Yehuda Bukspan – The LA Rabbi Worth Standing For

As I make my way around Jewish life, I notice Orthodox Jews jumping to their feet to honor speakers. I’ve even seen Orthodox Jews rise to their feet to honor a woman! And a TV writer!

I’m not into rising to my feet. I may do it sometimes because of peer pressure, but generally speaking, I am a sit-back-and-dispassionately-analyze-things type of guy.

I’m the very model of the Lithuanian yeshiva bocher.

I wouldn’t even get up for the president of the United States.

I’m with Mordecai from the Book of Esther. I’m not into bowing and scraping and the like. I’m a manly man. I’m an independent thinker. I’m a light unto the nations.

Still, there’s one rabbi in Los Angeles worth standing for because he knows more Torah than anybody else in town — Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan (I believe he is in his seventies).

Here’s a description I found online: "Kosher Overseers Associates of America. The Director, Rabbi Yehudah Bukspan, received semicha from Ner Israel Rabbinical College. He has authored "several volumes of responsa still in manuscript form." Kosher Overseers issues hashgachos nationally and internationally. Rabbi Bukspan is also the Director of "The United States K.""

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never met the man nor communicated with him.

Unlike Rabbi Gershon Bess, the power behind the RCC, Rabbi Bukspan is not political. If Jewish law permits something, Rabbi Bukspan permits it, even if it would make him more popular with Orthodoxy’s right-wing if he forbade it.

A typical issue relates to carmine a red dye that comes insects. Rabbi Bukspan permits its use, the RCC forbids it. 

An RCC rabbi may find a relevant ruling by the Akiva Eiger, but Rabbi Bukspan is often able to recite such a ruling from memory and explain why it is not binding.

Carmine is a lightning rod issue in kashrut today.

Rav Bukspan came to Los Angeles in the 1960s. He taught for Rav Wasserman for a few years. Then he got into kashrut certification. He was the main guy in that field until the mid-1980s when the RCC shoved him aside. He wouldn’t go along with their chumra-of-the-month mentality.

The Orthodox Union (an arm of the Rabbinical Council of America) used to rely for its kosher certification on leading rabbis around America. Rabbi Bukspan was the OU’s guy for the West Coast. If he said something was kosher, the OU relied on his ruling.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the OU replaced this system with a more hierarchical one. Leading regional rabbis such as Rabbi Bukspan were fired if they did not accept the new way — taking orders from certain leading rabbis in the North-East (such as Rav Belski).

So the Rabbi Bukspans of the country went out on their own.

Modern Orthodoxy is no longer turning out rabbis of the stature of Rabbi Bukspan. All its leading rabbis are in Israel.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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