guidelines.
Parenthetically, you refer to the "Yisroels" as stringencies. However, each has it's own history. While they're all Rabbinic (mi'd'Rabbanan), some were lightened historically - non-Pas Yisroel was allowed FROM BAKERIES when there was no Jewish bakery and/or no equivalent quality bread baked by Jews. Bishul Yisroel is THE LAW, not a stringency, with leniencies 'built in' when a Jew is actively involved in the cooking, or it's a mundane dish. Cholov Yisroel is also THE LAW, with a historically recent leniency for when the government is as concerned as you are that milk not be adulterated or mislabeled.

Zoe Strickman said...

My apologies for taking so long to respond. I was VERY HAPPY to read your comment, and I deeply think that people should be better educated on why various "Yisroels" are the law versus why some are stringencies.

Perhaps you might be willing to set up an anonymous blog just to clarify the matter? That way, when people search for terms such as cholov yisroel, or bishul yisroel, etc., they'll find your blog chock full of keywords and clarity on the issues?

Chabad Chammer said...

Zoe - As an ex-Lubab I urge you to join us in the OTD community. Your marriage will improve and you will be able to enjoy the things you've described as bringing you joy in your blog without them being viewed as bittul Torah. My wife and I would not still be together if we'd stayed frum, but now without the additional stressors of being frum we've been able to fix our marriage and have a happier life with our children.

Zoe Strickman said...