Celebrating OU Kosher’s Centennial
Your recent issue, “Celebrating 100 Years of OU Kosher” (winter 2022), preoccupied me from Kabbalas Shabbos straight through to Havdalah. Each page is chock full of fascinating facts and history about the movers and shakers who shaped the OU and the entire kashrus scene in America for the past one hundred years. The piece I found most fascinating was about “plant-derived meat.” How appropriate to end off with an article exploring what lies ahead in the world of kashrus.
My family knows not to dare put Jewish Action in the recycle bin. Issues of Jewish Action form their own treasure trove in my bookcase. Thank you for producing a first-class publication.
Susie Berzansky Bensoussan
Rochester, New York
Thank you for your edition dedicated to surveying 100 years of OU Kosher. And thank you to the OU for certifying a myriad of kosher products, available to Jews (and non-Jews) all over the world. It is truly amazing that so many markets, shops, gas stations, rest areas and of course, mega supermarket chains offer kosher products. My hope is that the OU will expand kosher certification so that the health conscious will also be able to visit their favorite health food stores and buy hundreds of kosher and nutritious foods to their body’s content.
Zev Bar Eitan
Nof Ayalon, Israel
Remembering Rabbi Rosenberg
In the fifties, when I was in my early twenties, I left my home in Toronto and moved to New York. I got a job working at the front desk at the OU. I loved my job and especially enjoyed working with Rabbi Alexander Rosenberg (“Legends in the Kosher World” [winter 2022]), who was kind and friendly and had a great sense of humor. Rebbetzin Rosenberg visited often, and like her husband, was warm and friendly.
I recall that before Pesach we were flooded with hundreds of calls regarding kashrut questions. I will never forget the wonderful years I spent at the OU.
Oreos: The Back Story
Readers might be interested in part of the back story of Oreo® and other Nabisco cookie products becoming OU certified in 1997. The story starts with the development of a new ice cream flavor: “Cookies and Cream.” Nabisco (subsequently Kraft and now Mondelez) was selling the cookie part (not the inside cream) to these ice cream companies and was using an OU-certified kosher co-packer to produce these cookies, since Nabisco did not have the necessary capacity in house to make the product themselves. As a result, these cookies were technically OU-certified.
The ice cream companies wanted to call the product “Oreo Cookies and Cream,” which they believed would increase sales. Rightfully, the OU said no—it would confuse kosher consumers, who knew at that time that Oreo cookies were definitely not kosher. What to do? The director of Nabisco’s foodservice marketing division at the time was a professional friend, and she reached out to me for help. I spent a full day at Nabisco’s home office in East Hanover, New Jersey, talking about kosher, starting with a general introductory talk followed by individual, detailed discussions with various stakeholders—marketing, production, and research and development—to help the company understand the opportunities and challenges of Nabisco going kosher. Nabisco then chose to work with the OU to undertake the slow process of transitioning ten cookie-baking plants in the US over to kosher. Each plant had about ten ovens that were approximately 300 feet long, as well as expensive non-kasherable belts that were longer than the ovens themselves. This conversion, which took over three years to complete, was probably one of the most complex factory transitions to kosher. The details of that part of the process are a story for the OU itself to tell.
Joe M. Regenstein
Professor emeritus of food science and head of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative
Ithaca, New York
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
I enjoyed Dr. Rafael Medoff’s retrospective on kashrus (“Keeping Kosher, Becoming American” [winter 2022]). Inter alia, the article notes that efforts to expand kosher product availability “were greatly enhanced by the establishment, in 1935, of the OU’s Organized Kashrus Laboratory. Headed by chemist Abraham Goldstein, the lab tested foods and fielded questions about the status of various products. The lab also published a quarterly Kosher Food Guide.” Permit me, as a great-grandson and the namesake of Abraham Goldstein, to do the necessary deeper dive.
Contra the implication, Abraham was not a role player at the OU, but rather the foremost figure in kashrus during that formative era. In truth, Abraham’s kashrus efforts dated back to at least 1918. For my great-grandfather, providing kosher food to the Jewish public and exposing fraudulent certifications was his life’s mission. While piecing together 1920s history is not a perfect science, we do know that circa 1923 Abraham was recruited to direct the OU’s nascent kashrus division. Thus he was involved well before 1935.
One small example of Abraham’s early and central involvement: a New York Times article from 1925 records that it was his complaint that resulted in the arrest of a meat merchant for violating New York’s kosher statute. Abraham is identified as “a member of the Executive Committee of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.”
Medoff’s article notes that the first national certification was of Heinz products, and credits Rabbi Herbert Goldstein (a friend of Abraham but not related), Herbert’s wife Rebecca and others with securing this account. It neglects to mention Abraham’s pivotal role.
(I am indebted to food historian Roger Horowitz, author of the award-winning book Kosher USA, and to my brother Yair for their copious research into Abraham Goldstein’s legacy.)
Far Rockaway, New York
I very much enjoyed your most recent edition commemorating 100 years of kashrus. However, one figure who also contributed crucially to the OU’s progress is missing: my mother, Dr. Judith Leff.
Dr. Leff, who currently lives in Nachlaot, joined the OU during the mid-1980s, when the kashrus world realized that the origins of food ingredients had become very complicated. “Natural flavors” were not natural at all. The OU realized it needed an expert, multi-disciplined scientist to help its rabbanim apply halachah to this quickly evolving question. My mother, a trained biologist, chemist and botanist with a PhD from the Sorbonne, perfectly fit the bill.
Over the next near-decade, she worked side by side with Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, yb”l Rabbi Hershel Schachter and others to develop an approach to understanding the chemistry of basic ingredients.
Not only was my mother instrumental in strengthening kashrus during a vital era at the OU, but she was also a role model for contemporary Orthodox women—a woman who played a key role, with the utmost tzenius, alongside major rabbanim and posekim, during a crucial moment in the history of halachah.
Far Rockaway, New York
In the last issue, we noted that Rebbetzin Rebecca Fischel Goldstein was the founder of the OU Women’s Branch. She was, however, one of several founding members. The first president of the Women’s Branch was in fact Mrs. Julie Klein, the rebbetzin of Rabbi Dr. Philip (Hillel) Klein of Manhattan’s Congregation Ohab Zedek. Special thanks to Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel for pointing out this error.