Rabbi Berel Levy, ob”m, was the Rav HaMachshir of OK Kosher Certification (then known as Organized Kashrus Laboratories) for over twenty years. He singlehandedly raised the OK from a small kosher certification agency to a global agency impacting and shaping kashrus worldwide. Rabbi Berel Levy passed away on 5 Nissan, 1987. His son, Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, took the helm of the OK and expanded upon his father’s vision and legacy, bringing the OK into the 21st century as the leader in kosher supervision and technology.
Every year, as my father’s yarzheit approaches, I contemplate how he would act if he were alive today. One character trait that always comes to mind is my father’s firm stand concerning his principles – no matter what challenge he was faced with, my father never compromised on his principles.
In Chassidus, there is a concept called P’sichas HaTzinor, the opening of the pipe. This means that the mitzvos that should be difficult for us to observe are now done with ease due to a person’s pioneering efforts, which have given us the merit and capability to perform those mitzvos.
When I was a young boy, my father certified only a handful of companies. One of his biggest companies was a chocolate company, which was basically the mainstay of the kosher certification at the time. The company used a kosher gelatin, made from kosher slaughtered animals. At some point, the gelatin ran out and was no longer available. The chocolate company came to my father and told them they were going to use a gelatin with dubious certification. My father refused to allow it and the company insisted on using the gelatin, so my father made the decision to drop the certification, even though it meant that the certification agency would suffer. There was no policy of “keeping the certification at all costs”.
Around the same time, we had the zechus to go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz”l for a family yechidus. Among the topics discussed during the yechidus, my father told the Rebbe about his decision to drop the certification. The Rebbe told him that it was not so simple, that he also had to notify the public. My father answered that he would advertise that the company was no longer certified, but the Rebbe said that was not sufficient and told him to request a list of customers from the company and notify them directly. Since people were relying on my father’s certification, it was his responsibility to notify them that the company was no longer certified.
When we left the yechidus, my father said he was somewhat surprised that the Rebbe made such a firm demand and he did not think the company would agree to the request. However, as a staunch chossid, he did not question the Rebbe and proceeded to follow his directives. The company heard my father’s demand and said they would get back to him. When the company contacted my father, they told him that they had reconsidered their decision and decided not to use the gelatin with dubious certification.
…My father replied that he will not talk to the man under threat. “If you would like to use the revolver, then you should use it!”
Another example of my father’s strength and principle always comes to mind when I think of him. Once, a person came to meet with my father and took a revolver out of his pocket and put it on the table. My father rose from his chair and started to walk out of the room. The man asked him, “Where are you going?” My father replied that he will not talk to the man under threat. “If you would like to use the revolver, then you should use it!” The man starting saying that it was too heavy to keep in his pocket, so my father told him to go downstairs and put it in the car. The man stood up, took the gun and put it in his car before returning to speak with my father.
My father was once presented with a chicken shechita that used hot water to remove the feathers before salting, which is against halacha. Any shochet who worked in such an operation could not be acceptable. My father was negotiating with the company to get new shochtim as he refused to use a shochet who condoned practices that were against halacha. He was very surprised to find a major kashrus organization willing to take the certification “at all costs” and keep the old shochtim, even though they condoned a practice against halacha and some were not even competent shochtim.
Today, when I see how rabbis react under stress when it comes to removing kosher certification, I always turn to the example set by my father. There was no rule of “at all costs”. Today, there are still some machshirim who are willing to stand up for their principles despite threats and lucrative business opportunities. These rabbis refuse to compromise their standards in order to save face or make a few dollars. I am happy to see that my father’s pioneering efforts have not gone in vain. The A-lmighty should bless me with strength to try and follow in such hallowed footsteps.