Timeline of Kosher
The growth of the kosher food industry is closely aligned with Jewish migration to the United States. Enjoy this brief chronological history of kosher law and the evolution of certification.
Disclaimer: OK Kosher does not vouch for the current kosher status of products mentioned in this timeline.
TRANSMISSION OF THE LAW
1275 BCE – Torah Received at Sinai
It is estimated that 1.2 million Jewish people personally accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai and began practicing its principles. The Torah is the foundation of all Jewish and kosher values. Among its kosher laws are the specific animals, fish and fowl that may be consumed and general descriptions of how they may be prepared and eaten.
1275 BCE – 200 CE – Tradition Passes Verbally
The recipients of the Torah transmitted it to their children along with a full oral tradition of exact laws. These included methods of slaughtering meat and removing the blood, planting pure-breed produce, koshering utensils and myriad additional details. The transmission of this tradition continued to generations who studied, taught and practiced it for nearly 1,500 years.
200 – 500 CE – Oral Torah Written Down
After the Jewish nation was exiled from Judea (Israel), Rabbi Judah the Prince foresaw that much of the Oral Torah would be forgotten or accidentally changed. Together with other great scholars, he collected and compiled the oral tradition into 63 volumes that became known as the Mishna (Aramaic for “learning by repetition”). The lengthy Mishna was followed by a far more elaborate Talmud.
1563 – Torah Law Codified
The combined laws of Torah, Mishna and Talmud were organized by Rabbi Yosef Caro in a terse Code of Jewish Law called Shulchan Aruch. Divided into four sections, Shulchan Aruch is a complete guide to daily Jewish life. It includes instructions on personal conduct, kosher, relationships, reproduction, finance, law and more. Rabbi Caro is commonly referred to as “The Author” on account of his Shulchan Aruch.
KOSHER COMES TO AMERICA
1654 – First American Jewish Congregation Founded
Twenty-three Sephardic Jews expelled by the Spanish Inquisition arrived in New Amsterdam and established Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. To feed their growing community, they slaughter and prepare kosher meat.
1739 – Kosher Meat Produced for Export
New York Jews rely almost exclusively on the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue for kosher meat. New York kosher beef is exported to Jamaica and Curacao.
1870 – Rokeach Soap Company Founded
The Rokeach family opens a kosher soap company. In the early 1900s, they begin marketing gefilte fish, borscht, and kosher jams under the Rokeach label.
1871 – American Kosher Cookbook Born
The “Jewish Cookery Book” is written in 1871, by Esther Jacobs Levy (not related to the Levys of OK Kosher). Mrs. Levy’s recipes—English, German, Sephardic, and American—are notably influenced by the immigrant Jewish community.
1883 – Horowitz Matzo Bakery Opens
Jacob Horowitz, a new arrival from Hungary, rented a bakery, which he made ritually fit for the production of unleavened bread, Matzo.
1886-1887 – Dov Behr Manischewitz Arrives
In 1886, Dov Behr Manischewitz arrived in Cincinnati and began work as a part-time peddler and shochet—ritual slaughterer. In 1887 he started a small matzo bakery. By the turn of the century, he was producing 50,000 pounds of matzo a day and shipping to England, Japan, France, Africa, Hungary, New Zealand, and Egypt.
1898 – Union of Orthodox Congregations Founded
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America was founded in 1898.
1905 – Kosher Restaurant Opens
The New York dairy restaurant Ratner’s opens, serving soup, gefilte fish, whitefish, and other kosher dishes under sanitary conditions for the city’s large and growing Jewish population.
1911 – Crisco Targets Jewish Homemakers
When Procter & Gamble introduced Crisco in 1911, it was obvious the company had done its homework on the Jewish consumer. They advertised the product as a cheap and kosher vegetable shortening for which the “Hebrew race has been waiting 4,000 years”. Ads in the Yiddish press depicted housewives making potato pancakes and strudel with Crisco. In 1933, P & G published a Yiddish/English booklet, “Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife.”
