Do More Hashgahot Make Food More Kasher?

Submitted by mdangel1 on Fri, 04/01/2016 - 15:32

In recent years, there seems to be a proliferation of kasher food products that contain multiple rabbinic supervisions (hashgahot). If you buy a box of cookies or a packaged cake, you are likely to find several symbols of competing kashruth agencies. Why isn't one hashgaha enough? If we find an OU on a product, why shouldn't that assure us that the item is kasher? Why do we also need to see other kashruth symbols on the packages?

The apparent answer is that various communities don't accept hashgahot other than from their own rabbinic leadership. Food producers, in order to maximize their customer base, provide various hashgahot in order to appeal to various segments of the kashruth-observing world. Modern Orthodox Jews are fine with such kashruth symbols as the OU or the Khaf K. But some Hassidic communities and Hareidi groups want hashgahot by their own rabbinic authorities. They do not wish to rely on the OU or other hashgahot out of their line of vision. So they insist on eating food under their own hashgahot. The result is multiple hashgahot on the same food products, each symbol attempting to satisfy the concerns of a segment of the Orthodox community.

This "balkanization" of kashruth is a disturbing phenomenon. It underscores the lack of trust among the competing groups of Orthodox Jews: "we are too religious to eat from your hashgaha; we don't trust your halakhic credentials." It creates a sense among the general consumer that kashruth is not only a matter of what ingredients are used in the food, but is an area of communal strife. Kashruth supervision is thought by many to be in the realm of "politics", struggles for turf, and just plain desire to make money.

The proliferation of multiple hashgahot on the same products ultimately undermines the kashruth credentials of the modern Orthodox. As a rule, the modern Orthodox will eat foods certified by Hassidic or Hareidi agencies; whereas the Hassidic and Hareidi communities may be less inclined to rely on modern Orthodox agencies. Thus, food producers will soon realize that they don't need to bother paying for modern Orthodox hashgahot; they might just as well go to the more right-wing agencies, since these agencies will reach the entire kashruth market more effectively. Local kashruth vaads have increasingly fallen under the control of "right wing" rabbinic groups, since vendors have nothing to lose and much to gain by abandoning the modern Orthodox rabbinic certifications.

The situation borders on the ludicrous when we see products or institutions that boast joint hashgahot by mainstream Orthodox groups and anti-Zionist rabbinic groups such as Satmar, Debrecin, or the Edah Hareidit in Israel. How ludicrous is it that each time we buy such products, we are putting money into the hands of people who openly oppose the State of Israel. Several years ago, I saw an ad for a hotel in Jerusalem boasting that it had the hashgaha of the OU and the Badatz of the Edah Hareidit! How low can modern Orthodoxy sink when it joins hands with those who hate the Jewish State!

How is this problem to be solved? I'm not sure. But I am sure that it won't be solved until the modern Orthodox kashruth consumer becomes more activist and refuses to buy items with hashgahot of anti-Zionist groups; and refuses to buy items with joint hashgahot; and lets food producers and kashruth agencies know that we are serious. When we are in Israel, we try our best never to buy products under the supervision of the Badatz of the Edah Hareidit. If we all did this, there would be economic impact. If there's economic impact, food producers will react accordingly. As long as we are sheepish consumers, the current situation will only worsen with time.

What do you think?