Drinking Responsibly II

Published Fall 2010

There has probably never been more oversight in the food manufacturing arena than in the areas of consumer awareness, consumer protection and consumer advocacy.  Most notably, this has been evident in nutritional labeling, HAACP, ISO, QAI Organic, allergen disclaimers, and salmonella recalls – the list goes on and on.

Kosher food certification has become increasingly popular, serving as another set of ‘eyes’ to ensure quality assurance for both manufacturers and consumers.  Kosher certification has also entered arenas that in decades past have been closed to consumers as a whole, and kashrus in particular – that of the liquor industry.  A few decades ago, firsthand knowledge of a company’s proprietary manufacturing secrets was unprecedented.  Today, however, with all that has been made available along the information highway, all that was sacred is now available for the liquor enthusiast’s taking.

Coupled with the fact that kosher certification has become an attractive means to capture market share, the industry is booming.  Twenty years ago, it was impossible to find a kosher certified product except for heimishe mashke.  Now, first class scotch companies boast that they are kosher certified – absolutely amazing!

Kosher food certification has also grown with the times.  Certification agencies have become more sophisticated, and the responsibility to the klal is a front burner priority.  This kosher quality assurance has its pitfalls, but one could say that we are a kosher consumer protection agency, as illustrated by the following true scenario.

A very large company that owned multiple distilleries, distributorships and other holdings approached a very reputable and responsible kashrus agency for certification.  The kosher certification agency correctly and responsibly questioned whether  there was Jewish ownership in the corporation.  To their surprise, they found out that the corporation was a family owned business, and that the sole owners were Jewish and non-observant.  This can be a fatal flaw and major disaster in the liquor business, due to the fact that a Jew cannot possess chometz during Pesach.  Optimally, a Jewish homeowner must rid himself of all chometz in his possession.  In the event that the Jew’s inventory is so great that it is impossible to do so, the Rabbonim instituted a legal method of discarding the excess chometz.  The chometz may be sold to an aino Yehudi, who takes full possession of the chometz during Pesach with the hope that after Pesach, the chometz will then be repurchased from the aino Yehudi.  In the event that the chometz is not sold, and the Jew does violate the halachos of owning chometz during Pesach, the Rabbonim placed a penalty on that chometz.  They forbade one to eat or derive any enjoyment or benefit from the ‘tainted’ chometz.

The halacha refers to chometz that has violated the Pesach mandate  chometz sheavar alov haPesach, chometz that has ‘passed over’ Passover.  Failure to sell one’s chometz can be a nightmare if one owns a large inventory of chometz.  The nightmare is compounded when liquor is stored in warehouses, where inventory has been aged in casks for many years.  It can take many Passovers before the whisky sees the light of day.  During that period, the distillery owners have violated multiple prohibitions of chometz sheavar alav haPesach, thereby rendering the entire inventory unusable.  This halachic bombshell was discovered with potential far reaching ramifications.

This issue has been thoroughly and accurately researched.  Once all the facts were gathered, the issue was presented to the Poskim of the major kashrus organizations, which comprise AKO’s (the Association of Kashrus Organizations) executive committee. The issue was carefully presented and the various tzdadei kula, lenient options, were carefully scrutinized.  The consensus of the Poskim was that one is forbidden to use the unsold chometz due to the severity of the violation of chometz sheavar alov haPesach, except in cases of extreme financial loss where a rav or posek should be consulted.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Regardless of one’s view on the subject, this was an outstanding example of daas Torah in action and kashrus organizations working for the betterment of the klal.  Our job as a kashrus certification agency is to try to bring the widest array of kosher products to the kosher consumer.  At the same time, it is also our primary responsibility to certify quality kosher products and protect the kosher consumer from any kashrus impropriety.