KOSHER GETS THE VOTE
1915 – NY Kosher Legislation Introduced
The New York State Legislature enacted the nation’s first Kosher Food Law, which served as a model for all subsequent kosher food legislation. The law prohibits passing off non-kosher food as kosher and requires stores selling Kosher and non-Kosher food to post signs stating that fact.
1916 – Streit’s Expands Kosher Market
Aaron Streit opened a matzo bakery in NYC but business gradually expanded to 130 different kosher products. Streit’s makes 65% of its annual sales before and during the Passover season.
1918 – NY Kosher Law Upheld
New York Kosher Food Laws are challenged and upheld as constitutional by the New York State Supreme Court. It is the first of many unsuccessful attempts to render the law unconstitutional.
1924 – Rabbinic Certification Introduced
In 1924, the Union of Orthodox Congregations introduces an official kashrut supervision and certification program. This sets the stage for broader food options among kosher consumers.
1928 – The Hebrew National Dream
Isadore Pinkowitz, a Lower East Side butcher who had been making kosher frankfurters for 20 years, begins selling them to Waldbaum’s, a large grocery chain catering to Jewish households. His enterprise eventually becomes Hebrew National Franks.
1930 – Maxwell House Haggadah Printed
Maxwell House publishes its first corporate-sponsored Passover Haggadah, a success it ultimately repeats dozens of times, reprinting it and distributing it to millions.
1934 – Manischewitz Wines Join the Seder
Founded in Brooklyn, Monarch Wine’s offerings replace homemade wines in ritual use. Monarch leases the name to over a dozen private labels, one of which, Manischewitz, grows to become the largest U.S. producer of fruit wines including blackberry, cherry, elderberry and loganberry.
1935 – Heinz Commits to Kosher
Heinz vegetarian beans are endorsed as kosher by the OU. This represents a big step in commercial recognition of kosher integrity.
1935 – OK is Founded
Organized Kashrut Laboratories (O.K.) is established by Abraham Goldstein to advance the process of certification. OK quickly becomes one of the largest kosher certification agencies.
1937 – Coke Finds Kosher Happiness
Celebrating its 60th Anniversary, the Coca Cola company obtains Kosher certification.
1940 — Chainstore Kosher
Stephen Klein opens his first Barton’s Candy Store in New York, selling kosher chocolates. He has 50 stores in 10 years.
“The Settlement Cookbook” sells its 500,000th copy.
THE KOSHER BOOM!
1945 – Herzog Wines Arrives in America
Eugene Herzog, whose family had been making kosher wines in Czechoslovakia from 1848 until the Holocaust, comes to the United States. Formerly Herzog’s Wine, the family business is rebuilt in America as Royal Kedem Wine Corporation.
1946 – Europe’s Survivors Immigrate
Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors arrive in America, many bringing their strict kosher standards with them. This introduces great demand and puts new life into the U.S. kosher food industry.
1947 – Regional Kosher Grows
Certification comes to Baltimore when the orthodox Jewish Council offers rabbinical supervision. This certification ultimately becomes the Star-K, a large agency still based in Baltimore.
1962 – Kosher Takes Flight
Airline travelers are treated to fresh kosher meals provided by legendary NY restaurateur Lou. G. Siegel.
1965 – OK Purchased and Expanded
OK Kosher is purchased by employee Rabbi Berel Levy, a young scholar and passionate innovator. Rabbi Levy maintains close ties with the Jewish leaders of the generation, consulting on the direction of kosher certification, and drawing practical guidance for serving the needs of observant Jewry.
1965 – Ad Agencies Pitch Kosher
The Hebrew National hot dog company launches the “We answer to a higher authority” ad campaign. Levy’s rye bread comes up with a campaign “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Levy’s”. These popular ads help Jews and non-Jews alike see kosher as cleaner, more carefully prepared food.
