Woman cleric’s role in kosher supervision rejected by industry expert

Maharat Ruth Friedman
File photo

When Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue announced last week that it would begin overseeing the kosher status of four local vegan restaurants, the plan called for Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld and Maharat Ruth Friedman to oversee the project.

Friedman’s role has led one industry expert to reject the kosher certifications. Rabbi Yosef Wikler, publisher of the monthly Kashrus Magazine, which covers kosher food and cooking practices, objects to Friedman, a woman, being in charge of kosher certification.

Unless she steps down, Wikler plans to remove Herzfeld and Friedman’s local rabbinic organization, the Beltway Vaad, from his annual list of kosher-certifying agencies. Both clergy are members of the Beltway Vaad, but their certification of the vegan restaurants is not occurring under the Vaad’s auspices.

“A kashrus agency has to abide by traditional Orthodox procedures,” Wikler said, using the Ashkenazi-Hebrew noun form of the word “kosher.” “[In] the Orthodox world, until today, the only people who certify traditional kosher certification are men rabbis ordained as rabbis, and no one else. Being in charge of a kosher organization, you have to make Jewish legal decisions which only a rabbi is entitled to make.”


But Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the kosher certification department at the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certifier in the country, said there’s no problem with a woman running a kosher certification operation.

“The one that takes care of the kashrut in the kitchen is my wife as well,” he said. Elefant added that he questioned the sustainability of using volunteer, unpaid kosher supervisors — which Friedman and Herzfeld are doing — but stressed that he was not commenting on the kosher certification itself.
—JTA News and Features


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