My Blackberry is vibrating. I get out of bed to see what it is. It’s an e-mail from Rabbi Levy arriving in my inbox. No, it’s not a major kashrus emergency; it is a typical morning for Rabbi Levy – just checking his e-mail and forwarding relevant e-mails to me. Even so, that e-mail got me wondering… what time does Rabbi Levy wake up? What is on his “To Do List” on an average day? Just what does it take to run one of the largest kosher certifying agencies in the world? What is typical for a day in the life of Rabbi Levy? I asked Rabbi Levy to keep a journal for just one day to give us all a glimpse into the reality of life as a Kashrus Administrator.
After davening Shacharis and learning, I arrive at the office and meet with my assistant to pick up phone messages and review my schedule.
Part of Rabbi Levy’s responsibilities involve reading all reports that come in for new facilities. In order to make sure the companies are set up properly, Rabbi Levy outlines exactly how a facility is set up and how a report is written. The report has to be written so that any member of the OK office staff can pick it up, read it and understand the production and kashrus restrictions for the particular facility. The report must also include instructions for the plant personnel and instructions for the inspecting rabbi. All of these reports come across Rabbi Levy’s desk for final approval.
I read through a report and notice that certain details, regarding the heating of the equipment need clarification. In the next report, I notice that the rabbi’s instructions are incomplete. Although I knew what they meant, I sent the report back to the rabbis for proper completion. In another report, I do not agree with the number of visits the rabbi assigned to the mashgiach, so I call the rabbi to discuss the situation. I also receive a report about a company in China that is using alcohol certified by a major kashrus organization. For all alcohol productions in China, I like to investigate the number of visits by the other kashrus organization to the plants. To my consternation I find out that it is visited only once a year!
Rabbi Levy is also responsible for setting policy on daily operations and adapting policies due to ever-changing food production issues, such as the recent problem of tainted food products from China.
I have to revisit the OK’s policy regarding dairy products from China. Many kosher consumers in America use Cholov Stam, based on Rav Moshe Feinstein’s heter. The heter is based on government controls in the United States. Recent food production scandals confirm that my longstanding policy to accept only dairy products with a mashgiach temidi from the milking process (Cholov Yisroel) from China is correct. The most recent issue in China is the contamination of Cholov Stam products with melamine (a chemical used to enhance the proteins in milk), which has caused death in infants. Therefore, the OK policy remains to reject all non-Cholov Yisroel products originating from China and certified by other hechsherim. In addition, the United States has now banned many dairy products originating in China. Furthermore, the OK policy remains to certify products (such as candy, etc.) in China only with a mashgiach present.
Rabbi Levy often has to decide the OK’s response to problems in the kosher world, including tightening restrictions to prevent problems and working out solutions for affected companies.
I have a meeting with our Restaurant and Catering department regarding the recent closings of major kosher slaughterhouses. We discuss installing extra precautions to prevent any non-kosher meat from “slipping in” to our facilities (G-d forbid). (On top of the fact that we already require a mashgiach temidi with sole control of the meat in ALL meat facilities, even if the owner is a religious Jew.) Since the challenge of getting acceptable meat is so great, extra precaution has to be taken.
I receive an e-mail from one of the OK’s top rabbis in China. It appears that someone is producing fish products in China, stamped with an unauthorized OK and, of course, without using a mashgiach temidi as required by the Shulchan Oruch. A nerve-wracking ninety minutes go by as we investigate this matter. The ramifications are enormous. Thank G-d it turns out to be a misunderstanding and the product is actually from Thailand and the production is authorized and done with two mashgichim present. However, until we verify these facts my blood pressure goes through the roof!
It is essential that kashrus organizations have interaction with each other, so Rabbi Levy makes an effort to regularly meet with rabbis from many different certifying agencies. Today, Rabbi Levy meets with a rabbi from one of the major kashrus certifications in Israel.
Rabbi Avrohom Rubin from Eretz Yisroel visits the OK. We meet to discuss the latest kashrus issues in Israel. Since our capable Israeli regional coordinator, Rabbi Haskel, from Eretz Yisroel, is also in our New York office today, he is present at the meeting. One of the topics we discuss is shmitta, since shmitta produce is still in circulation during the year after shmitta. This is especially true regarding fruit, which of course includes wine. (The OK certifies the majority of the prestigious wines in Israel, so this is an important issue for us!)
Rabbi Levy takes a break to daven Mincha with the office minyan before resuming his intensive schedule of meetings.
Rabbi Rubin and I continue our meeting to discuss kashrus issues of ingredients and plants around the world, since Rabbi Rubin and the OK both permit the use of ingredients certified by each other’s agencies.
With Rabbi Haskel in town, I take the opportunity to meet with him and discuss many kashrus issues and continue the discussion started over a month ago when Rabbi Steigman and I traveled to Israel to meet with him. Since OK Israel is closer to the Far East than America is, many relevant responsibilities are delegated to Rabbi Haskel. We discuss making common policies, among all hechsherim for kashrus in the Far East. This is sorely needed. Instead of competing with other agencies that may not have the highest kashrus standards, I feel that the correct direction to take is to try to institute a common minimum standard that all hechsherim must meet in the Far East. This is always better for kashrus and only benefits the consumer in the end. I schedule a meeting with some of the major agencies that certify companies in the Far East to discuss this at length. After this meeting, I am heading home. It is almost 6:00 PM and it’s been a long day.
It’s been told that many great people, from the holy Rambam to the busiest executives, somehow find time each day for some physical activity to stay healthy. Before he arrives to the OK, Rabbi Levy manages to get in a three-mile constitutional almost every morning after learning and Shacharis! Rabbi Levy is also very tech savvy — if you need advice on the latest cell phone, or a quick tip for your Blackberry, he’s the go-to rabbi.
It takes a certain kind of person to run a large organization with ever-changing issues, a certain kind of person to shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of thousands of kosher products. It takes a certain kind of person to run the OK, and that person is Rabbi Levy.
To learn more about Machon Eliezer Yitzchok, and to order volumes of Chassidus Mivueres, including the latest sefer – Volume 1 of Chassidus Mivueres on Tanya, please call (718) 633-1076, or go online to www.chassidus.com.