As I sit 34,000 feet above sea level, on a returning flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, I can’t help feeling a bit envious…envious of the kosher consumer who lives in South Africa. The world of kosher in South Africa is absolutely astonishing – not just the amount of kosher food that is readily available, nor the broad variety alone, but something far more incredible.
Johannesburg, South Africa has just one certifying agency, one Beis Din, that sets the kashrus standards for the whole community. If a company wants to get its products kosher certified, they must go to the Beis Din of Johannesburg.
Now, you might say, “Well, that’s just not right. They have a monopoly on the whole market … What if the Beis Din rejects a company due to ulterior motives? Doesn’t such arrangement give the Beis Din complete (and perhaps too much) control over the entire market? That would (and should) never be allowed to happen here in the U.S.!”
But let us just step back a moment — all the monopoly issues might be true, but on the flip side, all of the kosher products in South Africa are subject to one standard of kashrus, and a pretty good standard at that. Though I’m not here to endorse or judge how the Beis Din sets or implements its standards, one thing I can say for certain — the kosher consumer is the big winner.
One might wonder, “If we all follow the same Torah, don’t we all have the same kashrus standards?”
In reality, here in the U.S. and in Europe, every time a company fails to comply with a kashrus protocol from an individual kashrus agency there is always a second-rate agency waiting to give them a hechsher. This has happened endless times here at the OK,when an OK certified company decides to lower its standards or violates its kosher contract, and the OK must withdraw its certification. Instead of this company losing the right to produce a kosher product, a second-rate hechsher takes over, and the standard of kashrus is lowered. It doesn’t stop there. If the same company chooses even less compliance… an even more liberal hechsher will take over the certification and the standards of kashrus are lowered once again.
I’m not suggesting that all the separate agencies form one agency, but just like in the Beis HaMikdash where all the flames of the individual arms of the menorah faced the Ner HaMarovi, it would be wonderful if we all held ourselves to the same one high standard that Hashem set forth in His holy Torah and stopped pitting agencies against one another. I may be dreaming…but at least I have a dream.
A Freilichen Chanukah,
Rabbi Chaim Fogelman