There have been many rumors and much gossip surrounding the recent changeover witnessed in Strauss Dairies regarding the company’s mehadrin line, from Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Landau Shlita, the Chief Rabbi (Gavaad) of Bnei Brak to the supervision of Rabbi Avraham Rubin Shlita.
On Tuesday night, the eve of 26 Shvat, marking the yahrzeit of his father Rabbi Yaakov Landau zt”l, Rav Landau hosted a seuda in his shul in Bnei Brak, using the opportunity to deliver a 26-minute address in which he addressed kashrus in general, schita, and Strauss’ decision to move to another hechsher.
Following is a synopsis, some of the major points mentioned by Rav Landau:
The Rav addressed the rumors surrounding the recent change of kashrus at Strauss Dairy, removing his mehadrin hechsher which is now replaced by Rabbi Rubin Shlita.
The Rav dispelled allegations of ‘hasagat gvul’ (infringing on one’s livelihood), that his parnasa was compromised, explaining the only ‘gashmiyus’ (tangible physical) benefit for him was a twice annually delivery of a modest amount of dairy products to his kollel, and a bit to his home. He stressed the parnasa (livelihood) issue was not at all at the heart of the matter, but the issue is indeed one of “hasagat gvul of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the deterioration of kashrus”.
Regarding schita, Rav Landau spoke of a slaughter house in Poland inspected by a mashgiach of his. Upon the mashgiach’s arrival, a goy who works there, who is apparently ‘in the know’, told the mashgiach the factory will not accept 9% but if you agree that you take the 9% and let the rabbis who works here now take the rest [as glatt] then it will work. (He was referring to the fact that the factory would not accept his strict standard, averaging only 9% of all cattle slaughtered being designated as glatt).
The goy had just one request of the mashgiach Rav Landau explained, “make the visit short and leave the slaughter house because for as long as you are here, none of the animals are labeled glatt”.
The mashgiach responded “but I am not a rabbi. I am just a mashgiach and I do not watch what they are checking”, to which the goy responded, “But for as long as you are here, that is the result of the schita (slaughtering). That night the goy spoke with the mashgiach, informing him “after you left, things returned to the norm, 60% glatt”.
Rav Landau spoke of one rabbi who traveled four hours just to meet with him. He “just wanted to pour his heart out to explain the events taking place”, relating the incident to highlight his pain regarding the overall deterioration in kashrus.
The Rav recently returned from South America, stating the state of kashrus is alarming, citing that the amount of beef slaughtered and declared glatt is simply not a reality, telling of the disturbing realities surrounding the low level of schita taking place.
Regarding Strauss, he dispelled rumors that under his supervision there were questionable cows used, cattle that had undergone an abdominal surgical procedure, or rumors of unsupervised milking, explaining that under his hechsher, there is truly milk that is under supervision from the very onset of the milking process, a reality that rarely exists elsewhere.
The Rav used his vast experience to explain to the tzibur that in many cases, the [Jewish] owner of a dairy farm in Israel is not present and Thai workers are milking the cows, without the Jew ever making an appearance. If something is wrong, the worker will phone the Jews, or at times, take care of the problem.
Nevertheless, he stressed this does not result in ‘chalav akum’ (non-Jew) but ‘chalav that is owned by a Jew and milked by an akum’. Under the Rav’s hashgacha, the Jews must be present, at the very beginning of the milking [as cited in Shulchan Aruch], to inspect the pails are empty and that milking has not begun in the absence of a Jew. The mashgiach comes and goes to ensure the Jewish boss maintains a presence.
The Rav took care to explain that for him, it is not a personal matter, and he is pleased that he was privileged to provide a high standard of kashrus to the public, “which has now changed”.
