April 24, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 24, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Kashrus in the Age of Corona

Kashrus is a very hands-on profession. There are factories to visit, cows to shecht, and lettuce to check. When travel restrictions are in place and mere proximity bears risk, how is it possible to maintain kosher supervision?

STAR-K Kashrus administrator Rabbi Chananya Jacobson sheds light on the topic. “STAR-K felt the effects of the coronavirus well before it struck the United States. The mashgichim who staff the Far East were called back to their home bases in Israel and the U.S. as hundreds of manufacturers in China closed in January for the Chinese New Year, with no plans to reopen. Fear of COVID-19 overtook the world, and in many places, foreigners were no longer welcome.”

One STAR-K mashgiach, who had been living peacefully in India for several months with his family, relates Rabbi Jacobson, decided it was time to leave his home there when his wife was accosted in the marketplace by people pointing at her accusingly and shouting, “Coronavirus! Coronavirus!” Another senior mashgiach managed to leave Spain only 12 hours ahead of a countrywide travel lockdown and cessation of all air travel. All were faced with weeks of quarantine upon returning home.

 

Kashrus Standards Still Essential, Despite Non-Essential Travel

“STAR-K is working with other major kashrus organizations to keep the kosher food supply chain uninterrupted and provide food manufacturers and consumers with the information they need during this pandemic,” reassures Rabbi Jacobson. “Every facility under our supervision has been notified that kosher standards cannot be lowered in the face of COVID-19. Since non-essential travel is prohibited in many locales, STAR-K has worked with Agudath Israel of America and local governments to ensure that kosher service is recognized as essential and has provided the documentation needed for mashgichim to travel.”

Many factories are located in regions closed to outside travelers. International borders are still closed and interstate commerce is severely restricted. Even in accessible regions, factories are reluctant to allow outside visitors due to the devastating effects of the virus. For productions requiring hashgacha temidis (such as kosher runs in otherwise non-kosher plants), STAR-K has often been able to gain access to a plant by explaining that, unlike other inspections, kosher supervision is part of the production process. However, in plants that are inaccessible, special kosher productions have been canceled for now, and certification may need to be suspended for factories that require frequent visits to ensure that kosher standards are upheld.

“In all areas, STAR-K is working with its clients to find ways to inspect their facilities while minimizing risks,” notes Rabbi Jacobson.

In food service facilities, kashrus requires that mashgichim work hands-on in the kitchen. STAR-K Kashrus administrator Rabbi Sholom Tendler delivered a webinar instructing mashgichim regarding the extra caution necessary during these times. Despite shortages, he provided personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and N95 masks.

 

STAR-K’s Consumer Education Mission Continues Even in Quarantine

This year, people found themselves unexpectedly making Pesach at home, many of them for the first time, and in need of halachic guidance. Consumers have always turned to the STAR-K Kosher hotline in the weeks leading up to Pesach, typically placing thousands of calls to the STAR-K office during that time; but this year STAR-K’s office was closed. As the stay-at-home order took effect, the agency’s dedicated technical support team created a virtual office so that every question would still be answered. From their individual homes, the front office, database staff and rabbanim were able to answer an unprecedented number of queries including thousands of emails and nearly 12,500 phone calls between Purim and Pesach!

STAR-K also broadcasted special COVID-19-focused shiurim and webinars to educate people about Hilchos Pesach, and since social distancing protocols prohibited the in-person selling of chametz to rabbanim, it developed a website so it could be sold online. The transaction was made legally binding using DocuSign technology. Rabbanim across America then followed suit, implementing similar initiatives in their own communities.

 

Going Forward

STAR-K’s rav hamachshir, Rav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, remarks, “With the many precautions and restrictions being put in place in all areas of food production, including kosher supervision, it is easy to understand that there may be a reduction in supply. Maybe among all the other messages being sent to us by הקב”ה through this virus is that we can and should be מסתפק במועט and be happy and grateful with a little less. The רבונו של עולם, in his mercy, will see that we are all trying and will put an end to this מגפה and see with נחת that, even then, we will try to continue to be מסתפק במועט in so many areas of our lives. Needless to say, we are grateful and appreciative for the understanding and patience from the companies and the consumers with whom STAR-K shares a strong relationship, ותבא עליכם ברכה.”

By Margie Pensak

 

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles