Before I became president of the RCBC I knew very little about our kashrut operation, and I have been fortunate to gain an education over the past year. I would like to share some highlights of what I have learned. Specifically, I can now respond to five questions that I had:
1. Why does the RCBC exist as a hashgacha? Don’t the rabbis of Bergen County have enough to do in their roles in their shuls and other positions? Why not leave kosher supervision to the professional kashrut agencies?
2. What does the RCBC do with the money it makes?
3. Is there competition among the different kosher supervision agencies?
4. What is the biggest threat to the current kashrut standards of Bergen County?
5. Is it true that the RCBC is working with the Kof-K now?
1. The more I learn, the more I realize how important it is to have a local vaad for supervision. If RCBC would not exist and all of our establishments would go under the supervision of our trusted nationally known agencies, that would be fine. However, I now understand that this would be a very unlikely occurrence due to a number of factors, including cost. Most likely, there would be an array of supervisions throughout Bergen County with a vastly uneven level of supervision. The result would be that each rabbi and shul would have to compile a list of recommended establishments, and most probably no two would have the same list. The function of the Vaad is to create a unified standard of supervision that the entire Bergen County community trusts. If you think about it, we are blessed to live in a community where you can go out to a kosher restaurant with someone else without discussing whether they trust this supervision. Similarly, you can shop at any butcher, bakery or kosher market and serve your guests without checking that they trust the particular supervision. Moreover, as a nonprofit organization, we strive to bring a high level of supervision at a lower cost.
2. Financially, the RCBC strives to break even. The members of the RCBC volunteer their time but there are also hired kashrut professionals (who are not members of the Vaad) who carry out much of the day-to-day supervision. Our fees are used to compensate them. In addition, we support a beth din for conversion to Judaism that services Bergen County and much of northern New Jersey. RCBC members volunteer their time to assist the beth din, and it is also critically important for the beth din to be sufficiently staffed (by a non-RCBC member) so that it can guarantee professional service that is responsive to potential converts and also maintain halachic standards. The beth din functions on a high level and is mostly supported by the RCBC. Nearly all Orthodox New Jersey conversions in the State of New Jersey are serviced by our beth din. The beth din has limited ability to fundraise and cannot charge fees that are high enough to support itself. It is our honor to support this beth din, which represents approximately 7% of our gross revenue. Beyond this, there is no profit.
3. In respect to competition, for the most part, the nationally known hashgachot are not interested in providing supervision in locations where a local vaad is available. Most national agencies are focused on factories and large companies, and unless specifically requested to do so, generally do not provide supervision to local establishments. In addition, their costs of providing supervision is generally much higher than a local vaad due to greater overhead and distance. This is the case throughout the United States. In some unusual circumstances, for various reasons, we will sometimes create a joint hashgacha with another supervising agency or we will prefer that another agency provide
As a general rule, we much prefer organizational hashgachot over private individuals who generally have less accountability and oversight. We only partner or refer to organizational hashgachot, either another vaad or a kashrut agency.
4. In my opinion, the biggest threats to kashrut standards are (1) skepticism and (2) the lack of education, and these two can be related. For one or both of these reasons, people may assume that a restaurant that loses its supervision is merely an issue of politics or finances. This should never be assumed to be the case. Similarly, an establishment might claim to have no need for supervision since “everything is kosher.” This is not a good approach in a commercial setting. Since the RCBC sees ourselves as responsible to the community, we will make every effort to supervise any establishment in a way that is appropriate for that setting. Our question is not whether it makes sense for us to take on an account from a business perspective; our question is only whether it will serve the community. Thus, we would supervise a one-product store like slushy, slurpies or popcorn for a nominal fee. However, we can only service a proprietor who wants it, and proprietors are motivated by the demands of the community.
5. It is true that the RCBC is working with the Kof-K, though we simultaneously remain independent. Due to the rapid growth of our community and our kosher establishments, the RCBC has transformed from a small operation into a sizeable kashrut agency. We therefore felt the need to step up our systems. The Kof-K is graciously assisting us in providing intensive consulting in order to upgrade many aspects of our operations. At the same time, our standards remain under the guidance of the rabbanim of the RCBC and our finances are separated. We intend to continue this relationship until we are confident that we can function at this level on our own. We are very appreciative of this collaboration that reflects the Kof-K’s profound commitment to our community.
The RCBC looks forward to continuing to partnering with and serving our community. For further inquiry, please reach out to us at [email protected].
By Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz