Politics, problems that "might" exist but apparently do not and never did, and the big kosher mafia trying to crush a little guy.
Different from all other years: Streit’s Matzo off preferred list in Five Towns and Queens
The decision, the fallout and the regrets
Mayer Fertig, The Jewish Star
Every conversation with a kashruth professional about Streit’s Matzo –– on the record or off –– eventually winds up in the same place: no one wants to be disrespectful to the memory of Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik zt”l whose name was on the Streit’s box from the mid-50s until his death in 2001 — or to hurt his son, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, who gives the hashgacha (kosher certification) today — by publicly raising a concern that the quality of supervision at Streit’s has slipped in recent years.
Yet, less than a month before Pesach, the Vaad HaRabbonim of Queens decided to remove Streit’s Matzo and matzo products from its list of approved products. The Vaad HaKashrus of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway immediately followed suit. The result was that days before Passover the makers of Streit’s Matzo felt ambushed, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik was embarrassed publicly and many kosher consumers are confused: is the stuff kosher for Pesach, or not?
Everyone seems to agree that it is.
The directive from the Queens Vaad was in no way meant to imply that the matzo is not kosher for Passover, said Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, co-president of the Vaad HaRabonim of Queens. “People asked me, ‘I bought Streit’s Matzo. Should I return it?’ I said no.”
“We’re not saying, chas v’shalom, that it’s not kosher,” said Rabbi Yosef Eisen of the Five Towns Vaad. “We’re just saying that there are certain concerns about the level of oversight.”
“No one here at all had any malice, any intention to hurt anybody,” he stressed. “The reason that this has been pushed off from year to year, although there have been certain concerns that this is a private hashgacha, but no one wanted to hurt, at all, Rabbi Soloveichik. [He] is a distinguished individual. In the end not wanting to hurt him, to be damaging to him personally” turned out to have the opposite effect.
“Streit’s matzos were held in very high esteem while they were under the hashgacha of Rav Ahron Soloveichik,” according to an expert in machine matzo production who spoke to The Jewish Star on the condition that he not be identified. “When the hashgacha went to his son the perception was that the same standards were not maintained.”
“Because it was Rav Ahron Soloveichik’s hechsher –– no one wants to mess with the Soloveichiks in general,” he explained. “There’s a feeling of reverence [for] the family.”
Among the problems that can occur on a matzo production line are the folded over matzo, called a kefulah, or the swelled matzo, called a nefucha, the expert said.
“And part of the job of the hechsher agency is to make sure these are removed prior to crush –– the making of all kinds of matzo meal products. Because once it’s crushed and turned into itty bitty pieces, you can’t tell if it was once kosher matzo or not.”
No one who spoke with The Jewish Star offered any cause for specific concern in those regards.
streitskof-k-logo“Its very important that you understand that the question is not whether one trusts the Streit’s company,” said Rabbi Daniel Senter, the kashrus administrator of the Kof-K. “[They] are very honorable people. The question is … do they feel comfortable with an individual rabbi supervising something of this scale.”
For several years after Rabbi Soloveichik took over the hashgacha from his late father, he shared the responsibility with the Kof-K, a nationally recognized kosher supervision agency. The relationship ended amicably, according to both parties, after the company made a business decision to have just one hashgacha. For the past three years Rabbi Soloveichik has worked alone, with a team of five mashgichim (kosher supervisors).
For more than two years, it seems, either nobody noticed or they pretended to not notice.
“The Five Towns –– although the entire kashrus industry was aware of the issue –– we never delved into it,” Rabbi Eisen said, “and we allowed the product on the shelves all these years.”
“You’re asking why it took this long, perhaps that’s a valid question,” admitted Rabbi Schonfeld. “It’s possible that it was sort of swimming along, riding the crest of the Kof-K hashgacha.”
Would it be fair then for consumers to wonder about the level of supervision by the Queens Vaad, Rabbi Schonfeld was asked, given an apparent failure to note what turned out to be a significant change?
“You might be right,” Rabbi Schonfeld said, but the issue “arose when the matzos began to arrive and we felt that we just had to really think about this hard and we just felt that we weren’t comfortable accepting this matzo … If it was on borscht it’s one thing, but we’re talking about matzos.”
The problem with Streit’s lack of a national hashgacha is that “we don’t know enough about Rav Moshe Soloveichik,” Rabbi Schonfeld claimed. “He just doesn’t swim in the kashrus world … we’re not saying he’s bad; not at all. We just don’t know.”
“If this was a serious concern you don’t wait until four weeks before Passover to raise it,” retorted Alan Adler, the director of operations of Aron Streit, Inc. He’s a great-grandson of the company’s founder and one of three cousins who presently runs the business.
He invited the Queens and Five Towns vaads to inspect the plant, he said, but neither did so.
“We took a heck of a risk opening our doors to the local vaads. Anyone could come down and find a piece of dirt on the floor or something else they don’t like. They could have hurt our business. But we have enough confidence in what we do and in the Soloveichik supervision that we would take that risk,” Adler said.
