5 Nissan is the 21st yarzheit of my father, Rabbi Berel Levy, ob’m. According to Torah, twenty is the age when the Beis Din Shel Ma’alah (the heavenly court) can judge a person for his actions. It is an age of maturity agreed upon by all halachic authorities. Now, on my father’s 21st yarzheit, I sit back and reflect upon my father’s accomplishments and his actions to benefit the kosher consumer. After more than two decades of sitting at the helm of the OK, I can’t help but feel a touch of pride in the growth of the OK and all of the improvements the OK has made for the kosher consumer. My father took the OK from a fledgling kashrus agency and built it into a kashrus powerhouse, and he left it to me, and a team of dedicated, devoted people, to mold the OK into the internationally recognized leader in kashrus that it is today.
A Klausenberger chossid once called me up regarding a problem of insect infestation in a Brooklyn bakery. I looked into the matter and sent one of our rabbis to fix it immediately.
While talking to the chossid, I asked why he called us as the bakery had a well-known “chassidishe” hechsher.
He told me that the previous Klausenberger Rebbe ob’m said, “You can rely on Rabbi Berel Levy, ob’m, from the OK to get an accurate answer.” I was proud to be able to fill such shoes.
The OK has grown leaps and bounds from my father’s handwritten reports to a tech-savvy organization with its own state-of-the-art custom kashrus software. I often wonder how my father would approach kosher supervision if he were alive today in the computer age. However, one point is certain – he had the foresight to foresee today’s complex kashrus issues.
Two particular issues come to mind immediately. A few weeks ago there was a meeting of kashrus agencies and one of the heads of a large kashrus agency stated that since the Monsey meat debacle nothing has been done to improve the way fleishig establishments are supervised. The Monsey meat scandal involved a so-called frum owner who was caught selling non-kosher meat. Unfortunately, this was not the first case of such a disaster. It first happened in Flatbush a year earlier, but was disguised as a less severe case.
Both cases happened as a result of a failed policy of not requiring a frum owner to have a mashgiach temidi who has sole control of the kitchen and this policy was not changed as a result of these two cases. Soon after the second misfortune, a big meeting was held in Boro Park. At that meeting, I got up and stated that my father set an OK policy over 25 years ago that no owner can have the keys to access meat storage areas, even if he is a frum Jew! I was shocked to see the resistance by the Chareidi world to this policy. (See Kosher Spirit Winter 2007)
Even as recently as last month, in Hadera, Israel, a caterer with no mashgiach temidi let non-kosher meat into his catering establishment. A few days later, in Boro Park, where the chareidi hechsherim refuse, on principal, to require mashgichim temidim, non-kosher hotdogs were served in a “kosher” restaurant on Thirteenth Avenue! From beginning to end, the situation was one big cover up and distortion of the facts.
Another case that comes to mind concerns the question of oils transported by ships from the Far East. Over twenty-five years ago, my father was the first to travel to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines for various kashrus issues, including the import of oils from that area. (He was also the first to visit China for kashrus inspections, but that is a different story.) After finding out that the oils were transported on ships that possibly also carried non-kosher oils, he laid the foundation for the system later perfected by the OK after his passing. (See Kosher Spirit, Tishrei and Kislev 5768.) After that first visit, we started demanding from companies that we verify what was carried in the ships prior to possible kosher shipments. It took some twenty-five years for the kashrus world to wake up and see that there was an issue with transporting kosher products by ship!
Immediately after my father’s passing, I visited Europe and found that even though kosher oil was being produced there, there was no system of checking the ports or the ships for incoming oils. This included all the various kashrus Badatzim (agencies) from Israel who employed mashgichim full time in all their kosher plants (doing what?); however, the prior shipping history was not checked at all. As a faithful student of my father, I set up a system in the two largest port facilities in Rotterdam to segregate the kosher and non-kosher lines, pumps and tanks. We also set up a system for barges. Eventually, a system for trucking was set up in Europe as well. This system is still used mostly by the OK and we are waiting for (and welcome) other kashrus organizations to join us.
My father was a pioneer when it came to visiting new facilities. His way of giving kosher supervision was to visit plants going as far back to the source as possible. If a company was using ingredients from another company, he insisted on visiting the ingredient producer himself. If the ingredient company used another company’s ingredients, he went as far back to the original source as possible. By doing this, he amassed a vast knowledge of kashrus and the status of many ingredients and products.
He was a strong advocate of firsthand knowledge. Following this policy the OK still has the unique standard of the Rabbinic Coordinators who are in charge of companies having firsthand knowledge of the companies they administer. This ensures the highest standard of kashrus possible as the Rabbinic Coordinators have firsthand knowledge of the kashrus of their companies, rather than being “pencil pushers” or “desktop executives”. If a company needs assistance with problems, our Rabbinic Coordinators have the expert technical knowledge and intimate familiarity with the facilities needed to assist them immediately.
My father was always extremely careful to have as much transparency as possible and to have one uniform policy for all. He was not an advocate of dual policies with the excuse of a “grandfather clause” to justify inconsistency. He once said, “There is a saying in Yiddish that you can go far with the truth, because as soon as you tell the truth people tell you to go further.”
I am proud that today, despite tremendous growth and innovation, the OK continues to uphold my father’s legacy of adhering to the truth, even when it is not the easiest path to take, ensuring that every product with the OK symbol is kosher without compromise.