Monday, November 11, 2019

The Difference Between Standard and Mehadrin Kashrut

In the previous column, I explained the difference between standard and mehadrin kashrut, namely, that standard kashrut goes according to the rules of halakha, whereas mehadrin kashrut takes into consideration the strict opinions, beyond what is required by halakha.

Incidentally, if there are any readers who know differently, and indeed, there is a halakhic issue in which the standard hechsher (a rabbinical product certification, qualifying items that conform to the requirements of halakha) follows a method that does not conform to the rules of halakha, please inform me.

To be more precise: 
There is no hechsher, even the highest quality mehadrin, which meets the requirements of all strict opinions, in a case where the hidur (embellishment) involves extremely high costs, the mehadrin are usually also lenient. 

In other words, 
the difference between standard kashrut and mehadrin is not absolute, for even standard kashrut when it is not difficult, take into consideration the more stringent opinions, even if it involves a disagreement in Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), and most poskim permit.

An example of this is the chumra (stringency) of the Chief Rabbinate in the Land of Israel regarding chalav nochri (milk not produced under Jewish supervision): 

Since the entire basis of the prohibition stems from Divrei Chachamim and in the opinion of most poskim, in practice there is no concern that milk from an impure animal was mixed in to kosher milk, and furthermore, government regulation prevents this, the chalav nochri is not prohibited. Nevertheless, the Chief Rabbinate takes into consideration the opinion of the few poskim who prohibit such milk (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 30: 3-4. The volume will be published soon).

On the other hand, even in mehadrin hechshers, when it comes to extremely high costs, opinions of all individual poskim are not taken into consideration. 

For example, 
the opinion that flour harvesting for matzot mitzvah for Pesach should be done by hand, is not taken into consideration (see, Peninei Halakha: Pesach 12: 3).

And yet, the difference between standard and mehadrin kashrut is clearly expressed first and foremost in the level of supervision: 
standard kashrut suffices with occasional supervision suitable in accordance to the rules of halakha, while in mehadrin kashrut, supervision is closer and stricter, thereby reducing mishaps that are liable to occur.

New Stringencies

Another reason why even the most demanding mehadrin hechshers do not take into consideration all the chumrot (stringencies):

 if it is a chumra that righteous Jews of past generations did not take into consideration because they believed the strict opinion was rejected by the vast majority of poskim – it is improper to be machmir, lest it seem as though the dignity of former righteous Jews is underestimated.

For example, 
the Jerusalem tradition of nikkur (the process of making the hind parts of an animal kosher by removing the chelev (forbidden fats) and the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) was established about a hundred and fifty years ago by Ashkenazi rabbis in Jerusalem who incorporated all the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chumrot, to the point where approximately 13 to 25 percent of the weight of the meat was removed from the hind of the animal. 

In the days of the establishment of the State of Israel, slaughterers from Hasidic areas immigrated to Israel, who, although their overall tradition of nikkur was more lenient, were more machmir about certain fats. However, despite their demands, their chumra was not taken into consideration. 

Firstly, because according to halakha, the rabbis here felt it was unnecessary, and secondly, because the addition of their chumra would seem to be underestimating the dignity of former righteous Jews who established the Jerusalem tradition of nikkur (this is explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol. 2, 21:9, footnote 8).

However, there are issues that righteous Jews of past generations were lenient about because the chumra involved a great loss of money or a great effort to fulfill, but if today, it is possible to embellish kashrut according to the stringent opinion without a great loss of money or a great effort – one should do so because it would not be considered underestimating the previous generations. 

Today it is commonplace to embellish kashrut with mehadrin hechshers when it comes to produce containing tiny insects – above and beyond what was previously acceptable when refrigeration or running tap water to wash the produce did not exist.

Private Kashrut Bodies of Ethnic Groups

Today, as a result of ‘kibbutz galiyot’ (the ingathering of Jews from all over the world to Israel), a situation has been created where the chumras of ethnic groups differ from one another. 

Even Badatz serving a certain community are machmir in their own chumrot, and do not take into consideration the chumrot of other communities. 

Take for example the issue of bishulei goyim (food cooked by non-Jews). 
There are Badatz organizations of Ashkenazi immigrants who do not take into consideration the opinion of the machmirim

and also in the case of Ashkenazi chumrot on Pesach the Badatzim of Sephardic Jews do not take them into consideration.

The prime example of this is the chumra of chalita of meat after its salting:

 According to the opinion of Rambam, Ra’Ah, and Ritva, it is obligatory to perform chalita on meat - rinsing in boiling water after it is salted in order to constrict the blood remaining in the meat - this is the minhag of Olei Teman (Yeminite immigrants), nevertheless, all the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Badatz kashrut bodies do not take this into consideration (this will be explained in “Peninei Halakha: Kashrut, Vol.2, 22:7, footnote 12).

They should not be condemned, for as far as they are concerned, they carefully guard accepted customs of hidur of the eminent religious leaders of their community, and as long as they are defined as a Badatz of a particular ethnic community, the addition of a chumra would be considered an offence to them, and an underestimation of the previous eminent rabbis of their community.

