Speaking of kashrus (What? You didn’t read last week’s piece?), I am quite often literally bombarded with shailos about hechsherim. What, ultimately, is the difference between them? Why do we need mehadrin hechsherim? (Actually, why do we need hechsherim at all? This will, bli neder, be a subject of another piece someday.)

What does a mehadrin hechsher imply? Are we making a statement that the non-mehadrin hechsherim are non-kosher? Isn’t the whole business of mehadrin hechsherim just a racket? After all, the other hechsherim are also given by rabbis. And how are people supposed to know how to choose which hechsher to “trust”? What does it mean not to “trust” a hechsher?

And Rabbi, it’s not just food! It’s my Tefillin! It’s the eiruv! They want to put a mehadrin hechsher on my bus! On my airplane seat! And the mikvah! I never heard of a mehadrin mikvah! A mikvah is either kosher or not, right? Should I feel guilty that I don’t go the mehadrin side of the mikvah? And what could it possibly mean? It’s all built together! Isn’t it all just politics? Isn’t it all just a power play for money, or for the prize of the frummest hechsher of the week? Isn’t this all really crazy, just trying to out-do the other fellow in chumros?

Well… maybe it is, sometimes. But quite often it’s not. Let’s see.

Let’s take an airline as an example, though the following could apply to any manufactured item that we buy (for which we used to peruse Consumer Reports — “Hey, isn’t this whole Consumer Reports thing a phony? A refrigerator’s a refrigerator, man, what’s the difference? I’m telling you, it’s all a racket!” Sound familiar?)

I am flying to the United States. I have to choose an airline. Obviously I would prefer to land in one piece, and so I certainly want an airline, and a plane, which is safe. How do I choose?

 Well, let’s say the government demands that the airlines maintain a certain minimum standard of safety (clearly not a libertarian government, but we’ll save that, too, for another day). Let’s say — I am making this up, now — the planes have to be inspected every second flight; the pilots must sleep eight out of every 36 hours and have two years of training and one year actual flying experience; the thousands of parts have to be grade A — not necessarily grade AA, certainly not grade AAA, but no B’s either.

Now, an airline comes along and says, you know, this will result in a fatal accident on one out of every 500 flights (this number is made up out of thin air). Common sense, experience, and statistics show that these parts will fail some of the time, and studies have put the number at one in 500. Now, the people on the other 499 flights do not care, because they got home safely, since the average standards were good enough for 499 flights. But think of those poor people on FLIGHT 500! The other 499 flights do not help them too much, do they? I know that if consumers out there knew the truth, they would be afraid to fly! Or they would picket the airlines demanding higher standards. They want the plane inspected after every single flight! They want pilots with three years training, and two years flying experience! And they want those thousands of parts to be Grade AA — after all, they are risking their lives every time they fly; Grade AA is stronger, more durable, will last longer, will withstand more stress.

Are we saying that people flying the other airline will crash and get killed? No, we are saying that there are higher standards which make sense, and will decrease the likelihood of a crash. Will it put the likelihood at zero? No, we can’t put it at zero, but we can put it at one every thousand flights. We’ll get parts with AA standards, pilots with three years training and two years experience. The pilots will be given eight out of 24 hours to sleep, we will check out the parts after every single flight… and we will advertise that we are a safer airline!

But wait a second. Won’t the flight cost more? Maybe much more? After all, the parts are more expensive, the pilots will demand a higher salary, we will need more pilots, and we will have to hire more people to service the plane after each flight!

Well, the answer is that we are offering what can be considered a safer flight, and we will see if there are people willing to pay that extra money for that peace of mind.

Besides, there are actually some aviation experts who feel that using only grade A parts is actually very dangerous, that they will not stand the stress of a transatlantic flight at all. And there are other aviation experts who hold that a pilot with only eight hours sleep every 36 hours will inevitably nod off.

And so a second airline opens.

And everyone is free to use whichever airline they prefer.

Then a third Airline opens. They call themselves “The Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin Airline.” They are going to be super-safe! They will have only grade AAA parts; they will of course check the plane thoroughly every flight; they will have a co-pilot, too, in case something happens to the pilot; they will not allow a pilot to fly two flights in a row without a full night’s sleep… and they will have a federal marshal on each flight to prevent hijackings. And they only hire from the top ten percent of Aviation School’s graduating class. This cost even more than Airline Two, but do you know what happens? It indeed acquires a customer base! You see, people are really really frightened about flying, but they do not always admit it. But their lives are so important to them, apparently, that they are willing to try to cover the risks as best as they can, even though they also know that you cannot really cover every eventuality.

Someone tries then to start a FOURTH Airline; this features an in-house doctor on board for every flight; a defibrillator; two federal marshals; and a co-pilot who is as qualified in every way as the pilot is. They also check the plane twice at each and every stopover. They also deal with the possibility that birds will get sucked into the engines (which happens, sometimes), and they have a very expensive mesh-like netting over all openings on the outside of the plane, which holds up under the extreme conditions of flight.

This airline flops. No one is interested in their services, and they are frightfully expensive.