Rabbi Julius Berman

Rabbi Julius Berman, Chair, OU Kashrut Commission; OU President, 1978–1984. Courtesy of Yeshiva University Archives

I joined the OU when Nathan K. Gross, who was known as “Mr. Kashrus,” asked me to serve with him on the Kashrut Commission. At the time, OU Kosher was basically a one-man operation. It was directed by Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg, a”h, who ran it like the German Jew he was. He ran the show from beginning to end, and nobody really conflicted with his views on anything.

Rabbi Rosenberg served as rabbinic administrator at OU Kosher for twenty-two years, and when he died in 1972, there was a huge vacuum. In 1980, Rabbi Menachem Genack, who was a talmid of Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, was enlisted to serve as rabbinic administrator of OU Kosher. Soon after he came aboard, it became evident that he was the man to do the job.

When it comes to kashrut, the main thing to keep in mind is that we should never have a situation where any individual company is so important to us that we feel the need to lower our standards or make accommodations. I’ll tell you a story. When Coca-Cola was seeking OU certification in 1990, we faced a unique problem. We asked the company, as we request from all companies, for a list of ingredients. Coca Cola was reluctant. “We can’t give out our recipe,” they claimed. “It’s a $2 billion investment!” We told them we can’t certify a product if we can’t review all of the ingredients and be assured of their kashrut. We then came up with a novel idea: the company would give us a list with more ingredients than they actually use, as long as it included all the possibilities. And so we were able to resolve the issue.

Over the years, the growth of kashrut has been incredible. The burgeoning of the kosher food industry developed to such an extent that today when I walk into a supermarket, it’s actually difficult to find something that’s not kosher. That’s a far cry from how it was when I was growing up.

Today when I walk into a supermarket, it’s actually difficult to find something that’s not kosher. That’s a far cry from how it was when I was growing up.

But the truth is, the OU is so much more than just kashrut. It’s NCSY, Yachad, OU-JLIC, Synagogue Initiatives, OU Advocacy, and Women’s Initiative, to name a few of our far-reaching programs. It’s so much greater than just kashrut.

 

Nechama Carmel is editor-in-chief of Jewish Action.

 

More in this Section:

Rabbi Menachem Genack as told to Rachel Schwartzberg

Rabbi Moshe Elefant as told to Rachel Schwartzberg

Dr. Chaim Wasserman as told to Rachel Schwartzberg

Dr. Simcha Katz as told to Rachel Schwartzberg

Harvey Blitz as told to Rachel Schwartzberg

Steve Savitsky as told to Nechama Carmel

 

More Centennial Content:

Even the Stones are Treif: The Kashrut Chaos that Spurred the Founding of of the OU by Dr. Rafael Medoff

Keeping Kosher, Becoming American: A Brief History of OU Kosher by Dr. Rafael Medoff

OU Kosher Through the Decades: A Timeline

Meet the Mashgichim

Legends in the Kosher World

Photo Essay: From Our Archives – A Collection of Ads, Past and Present

The Future of Food: Trends that are Shaping the Kashrut of Tomorrow by Merri Ukraincik and Barbara Bensoussan

The Technology Behind OU Kosher by Rachel Schwartzberg

OU Kosher: Facts and Figures

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This article was featured in the Winter 2022 issue of Jewish Action.
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