And from Israel, no less. I was recently emailed a responsum regarding what constitutes a reliable Hechsher from Rav Aviner, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim in Jerusalem I am reproducing the responsum in part. If you would like the whole things, please email me at rejewvenator[at]gmail.com

Question: Is it acceptance to eat food under the kosher certification of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel or should I only eat from Badatz?

Answer: Quite simply, all kosher certification is acceptable, whether it is Mehadrin, Badatz, or the Chief Rabbinate. Any product with any kosher certification is presumed to be acceptable until proven otherwise. We rely on the principle of “chazakah – presumption” based on the Gemara in Niddah (15b) that a Torah scholar “does not allow food to leave his domain without its kashrut being ensured.”  […] There is, however, a general principle: We must not doubt the kosher certification of Rabbis. It does not matter which Rabbi who gives certification – whether it a Rabbi with a knit-kippah or with a velvet kippah. If we say that it is not kosher, we are saying that this Rabbi is a sinner. He is feeding non-kosher food to the Jewish People! This is a serious accusation. This thought itself is the height of non-kosher thinking. Why would he do this? What is his motivation? He wants to make money? In order to make money he is willing to feed non-kosher food to people?! Making such an accusation against a Torah scholar is a serious transgression. One must be very careful about acting this way. […] All kosher certifications of all Rabbis are therefore acceptable until proven otherwise. I am obviously only referring to Orthodox Rabbis who are particular about the laws of Kashrut.

This type of halachic reasoning affirms that principle of derech eretz kadma la-Torah. Rather than falling into a discussion of halachics, R. Aviner recognizes the underlying principles of respect due to one another, and particularly, respect due to Rabbis, who are themselves ‘certified’.  But wait, there’s more!

Question: Nonetheless, perhaps I should be strict and only eat food with the kosher certification of the Ultra-Orthodox?


Answer: May a blessing come to anyone who is strict. The Talmud Yerushalami quoted by the Tosafot in Avodah Zarah (36a) says, however, that one of the conditions of one who is strict is that he does not shame other people and, all the more so, a Torah scholar. […] Someone who wants to be strict can be strict about whatever he wants, not necessarily relating to the laws of kashrut. He can be strict about the laws of tzitzit or Shabbat or lashon ha-ra (evil speech) or the Land of Israel or loving other people. Each person can choose to be strict about whatever he wants, but a person must also know where he stands. The Book “Mesillat Yesharim” discusses being strict in “Sha’ar Ha-Perishut – The Gate of Abstinence”: A. To separate from any pleasure which in unnecessary in life. B. To act strictly regarding everything in the world. C. To dedicate all of one’s time to divine service. I do not know if we are at this level. I am not at this level. A person who wants can be strict, but he must remember the “Vidu’i” (confession) of Rav Nissim Gaon: “For that [on] which you were strict, we were lenient; for that [on] which you were lenient, we where [sic] strict.” You were strict in the laws of kashrut, but lenient in the laws of lashon ha-ra. If you want to be strict, you can be strict, but I say that it is more important to be strict in honoring Torah scholars.

Of course! A lesson we teach to Baalei Teshuva (Jews returning to or first taking on traditional observances) is to recognize where you are, and not take on too many commitments if you are not at the point where you can truly maintain them and feel authentic about that level of observance. It’s a lesson we are often not even taught when being raised inside the religious community. Better to observe at a level that is consistent and authentic with your heart, and to take on strictures that are personally meaningful, than to be herded by a community into a hypocritical lifestyle of strict piety that holds no personal meaning for you and misrepresents you before God and man. It is comforting to hear R. Aviner expressing these sentiments, and taking aim at a ritual that has spun out of control and threatens the very meaning of Kashrut.

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