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I want to know what the OU's or any other Orthodox kashrut agency's problem is with Triangle K. I have read about the Ralbag family which founded and runs the Triangle K and they are clearly Orthodox. If so, what is the problem with their hashgacha?

Please provide sources and facts and not mere conjecture or judgment calls.

I don't mean for this question to arouse a political and/or religious debate, I am purely interested in the facts.

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    Hello Mark, and welcome to Judaism.SE! Thanks for asking this relevant contemporary question. If you have some documentation or other material indicating that the OU or other agencies indeed have a problem with Triangle K, outlining or linking to it could really strengthen your question. As you suggest, this potentially evocative discussion should be based only on sources and facts, not mere conjecture or judgment calls.
    – WAF
    Nov 27, 2011 at 15:01
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    @WAF The Triangle K is not listed on the CRC's directory of acceptable kashrut agencies: crcweb.org/agency_list.php Nov 27, 2011 at 15:05
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    @SarahBrodsky That is a very useful piece of information which, if included in the question, would make it one on the cRc rather than the OU. If so, the question would be undermined by a line in the first paragraph linked, "The fact that a particular agency does not appear on this list does not imply that the cRc has determined it to be substandard."
    – WAF
    Nov 27, 2011 at 15:09
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    @WAF Mark did say "or any other kashrut agency". I disagree that the statement you cited would undermine the question. That seems like a throwaway line to avoid publicly denigrating other organizations. Triangle K is a very common symbol and if the CRC recommended it, it would be on the list. Nov 27, 2011 at 15:15
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    This shul's list of symbols explicitly that Triangle K is not accepted. asbi.org/kashrut/index.htm Of course, this is a synagogue and not a kashrut agency. Nov 27, 2011 at 15:46

8 Answers 8

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Every Kosher Agency has its own standards that it adheres to. It has its leniencies that it follows, as well as stringencies. If you don't agree with those leniences, then you won't trust that hechsher.

There are many things that must be taken into account. Some examples:

  • the Kashering process between non-kosher and kosher products run on the same line.
  • Transportation.
  • The ingredients used (e.g. gelatin)
  • the frequency of Mashgichim (inspectors') visits
  • Transparency. How easy is it to find out what leniencies the Kosher Agency follows.
  • does your level of kashrut observance match up with the koshering agency

I wasn't able to find the Triangle-K's stance on any of these issues, but here's an interview (archived here) allegedly conducted with Rabbi Ralbag. In it, he specifically mentions two leniencies that many others do not accept:

“Others don’t want to accept it, so very good…we depend on ABC…On cooking for wine, someone will say 190, someone will say 180…what we do, we’ll say openly what we do…but it’s al pi halacha…Rav Moshe has a tshuva that when you take grape juice and you cook it…175…by the crush you cook the grapes…even if it’s all done by a non-jew, it’s kosher…only considered non-kosher after it’s separated…we set up one of our large grape-juice suppliers in that way…Even if it’s fully in non-jewish hands…it’s kosher…we put a mashgiach there, but even if he wouldn’t be there, it’s kosher.”

So, he relies on R' Moshe's leniency with regards to grape juice. He considers mevushal what others would consider non-mevushal, and therefore becomes forbidden to drink when touched by a non-Jew, according to people who do not follow that leniency.

He also says that they follow a leniency about when the grapes can start becoming non-kosher if touched be a non-Jew. When I worked at a winery under the OU's supervision, all the touching was done by the Mashgichim from when the grapes were brought into the processing center, before they even enter the crusher.

What about hard liquor? “We permit hard liquor…even though it’s made in caskets…al pi halacha it’s permitted…stam yaynam…They don’t blend, so far as we found out, they don’t blend any wine…we don’t give a hashgocha on whiskey anyway.”

So it all depends on what leniencies you're willing to accept.

Also, based on the above (assuming you don't accept these leniencies), you might say I'll stay away from Triangle-K products that contain wine/grape juice, but can eat the rest of their products. But there's something to remember, if they consider the grape 100% kosher, that means they aren't careful to kasher the lines in between grape and non-grape products, since there is nothing wrong with the grape products. This could potentially mean that other products on the same line are "contaminated" as well. One might argue that it is all nullified, but maybe not, you have no way of knowing.

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    @AdamMosheh: Exactly. See here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/12736/…
    – Menachem
    Mar 7, 2012 at 13:51
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    Odd that relying on R Moshe Feinstein would put you on the blacklist.
    – Double AA
    Jan 15, 2013 at 20:29
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    @DoubleAA: not everyone accepts all his chumrot (e.g. timers on shabbat) and not everyone accepts all his Kulot (e.g. Chalav HaCompanies)
    – Menachem
    Jan 15, 2013 at 22:17
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    @DoubleAA: I agree. But the Triangle K is also sorely lacking in their transparency. And perhaps that is the problem. How can anyone recommend them, when they ahve no idea what they hold? The OU's Kashrut policies are public record and available on their website.
    – Menachem
    Jan 16, 2013 at 4:58
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    What you just wrote (if you can source it with links to the websites (and perhaps those of other major kashrus organizations) or something) is IMO a more valuable answer than what is in your post.
    – Double AA
    Jan 16, 2013 at 5:00
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The OU has (at least) two specific problems with Triangle-K:

1- While halakhah has no minimum bound (shiur) for how often an establishment must be spot-checked (yotzei venichnas = someone who goes and comes), Triangle-K does so far less often than does the OU.