It would be desirable for all Israeli mehadrin supervisory bodies to take into consideration the opinions of all the poskim and minhagim of all ethnic communities. 

This does not mean that in practice they need to be machmir in all the chumrot, including those whose cost is high; rather, that all opinions and minhagim should be taken into consideration, each kashrut according to the degree of hidur it wishes to enhance.

Fundamental Disagreements

There are issues where the disagreement concerns what actually is mehudar, such as the issue of fruit in the Shmitta year.

Many Badatz kashrut bodies are meticulous not to eat fruit grown by Jews using the Heter Mechira, and this chumra is so vital to them, they prefer buying imported fruits and vegetables those grown by non-Jews, and even by enemies. 

On the other hand, 
as we have learned from our rabbis, it is more mehudar to buy fruit and vegetables grown by Jews in the Shmitta year by means of the Heter Mechira, for the Heter Mechira is a safek, safek, safeika of an issur d’Rabbanan (a triple uncertainty of a rabbinically ordained prohibition) (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 7:5), while buying from Jews rests on two Torah mitzvot: yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), and giving preference to our fellow Jews.

Therefore, when faced with two options in Shmitta – what seems standard kashrut but is really hidur by means of the Heter Mechira, or kashrut mehuderet that prohibits fruit from the Heter Mechira – we prefer the hidur of buying Jewish produce over the other hidurs that take into consideration rabbinically ordained sfekot (uncertainty).

Kashrut Certification in Factories

The classification of “kosher” and “kosher l’mehadrin” exists in factories that produce food and in restaurants, however, in practice, the ability to supervise large factories is easier compared to supervision needed for restaurants. This is because in the method of mass production, the mashgiach must first conduct a thorough examination of all the ingredients from which the food is produced, and afterwards, only make sure the factory continues to function as agreed. In addition, in a large factory it is easy to finance strict supervision, and thus, in practice, even standard kashrut of a factory is close to being considered kashrut l’mehadrin in terms of the level of supervision.

The Problem in Restaurants

However, in restaurants that involve different types of cooking supervision is more complex, since supervision must be over all types of food the restaurant purchases from suppliers who change now and then, and since cooking is done by people who usually are not well-versed in halakha – sometimes mistakes arise.

In order to fully supervise a restaurant there must be a mashgiach on-hand, but most restaurants are unable to meet the cost of employing one. Therefore, the Rabbinate maintains basic supervision relying on trust of the restaurant owner and employees adhering to their prescribed kashrut procedures, and the mashgiach comes occasionally to check that the prescribed procedures are maintained. In contrast, mehadrin supervision is on-hand, ensuring a higher level of kashrut.

It is Recommended to Prefer Restaurants with Mehadrin Kashrut

Therefore, even someone not meticulous about eating kosher l’mehadrin, it would be a good idea to prefer restaurants that have mehadrin kashrut, or at least a restaurant that belongs to a kosher chain that maintains the quality of its products. 

This is especially true of meat restaurants, since the temptation to cheat in meat products is great, because the price of kosher meat is double that of treif meat, and on a monthly basis, it can be a very large profit. 

In addition, the prohibitions concerning meat are most severe.

Nevertheless, someone who wants to rely on standard kashrut food is permitted to do so, even in a meat restaurant. 

Although the risk of possibly eating treif is higher, as long as the restaurant has a kashrut certificate, supervision of the vast majority of cases does exist, and therefore, according to halakha, the food it serves is be’chezkat kasher (presumed kosher). 

And if a diner wishes to benefit himself and others, he should ask to call the mashgiach, and check to see the food is indeed kosher. A sign of such interest improves the level of kashrut, because it inspires the restaurant owner and the mashgiach to comply with the kashrut rules they are signed on to.

Reliability of a Restaurant Courier

Q: May I order for food from a restaurant when the courier who brings the food is not observant, and maybe not even Jewish?
A: When there is no incentive to cheat, as in the case of a restaurant courier, the kosher restaurant is trusted that the courier it sends brings the kosher food ordered from it (Avodah Zara 34b; S.A. 118:10; Shach 1).

An Expired Kashrut Certificate

When a kashrut certificate expires, the restaurant owner must not be trusted when he says that the restaurant is still under supervision and they have not yet been given the new certificate, rather, one should call the rabbinate representative and hear from him that the restaurant is still properly supervised. Without that, one should not eat there.

Which Hechsher to Prefer

These are the considerations for someone who wants to maintain a higher level of kashrut, and someone who does not know how to judge this, should consult his rabbi.

It should also be added that, naturally, there is competition and differences between the various kashrut bodies, and as a rule, it is appropriate for those choosing to enhance the level of kashrut to prefer rabbinates or kashrut bodies that respect their competition, and do not boycott or slander. 

And although the foods they supervise may be flawless, it is proper to stay away from such ugliness and anything resembling it.

 After all, someone who does not want to enter into all the subtleties and differences between the various kashrut bodies and Badatzim – can rely on the fact that, in general, standard kashrut is indeed kosher, and mehadrin kashrut hechshers are indeed enhanced, and the more well-known and recognized the kashrut body is, the more one may rely on it.

This article also appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

by Rabbi Eleazer Melamed

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