FROM OK TO EXCELLENCE
1968 – OK’s Back-to-Roots Innovation
Rabbi Berel Levy assumes leadership of OK Kosher Certification and implements the first of many innovations to come: as new flavors explode onto the market from overseas plants, Rabbi Levy traces them to their source, landing in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and beyond to certify kosher ingredients.
1969 – Regional Kosher Continues to Grow
The Kof-K Supervision Agency is founded in Teaneck, New Jersey.
1972 – States Uphold Kosher Laws
The first Establishment Clause to challenge a Kosher food law in some 50 years is handily defeated. By now, many states have consumer protection laws for kosher, mostly modeled after New York State’s statutes.
1987 – Next Generation OK
Rabbi Berel Levy passes away suddenly. His son Rabbi Don Yoel Levy assumes leadership of the OK.
1987 – KosherFest Is Born
The first International Kosher Food and Jewish Life Expo is held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. More than the capacity 50,000 people attend and an additional 50,000 are turned away. In December, the combined consumer and trade show moves to the Miami Beach Convention Center.
1990 – Federal Kosher Consumer Bill
Congressman Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y) introduces the first ever Federal Kosher Consumer bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
1993 – Industry Giants Are Certified
ConAgra acquires Hebrew National Foods. Sara Lee acquires Bessin Corporation (Best Kosher Sausage). Coca-Cola, Coors, General Mills, Hershey, Kraft, Nestle and many other food giants have obtained kosher certification. The number of kosher product lines produced by Hershey Foods in Pennsylvania nears 150.
1996 – OK Growth Surge
The steady growth of the OK leads to new operations offices for its Brooklyn headquarters.
1997 – Kosher Turns 100
A century after the first kosher organization is formed, a fertility clinic, the first non-food item is certified kosher. The OK moves into its new state-of-the-art headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY.
1998 – TRACK is Born to Help
The growth of the OK’s client base prompts a drive to computerize. An OK affiliate builds the TRACK system (Tracking Researching And Certifying Kosher), a database with more than 100,000 kosher products at time of launch. TRACK is an immediate success.
1999 – Launching of the Israeli Regional Office
Launching of the Israeli regional office. We have grown to be the largest international kosher agency in Israel. Many more OK kosher regional offices were launched since. For the full list, see here.
1999 – A Bright Horizon
At the end of the 20th century, the legendary Lou G. Siegel’s restaurant (and the first kosher airline caterer) sells its commissary to Weiss Kosher Cuisine.
The first glatt-kosher Nathan’s in the US opens in Brooklyn.
Wal-Mart pursues the kosher market, opening a store in New York’s Catskill Mountains among dozens of kosher resorts and vacation colonies.
Miller’s Beer obtains OK certification.
Kosher shopping on the Internet on the rise.
2002 – OK At Home
To reach a broader Jewish constituency, Kosher Spirit magazine, the successor to Jewish Homemaker, makes its first appearance. It reaches an estimated audience of over 1,000,000 in 250,000 households nationwide.
2003 – OK Releases K-Cert
K-Cert is released to replace the old MAGIC system. It incorporates the most advanced software technology and is lauded as a giant leap in kosher certification efficiencies.
2004 – Kosher Certified Online
By teaming up with software and management leader DigitalKosher, OK introduces an efficient and secure web portal for paperless Kosher certification and Kosher Management Services. The new service is an immediate hit with our customers.
2011 – $13 billion Says Kosher Has Arrived
The kosher market is currently the fastest growing segment of the food industry, valued at $13 billion and expanding by more than 10 percent a year. Placed side-by-side on the shelf, kosher products sell 20% better than competing non-kosher brands.
2015 – Kehilla Kosher (of Los Angeles) Merges with OK Kosher
With this merger, OK Kosher gains a leading, cutting-edge, West Coast regional representation to enhance OK Kosher’s mission of advancing kosher around the world and allow greater value to consumers and manufacturers.