The OU had multiple incidents where staff made it clear that until the OU took over inspection, the staff never expected a Triangle-K employee to stop by, and didn't particularly worry about someone coming by just as they were doing something wrong.

2- Rabbi Ralbag holds that factory equipment self-kashers by doing a run. So, he allows doing a run of non-kosher product, and rather than stopping everything for a full cleaning and kashering, he would do a run of kosher product -- to be wasted or more likely sold as non-kosher. Then the second batch onward of kosher product would be sold as kosher.

(I have a feeling this is the bit about non-kosher and kosher animal fats mentioned in Yishai's answer.)

I also heard about his allowing pasteurized grape juice, but only through the rumor mill. The above two are from a rabbinic supervisor within the OU.

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    Possible objection to the OU supplied anecdote on #1, as one might expect them to quote a story that puts them in a better light than a competitor. Mar 2, 2016 at 13:34
  • If it was an official OU statement and not something I got informally from a rav who happens to work for the OU. I cannot name names, as he would like to continue getting a paycheck. (And to preempt people who might wrongly blame the wrong person: no, it's NOT my rebbe-chaver who was a longtime Avodah email list member.) Mar 2, 2016 at 17:01
  • what about cheese? I know tablet K is meikil vis-a-vis gevinas akum, but haven't heard about the triangle-k. Most commercial cheeses use vegetable or microbial rennet anyhow... Mar 2, 2016 at 18:23
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In addition to the Menachem's response above, Triangle K does not require meat products to be glatt kosher, which is a stringency that most American Jews hold by. As far as I know, this is the main reason why people don't go by them. Especially for meat products like Hebrew National hot dogs.

My understanding is that many people have no problem with eating Triangle-K products that are not meat; however, I can imagine that this lower standard of kashrut might cause people think twice before buying any of their products at all.

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    @Daniel - you say "glatt kosher...is a stringency that most American Jews hold by". On what do you base that? AFAIK, most American Jews do not keep kosher at all. Also, AFAIK, most who do keep kosher don't even know what Glatt means. Of those who know what Glatt means, I seriously doubt if "most" of them are makpid about it. That leaves: "most American Jews who keep Glatt hold by that stringency" - which is a tautology and adds nothing. TriangleK does represent that the meat is Glatt - so what's the complaint? And how does that have any impact on their hechsher on other (non-meat) products?
    – yosh m
    Sep 17, 2013 at 9:22
  • See this article about Hebrew National at Yeshiva world: theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=130775
    – yosh m
    Sep 17, 2013 at 9:22
  • Typo in my earlier comment: "...TriangleK does represent..." should be "...TriangleK does not represent..."
    – yosh m
    Sep 19, 2013 at 21:27
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    FWIW, Ashkenazim have no need to hold by glatt. I have even seen a psak from R' Hamburger (a Charedi Yekke) that one should prioritise the ethical aspects of koscher v'yauscher over chumrot like glatt. Feb 18, 2015 at 2:12
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    R JB Soloveitchik also said that the number of cows leaving glatt slaughterhouses as glatt is unrealistic. Adhesions that cannot be "easily removed" (as glatt defines "easily") are just more common than that. Mar 2, 2016 at 16:53
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The OU and other certification agency's problems with the Triangle-K are well documented with in-person interviews in Professor Timothy Litton's book Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food.

Selected excerpts (from page 82 to 84):

Triangle K has much in common with its larger competitors ... There is, however, one crucial difference: there is a widespread consensus that Triangle K certification is unreliable.

...

Critics of Triangle K argue that Ralbag's kashrus standards are below the industry norm. One industry expert, who wished to remain anonymous, explained as follows:

He goes on with an example of using Kosher animal fat and vegetable fat on the same equipment but calling the vegetable fat pareve without Kashering. Ralbag says that his father did that, but he no longer does.

Nevertheless, this example reflects a belief that Ralbag has kashrus standards ... that, while principled, are sufficiently outside of the mainstream that other agencies will not rely on his certification. As another kashrus expert explained, "It's permissible under Jewish law, but it's a standard that many people are not willing to accept."

Critics of Triangle K also accuse Ralbag of lax administrative practices.

He describes the Triangle K not inspecting jointly certified facilities with the OU - they only ever see the OU Rabbi there, and having insufficient administrative capacity to know and track what he is certifying.

