Can You Rely On The Government For Your Kashrut?

In his fifth lecture on Rabbi Joseph Elijah Henkin (the leading posek in America during the 1940s and 1950s) for Torah in Motion, Rabbi Marc B. Shapiro says:

Rabbi Joseph Elijah Henkin was asked if you can rely on the government for kashrut. This was an era when the OU was getting started. People were wondering what do I need the OU for? Why can’t I just look at the ingredients? We’ve been doing that for so long.

Rav Henkin says there are things you need hashgacha (kosher certification such as the OU) on such as meat. You can’t rely on the Department of Agriculture. When it comes to other foods, you can rely on the government. If you have a choice, you have to follow the hashgacha.

We have products with tiny amounts of non-kosher food and a traditional rabbinic point of view (from the Rashba etc) has been that this is not a problem if it amounts to less than a sixtieth.

According to the FDA, every ingredient has to be listed.

Other countries don’t have hashgachas (kosher certification) on foods. If you go to England or Australia… The Bais Din puts out a list of kosher food products, but it’s not like these rabbis go out and visit factories. They’re not making surprised inspections. They are making these judgments based on ingredients and based on correspondence. There’s no supervision.

The London Bais Din is a strict bais din. According to their kashrut booklet: “Kosher species of fish canned or in jars are approved.”

No Orthodox Jew in America would dream of buying something like that without a hashgacha.

All jams and jellies are approved. How different is that from us?

All yoghurts and frozen vegetables are permitted. All canned sugar and fruit juice, except grape juice, are permitted.

I wonder if it wasn’t for the profit motive America wouldn’t be like everyone else.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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