Perrier and the OK
Why, after all, should it be necessary to hire someone to check the kosher status of water?
Most of our readers know that the OK Kosher Certification is involved in kosher supervision on an international level. The OK pioneered supervision in the Far East, and we have extensive activity in Europe and Asia as well.
Our rabbinic coordinators and I are frequently on the go, because proper supervision requires a hands-on approach.
Occasionally, our travels take us to places that arouse poignant emotions and memories. As the centuries have gone by, Jewish dispersion has left its mark in city after city and country after country. Sometimes the memories are sweet, but often they are bitter with terrible sorrow. On a past trip to Montpelier, France, where I traveled to monitor our supervision of Perrier, I was reminded of the sorrow of the town.
Montpelier, located not far from the Spanish border, seems like a typical French town. However those familiar with history know that between 700 and 800 years ago it played an important role on the stage of Jewish life. At the time, the Maimonidean controversy, concerning the permissibility to study philosophy, was raging. On one side stood those who supported Maimonides - the Rambam - and his Moreh Nevuchim, the classic philosophical work that had deep roots in Aristotlian thought. On the other side stood the opposition: great rabbis who opposed such study.
One of the Rambam’s opponents was Rav Avraham min Hahar, whose name literally means ‘Rabbi Avraham from the Mountain.’ His name originates from the fact that he hailed from Montpelier - “Mont” means mountain in French, although interestingly there are no mountains there.
During the same period, Montpelier was the site of a terrible event - the public burning of the Talmud by the church. When one reflects on all these events, one is overwhelmed by our Jewish experience in exile.
Turning my attention to the present, I met with Rabbi Peretz Partouche. He is the Rabbi who heads the thriving Jewish community in Montpelier. Among his many roles is that of mashgiach at the world famous Perrier factory, which is located in the small village of Vergezze.
Eyebrows naturally rise when we talk of kosher supervision for Perrier. Why, after all, should it be necessary to hire someone to check the kosher status of water?
The surprising answer is that good reasons exist for having a mashgiach at Perrier. One reason is that Perrier water is carbonated. Carbon dioxide gas can come from various sources; some are natural, while others are not. One of the sources of Carbon dioxide is the gas emitted during beer production. The use of such a gas would make the product unsuitable for use on Passover.
Most water companies want their product certified for Passover; this necessitates checking the source of the Carbon dioxide gas, which they use in their products.
The gas used in Perrier is natural gas, local to Montpelier. In fact, it comes from the same underground area as the water itself. Even the sand used to produce Perrier’s bottles is of local origin. The production system at Perrier is fascinating. The entire process - from turning sand into glass bottles to the finished product - takes place in one enormous room.
There is another important factor to consider in the case of Perrier, and that pertains to flavored waters, which Perrier also produces. Some of these flavors are produced in this Perrier facility, while others are manufactured at other facilities. Natural flavors can contain products of animal origin. In order to monitor these flavors, we call upon the expertise of Rabbi Partouche.
After leaving Perrier, I took a four-hour train ride to Nice. There I met Rabbi Yosef Pinson, who runs a beautiful school in Nice, in addition to overseeing Jewish communal activity in nearby Cannes.
Rabbi Pinson is involved in the supervision of Perrier because some of the flavors and extracts used in Perrier products are produced nearby, in Grasse. This city, located in the mountains, is renowned for flavor production.
The synagogue in Nice used to feature a kosher restaurant, which was recently burned down by an anti-Semitic act of arson perpetrated by an Arab cook. It will hopefully be rebuilt soon.
Nice also evokes special memories of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was to Nice that the Rebbe and his wife fled from the Nazis. There is an interesting anecdote, which illustrates the Rebbe’s resourcefulness and deep concern for fellow Jews. In order to obtain a hotel room, refugees from the Nazis had to prove they had financial means. Understandably, in the dire circumstances of the War, many people arrived almost destitute. The refugees could barely pay for the hotel room itself, let alone show ‘financial security.’
The Rebbe had in his possession one hundred American dollars, a very significant sum during that period. He lent the money to those in need so that they could secure suitable lodging. Each person would show “his” hundred-dollar bill and receive a room. The bill would then pass on to the next person. The Rebbe did this as long as it was necessary.
Today, the deeds the Rebbe performed in France over fifty years ago are bearing splendid fruit, from Paris down to the Riviera. The evidence is clear: Thousands of Torah observant Jews live in cities throughout the country. May G-d grant the Rebbe’s burning desire to bring about the final redemption, with the imminent coming of Moshiach.