(Dear Readers: Although at the end of last week’s article I stated that I would delve deeper into the meaning of the Chasam Sofer’s novel description of the events of Asara B’Teves, and how it is relevant to unfortunate events occurring all around us, I beg the readers’ indulgence to wait another week for that, as an event took place last week which highlights the importance of reading these columns in Chadash, and attending the lectures that are sometimes shamelessly promoted therein.)

Way back when, when we were first getting to know each other, I wrote a series of articles entitled “Just What Are Mehadrin Standards?” We discussed that there are different standards for different hechsherim, much as there are different standards for different qualities of anything we deal with, e.g. washing machines, tape recorders, cars, elevators — the point being that even if we can point to a bottom-line seeming similarity (at the end of the day — It’s kosher, isn’t it? It gets the clothes clean, doesn’t it? It plays music, doesn’t it? It gets you from point A to point B, doesn’t it? It moves you up and down, doesn’t it?), there are, nevertheless, distinctions in dependability; in ability to work under less-than-ideal circumstances; in durability; in extra features which ensure a safer, more confident experience. And so surely we should understand that different hechsherim offer different standards to confront practical problems which inevitably arise in the real world, especially given the sophistication and intricate reality of the food industry and the complex halachic issues that have to be dealt with. We concluded by making the point that as most laymen (and talmidei chachamim) are not up to the task of researching the standards of the plethora of kashrus organizations, and equally not up to the task of doing the necessary halachic research (and making halachic decisions) to determine just what those standards should be, every person must have a rav, or some expert in the field to be guided by, no less than we are guided by our doctors, our car mechanics, and our Consumer Reports.

First and foremost amongst all standards — one may safely say the granddaddy of all standards — is the very need for a hechsher. Yes, hechsherim come in all sizes and forms, but the very need for a hechsher has become de rigueur in the world we live in. The profit motive is an (and according to many sefarim, THE MOST) awesomely powerful yetzer hora, and the opportunities for greed, and hora’as heter (deciding it’s really all ok) work their magic on people trying to earn parnassa. Someone who denies this is living in a world of fantasy and illusion. And this is true across the board — no matter the type or size of yarmulke or beard, no matter the type of hat, or if there is a hat — when money is at stake, especially one’s parnassa, one’s ne’emanus (trustworthiness) is unfortunately a matter for a utopian daydream (not to mention that there are actually people out there who are not adverse to deliberately using chicanery in their dealings with others). If there is one thing that the famous Jerusalem Kosher News website (jerusalemkoshernews.com) and subscription service is responsible for, it is to make people realize that you need to check for a valid teudah hanging on the wall from a hashgachah known to you, or at least familiar to you, as reliable. If there is no hechsher, or if the teudah is invalid (for any number of reasons — go into the above site or to btya.org and listen to the lectures given by the Ralph Nader of kashrus, the indomitable Yechiel [call me Mr.]Spira, then realize that you are eating food without a hashgacha. There is no other valid description — food without a hashgachah, without a hechsher.

(If you decide that you fully trust the proprietor, the purveyor, the seller, and you also believe that he has the requisite knowledge to decide about the kashrus validity of the food you are eating, kol hakovod, as they say. But do not foist this opinion of yours on unsuspecting friends, neighbors, or guests by sharing the food with them without telling them that there is no technical hechsher.]

This is utterly essential. As Reb Yechiel says. After you take a millisecond to kiss the mezuzah, take another to look for, and at, the teudah.

The following story is related with full permission by the party involved:

 Once upon a time, there was a take-out food “store” that was open in RBS-A on Fridays, coming in from a different city. The owner rented an area in a shul. (This probably lent an aura of kosherness, which was unwarranted, as the shul made very clear that they were not issuing a hechsher — and one could easily see that. How? NO TEUDAH (from the shul).The “store” had a hechsher from a well-known kashrus agency. At first, there was confusion as to what the hechsher covered. It is unfortunately very common — especially at weddings and other such affairs — for a hechsher covering the food made in a certain place to be presented as a hechsher of the food you are buying or consuming in a different place, when in reality there is nothing attesting that it is the same food — i.e, that the food you are buying is same the food made in the offsite place which has a hechsher. To say “there is a hechsher,” you need a teudah for the food at the site you are buying.

After it was ascertained that the hechsher covered the transporting of the food as well, there was further confusion, because there was no teudah present. That is often the fault of the certifying kashrus agency, and is unfair both to the store and the consumer — to the consumer, because the agency is, in effect, teaching that a teudah really doesn’t matter, while it is really absolutely essential; to the store, because presumably (and hopefully), there are people who won’t shop there because they think there is no hechsher, and really there is.

 (I just hit my word allotment. What now? I am in the middle of a story, a moral lesson, and still in the middle of the Asara B’Teves column!) You could complain to Chadash to increase the allotment, or you can join BTYA, so that you will be used to this kind of unsettling situation.)

To be continued…

This past Monday night, as part of an ongoing Shovavim Shiur Series, BTYA sponsored a Kashrus Shiur on the topic of what halachah demands of restaurants. The Series will continue for the entire “Shovavim Tat” weeks (through Feb. 7), and will cover topics such as kashrus issues with dairy products, and kashrus issues in hotels. For a complete list of lectures, go to btya.org and click the kashrus link, or send an e-mail to kashrut@btya.org.