What's New in Kashrut?

Back in December I had the opportunity to attend a conference at my rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, on kashrut. This conference is held every couple of years to provide in depth analysis of the latest issues in the kosher industry in America and also to train rabbis on how to be a kashrut supervisor in a local bakery or restaurant. Rabbi Joel Roth – former dean of the rabbinical school and expert in Jewish Law, Rabbi Paul Plotkin – congregation rabbi in south Florida and head of the kashrut subcommittee of the Conservative Movement’s Law Committee and Dr. Joe Regenstein – food science professor at Cornell University and consultant to kashrut organizations were the presenters and they were terrific.
Here is some of the new information I learned:
1.      Kosher and Muslim Hallal are working together. Dr. Regenstein works with the meat and poultry industry and tries to help understand the needs of both the kosher consumer and the religious Muslim consumer who requires meat to be Hallal. Both kosher and hallal require the animal and bird to be slaughtered with a knife. Whereas a blessing is recited by the Jewish ritual slaughterer at the beginning of his shift the Muslim slaughterer needs to invoke God’s name for every animal. In order for more kosher meat to be acceptable to hallal there are several kosher plants where the rabbi will invoke God’s name in Arabic! That way the meat is both kosher and hallal! This is an amazing act of interfaith activity!
2.      Kosher poultry is always more expensive – for good reason. In non-kosher poultry plants, hot water is poured on the carcass in order to easily remove the feathers. But that can’t be done in kosher plants because boiling water would cook the meat. The meat can’t be cooked UNTIL the meat has been soaked and salted. So instead people are employed to pluck the feathers and people are employed to soak and salt the meat. Hence the increased price.
3.      Finally white fish that we may buy from the supermarket that isn’t under kosher supervision may not be as labeled. For example many of us may buy tilapia from the supermarket. When we buy it, it usually is always filleted. If so there is no skin on it either leaving it unrecognizable – except according to the label. However labeling is such that some tilapia is actually catfish. There aren’t strict regulations on labeling fish in America so such substitutions are common. Therefore we have to be very careful and diligent when buying what we think is a kosher fish in a market or restaurant. But, salmon doesn’t have such a problem because it’s the only fish with that pigment.

There is much more I learned but this is the most relevant to the average Jew. As always, if you have specific questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.