The first hint that this year wouldn’t be like all other years came about a month ago when a kosher market in Queens called Adler to say the Vaad’s mashgiach would not allow him to take delivery of Streit’s Matzo. Adler called the Queens Vaad and said he was told that the lack of national hashgacha was going to be a problem.
“Rabbi Soloveichik always says if someone is acting in good faith and wants to examine our facility they’ll do it in the fall. They don’t wait” until right before the holiday.
“That’s an ambush,” Adler said.
“If something happened, if you became aware of a treif ingredient, of course you have to act,” said Rabbi Soloveichik in an interview. “But to change a policy immediately before Pesach shows a lack of concern for other people. People were stuck with orders, with returns.”
“More than that, a person has to assume responsibility for not only what they say, but for the impression that they create. And when you do it at the last moment, the impression that one creates is that there was a question of chametz, a question of a treif ingredient, especially when this product was accepted up until this moment, every previous year,” he said.
“We regret if we caused any loss to anybody,” Rabbi Schonfeld said. The Queens Vaad had viewed its decision as “limited” and “parochial” but watched it take on unexpected weight, he explained. “It snowballed and people all over the country seemed to be riding the train. That was not our intention.”
The Five Towns Vaad and the one in Queens tend to mirror each other and act in concert, Rabbi Eisen said, due to proximity and similarities between constituencies.
Not everyone agrees the concerns about Streit’s warranted urgent action. One Five Towns rav told The Jewish Star that he is “very upset” about how the matter was handled; another pointed out that a private warning in time to act before Pesach would have been more appropriate.
A number of rabbis pointedly announced there is no reason to avoid Streit’s Matzo this Pesach.
In Oceanside, N.Y., Rabbi Jonathan Muskat first warned that due to “the great halakhic stakes involved” it would be better to buy matzo with a reputable national hashgacha. In a follow-up to members of his Young Israel he wrote that he had confirmed that members of the nationally-recognized Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) had “personally inspected” the Streit’s plant and “were satisfied that, for this year, their products met their kashrut standards,” and would be allowed in CRC-supervised stores. “Since I became aware of this new information, I believe that one may rely on the CRC’s stamp of approval and purchase Streit’s products for Pesach this year,” Rabbi Muskat wrote.
When the Kof-K began supervising the plant, “Streits spent thousands upon thousands of dollars making upgrades to accommodate the Kof-K,” said Rabbi Senter. The changes were part of an updated system of supervision he devised for the plant.
The fact that changes had been required was not particularly significant, he cautioned.
“I’ve never been to a matzo factory, regardless of who certifies it –– and I’ve been to many –– that there haven’t been changes that I would have wanted to make if I were to certify it. I would accept it the way it was but if you want it under my certification there are changes and systems that I would require.”
He has been inside the Streit’s plant in Lower Manhattan within the last month and said “to my knowledge” the system he instituted is still there.
The other critical component of kashrus is the quality of the supervision itself, Rabbi Senter explained. That he could not speak to, although he has fielded calls from many local kashruth organizations seeking insight into the situation at Streit’s.
“The Kof-K does not give direction to vaads and does not tell them what they should or shouldn’t do, nor does the Kof-K comment to the public on whether a specific certification is acceptable or not,” said Rabbi Senter, adding, “I don’t know the details of why this started now. My involvement began when Streit’s called me up and asked me if I could help them.”
The Orthodox Union has also been in the plant within the last week, confirmed Rabbi Menachem Genack, the rabbinic administrator of the OU.
That’s because Adler said he plans to engage a national hashgacha once again to work with Rabbi Soloveichik. “Fifteen years ago the Streit’s name stood by itself. Certainly the Soloveichik name did. Nowadays if people want a national hashgacha then that’s what we will give them.”
Note that the problems mentioned by these rabbi-mafiosos are potential problems with any matza baking facility, machine or hand, national hashgacha or not.
(In fact, hand made matzas and matza meal has a much higher incidence of these problems that machine made products do, and even the best hand made matza bakeries sell customers matzas that are problematic or outright hametz – things that rarely if ever happen with machine matza.)
Also note the the procedures Streit's has in place to deal with them are the exact same procedures approved by Rabbis Ahron Soleveitchik and Moshe Feinstein. Nothing has changed, other than a few changes made by the Kof-K after Rabbi Ahron Soleveitchik passed away. And those changes were approved by Rabbi Moshe Soleveitchik, and are accepted by national kosher supervisors.
There is a lot of smoke and mirror puffery going on. But there is no fire. Nothing is wrong with Streit's – everything is wrong with the midget mafiosos who run the Queens and 5 Towns vaads, and the national kosher supervisors who are waiting like vultures to pick up the Streit's account.
If Jews in the 5 Towns and Queens have any balls, they will buy Streit's during this Passover and eat it proudly and publicly. Cut off the pink wrappers carefully and tape them in your front windows, logo side facing the street. Let these mafioso know you won't follow them like sheep and you won't back down. And tell your rabbis in no uncertain terms that the next time something like this happens, it is the vaad's rabbis who will be out of work – not Rabbi Moshe Soleveitchik and his mashgichim.
The rest of us outside Queens and the 5 Towns should show support for Streit's. I'm serving Streit's at my seder. You should do the same at yours.