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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Star-K’

What’s Wrong With the Star-K Kosher Phone?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

About a month ago the Star-K, a world renowned Kashrus agency, announced that they were certifying kosher phones. These phones have no access to the Internet, cannot place or receive text messages, cannot take photos, and most importantly, cannot be hacked to perform any of these tasks.

It’s not troubling to me that people would want a phone that is insulated from certain tasks. Although I think it is an unnecessary measure and perhaps counter productive, I don’t begrudge people their personal self control restraints.

What is troubling is that a kashrus agency is part of this initiative. A kashrus agency should be concerned with one thing and one thing only. Their singular concern should be the kosher status of the food. I don’t even think that a kashrus agency must concern itself with humanitarian or other ethical issues that may arise. I have no problem with a secondary agency coming in and providing a secondary level of supervision. But the kosher status of the food cannot be affected by anything other its status as kosher food.

So when I see a kashrus agency entering into the phone market, I see an agency that should be worried about kosher status of food but is now legislating morality. It’s not even as if the technical skills involved in kosher supervision overlap the neutering of cell phones. They have nothing to do with each other. I don’t think it is smart for kosher supervision to be intertwined or even related to morality supervision.

Similarly, when kosher supervision agencies make demands on the clientele or ambience of an eating establishment I believe they are overstepping their bounds. There are restaurants that are not allowed to be open at certain hours because they will lose their hechsher if they are open. This is far beyond the scope of kosher supervision. Tell me if the food is kosher and I will decide if I want to patronize the restaurant. That is all we need from a kashrus agency. The stretching of their authority serves no important purpose for the public. It seems to me that it is merely a self-serving, self-righteous way to legislate their morality. If they can legislate phones and who can eat where, what’s next?

I am not making a slippery slope argument. I am pointing out that there is no logical connection between the kosher status of food and the kosher status of a phone. There is also no relationship between the kosher status of a restaurant and whether teenagers are hanging out. In other words, the kashrus agencies are already legislating their morality. There is no reason to think it only will apply in these two instances because there is no connection between these two things and the kosher status of food.

We need to stop using the word kosher for things other than food. Yes, the word is a general term but it has evolved into a word that describes whether food can be eaten by orthodox Jews who keep kosher. We don’t eat anything that is not kosher. Using the word kosher for phones and Internet implies that the non-kosher versions are not allowed to be used. This is sophomoric and divisive.

If anything, the kashrus agencies should be concerned with the ethics and morality of the actual food. This is something they have resisted time and time again. I am not recommending they get into the ethics of food business, but if they must expand their business and purview of supervision I think that is the first place they should be looking to legislate seeing as they have the knowledge and expertise to monitor and report on that aspect of food production. But teens mingling and phones? They don’t belong there at all.

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Quinoa for Passover: Kashrut Debate or Power Struggle?

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

The two most widely-known kosher certification agencies are battling it out over whether the grain quinoa, a life-save for those on a gluten-free diet, is kosher for Passover.

The Baltimore-based Star K kosher agency has said that Quinoa is not “kitniyot,” one of the grains that Ashkenazi rabbis forbid on Passover, while the venerable Orthodox Union’s OU kosher division says it is.

The prohibition on eating kitniyot, such as peas, corn, and green beans, has been challenged by an increasing number of Jews in recent years. The prohibition is based on the lifestyle of 500 years ago when open sacks of legumes stood next to wheat in stores. If a tiny bit of wheat were to fall in the sack of legumes, it could ferment and cause the entire sack to be considered chametz and forbidden by the Torah to be eaten on Passover.

Lifestyles have changed, but the minhag, or custom, remains, and the rabbis explain that one should almost never cancel a ruling of Torah sages just because conditions have changed.

However, some have expanded the ban to include foods that were not in the original ruling, sparking an argument among rabbis.

Decades ago, many rabbis ruled that peanuts were kitniyot, until it was pointed out to them that they simply did not correctly understand the meaning of a legume.

Similarly, soybeans were not around 500 years ago, and many, if not most, Ashkenazi Jews do not even use soybean oil, even though the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook allowed its use.

A recent book In Hebrew, “Without Fear of Kitniyot” and authorized by Hevron-Kiryat Arba Rabbi Dov Lior, discusses the rulings on prohibiting on Passover the use of certain kitniyot derivatives such as soybean oil. The author writes that those who think “it is good to be strict” do not necessarily receive a blessing for their severity.

Now comes quinoa, “the mother of all grains,” which by all definitions is not a legume and certainly not a grain,

So what could be the problem?

Well, it seems that in South America, where it is grown, a wind might blow a grain of barley into cultivated rows of quinoa. Barely, like wheat, is prohibited by the Torah for use on Passover,

That is enough for the OU to rule that quinoa is not kosher for Passover, while Star K totally debunks the reasoning.

“Rav Moshe Feinstein said we weren’t to add on to the rules of kitniyot, so I don’t know why anyone would,” said Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of Star-K, referring to the esteemed posek of Jewish religious law who died in 1986. “And what’s more telling of this ridiculous debate is that quinoa is a seed, not a legume,” he told JTA.

Quinoa is known for its high nutrient quality and as an alternative for those following a gluten-free diet. But quinoa is not a grain at all. It’s a member of the goosefoot family, and closely related to spinach and beets, making a very good substitute on Passover for the Torah-prohibited grains of wheat, oats, rye, spelt and barley.

That could change, however, with the world’s major kosher certifier refusing to give quinoa its Passover seal of approval.

Perhaps adopting the line of “when in doubt, be strict,” Rabbi Genack said, “We can’t certify quinoa because it looks like a grain and people might get confused. It’s a disputed food, so we can’t hold an opinion, and we don’t certify it. Those who rely on the OU for a kashrut just won’t have quinoa on Passover.”

Rabbi Rosen said the Star-K certifies only the quinoa that has no other grains growing nearby. This year, for the first time, the company sent supervisors to South America to supervise the harvesting, sifting and packaging of the product.

“Whenever there’s a new age food, there’s always a fight between kosher factions,” Rabbi Rosen said. “But we should be worrying about other things, like all the cookies, pizzas and noodles that are Passover certified but appear to be chametz. Quinoa is the least of our problems.”

The argument, which could be over “who calls the shots” rather than a pure understanding of kosher status of foods that are not prohibited on Passover by the Torah.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/quinoa-for-passover-kashrut-debate-or-power-struggle/2013/03/12/

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