Addressing the matter of cattle that have undergone abdominal surgery and the halachic implications, he stated such cattle are quite commonly found and one must be aware to avoid transgressions. The matter began in the United States when they learned about the surgical procedures, spreading to here, Eretz Yisrael. Rav Landau described the procedure in some detail, stating one cannot trust the word of the veterinarian regarding matters of kashrus, and we cannot see for ourselves. Even the veterinarian works by palpation, not be direct sight and therefore, he too is not absolutely certain [if the abdominal cavity was compromised regarding halachic concerns]. “I never saw a case in which the vet stated I failed. I did not do it correctly”, stated the Rav, dismissing the reliability of a vet’s statements regarding halachic matters pertaining to the surgical procedure.
At present, under his hechsher, the rav has Baruch Hashem managed to remove all such questionable cows from the milking herd. Of this he states one can be certain.
“I know that they say everything will continue as it was, but for this, we need someone naïve enough to believe this”.
Regarding the current level, the rabbi confirmed that his mashgichim are still on the job, because if they leave, they will not receive their pitzu’im (severance pay). “I cannot say you are my mashgichim so leave, and lose your payment” he added, explaining why they remain at Strauss, at least for now.
“They began to manufacture chocolate milk in Kibbutz Yutvata, not where we worked in Netivot. Cheese is being manufactured in the north, in a new place other than ours, with difference mashgichim, but of course, nothing has changed”.
“You have transgressed the gvul of HaKadosh Baruch Hu by stating you are maintaining the same level. They report they added cameras. There is a limit just how much fun we may poke at HaKadosh Baruch Hu”.
The Rav explains the concept of chalav yisrael, and the history of using cameras in kashrus, stating “they did not work [to monitor] milking on shabbos and they did not work for shmitah”.
The Rav then explains the company’s plans (Strauss) to expand its mehadrin line and the vast preparations that he and his rabbonim undertook to establish a new facility in the north. After everything was set up, “they requested a meeting during which they told me they do not wish to continue with me. I cannot tell you what to do” I told them.
“Four months after the cheese was marketed they asked for another meeting” the Rav explained, addressing some other decisions regarding marketing, seeking to manufacture the same dairy product in different places with different hechsherim.
The Rav stated this is too confusing for the tzibur and he refused. Ultimately, the company decided to move ahead in Kibbutz Yutvata with the product the Rav did not approve. He then told them that he understands by Pessach Strauss is changing over the hechsher and rather than eliminate his supervision one item at a time, it would be preferable to stop it all at once and thereby limit confusion among the tzibur.
Rav Landau made a point of stressing that Strauss is a reputable reliable company, not a firm seeking to dupe the public. The strategy adopted by Strauss based on advisors to ‘unite the brand names’ (mutagim) portrayed an image to some that the company was seeking to pull the wool over the consumers’ eyes.
Interestingly, R’ Landau did state that the new containers bearing the “other hechsher” [R’ Rubin Shlita], were printed and held on standby two months earlier. As such, the day he stopped all the wrappers with his name were destroyed and Strauss was up and running with the new hechsher.
He used the popular Strauss Milky chocolate pudding as one example to address those who accuse him of following chumrot (stringencies), but he maintains, he is simply following Shulchan Aruch, Jewish Law. The Rav explained why he does not certify it for Pessach because a stabilizer used in the product is a byproduct of isopropyl alcohol.
“A noted rabbi in America approved it, but he erred in the halacha”. He maintained since it is inedible the product is null and therefore does not render the product, in this case ‘Milky’ pudding unsuitable for Pessach.
Rav Landau however explains that he understands the stabilizer in this case is a solidifier as well, giving body and texture to the product, and therefore is also a ‘ma’amid’ under the halacha, and it is not nullified. Therefore he stated, he would not certify the product under his mehadrin line for Pessach. He adds he does not know what the case will be this year.
This he explains is just one example of his standard, and how things are changing, during the year and for certain on Pessach, and how the industry is not providing kashrus as the consumer believes, a consumer paying a significant amount of money to obtain high-level kosher.
Following is a link to the Chabad Online video with R’ Landau’s 26 minute address
(Yechiel Spira for Jerusalem Kosher News / www.JerusalemKosherNews.com)