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    It's hard to call what you quote "well documented". It's just more of the same "lax standards and poor administration" generalities. You have provided one example without even explaining what is wrong with the Triangle K's alleged former position.
    – Double AA
    May 7, 2014 at 17:07
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    @DoubleAA, you can see the book for the sources and further details. I wasn't inclined to type up that much text. But for the question of why they don't like them, it is very well documented. He goes directly to the "they", the OU, CRC, etc., and gets and documents their reasons.
    – Yishai
    May 7, 2014 at 17:16
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Rabbi Asher Lopatin - when he was still in Chicago before moving to YCT - created a Community Standard of Kashrut for his Orthodox Synagogue.

It can be seen at http://images.shulcloud.com/626/uploads/community-standards-of-kashrut.pdf

In it he states:

The Triangle K was added to the not-acceptable category. I really tried on this one, but I cannot call it reliable.

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    This doesn't answer the question.
    – Double AA
    Mar 30, 2015 at 17:00
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    @DoubleAA - Perhaps, but in some ways this is the closest that you can get to an answer. By the nature of Kashrut Supervision and what is considered reliable and what is not, all that we have to go by is either published lists of reliable hechshers, and word-of-mouth. I have asked the same question myself about Triangle-K from Rabbis, and what I heard were comments about Rabbi Ralbag himself not eating his own hechsher and how lenient the Hechsher is on several issues. But no major Kashrut organization lists the Hechshers that are not reliable and why. What about Tablet-K? Mexico אא?
    – Ask613
    Mar 31, 2015 at 13:35
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Triangle k is kosher according to the letter of the law. Now in regards to which products you wish to consume depends on your standards of kashrut. Regarding meat however some people will say that the meat is tarfus (non-kosher on a biblical level). This is incorrect. The way they are bodek (inspect) the lungs, as well as the melicha (salting) isn't In the strictest manner as most ultra orthodox slaughter houses would perform. So like I said before according to the letter of the law even on a rabbinic level it would be permitted. The meat just isn't glatt. (Glatt is when they check the animals lungs and they don't find an abnormality) depending on the abnormality it can either render the meat tarfus or kosher. People that eat glatt don't eat meat that has a question of an abnormality found within the lungs. (Note: there is no concept of glatt by poultry)

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    Isn't the letter of the law different for different standards? Isn't that what standards mean?
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2014 at 23:06
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    The letter of the law means Halacha. The concept of glatt is not halacha. As a matter of a fact you will not find the concept of glatt in the mishna, gemara, or even in the shulchan aruch. Aug 9, 2015 at 8:16
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    That doesn't sound like a fact to me.
    – Double AA
    Aug 11, 2015 at 15:53
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    I've asked many rabbis and they all have told me that it's an actual fact. Aug 11, 2015 at 15:59
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    That could be, but then perforce either you or they didn't fully pose/understand the question clearly.
    – Double AA
    Aug 11, 2015 at 16:02
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See Shu"t Shulchan Levi 24:15 (page 232). Rav Belski zatza"l (formerly the posek for the OU) is discussing the kashrus status of equipment used to manufacture vegetable oil produced with no hechsher, or with a "non-acceptable" hechsher. He writes that there are real concerns about non-kosher oil being mixed in, or at least having the flavor of non-kosher oil being absorbed by the kosher oil, and thus we need to treat the oil as non-kosher.

He writes there that initially he thought to rule more leniently on oil with a "bad" hechsher, since at least someone is taking responsibility for its kashrus.

But then he looked into it and determined that there is no difference, and that frequently the oils with a "bad" hechsher were forbidden even bediavad. He also writes about hearing from a reliable source, about a mashgiach who caught the workers mixing pig lard into the oil. When the mashgiach tried to stop them and called his supervisor, the "Rav HaMachshil" (play on words- the rabbi who causes others to stumble) fired the mashgiach for interfering with the production.

Thus, he rules that oil manufactured under that "bad" hechsher needs to be treated as non-kosher, and all the equipment needs to be kashered before using them. If you look at the teshuva you will see his very strong language about this issue.

In Shulchan Levi he doesn't identify who the "bad" hechsher is. But I saw the original teshuva, which is available as an internal OU Kosher document for mashgichim. The document is K-27. There, he is very clear that the "Rav HaMachshil" is Rabbi Ralbag. Instead of discussing השגחה מפוקפקת, "questionable supervision," he refers to השגחה מרולבגת "Ralbag supervision." Likewise, he also mentions there the questionable oil as שמן מרולבג.

[This teshuva, written in the late 90's, demonstrates that Rav Belski viewed the Triangle K as not being reliable. It is possible that in the past 20+ years things have changed, and the OU's position may have changed as a result. Likewise, it is possible that the OU's position was based on faulty info and really the Triangle K was never as bad as they thought. I am just answering the OP by providing a source which explains the OU's original position.]

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  • "He goes on with an example of using Kosher animal fat and vegetable fat on the same equipment but calling the vegetable fat pareve without Kashering. Ralbag says that his father did that, but he no longer does." From Yishai's answer. If this criticism is obsolete there is more likely no Toelet to spreading this hearsay (from our perspective) of yours.
    – Double AA
    May 13, 2021 at 22:01
  • "mixing pig lard into the oil" Almost certainly this is not a realistic presentation of the event. Almost certainly the workers were adding in something the mashgiach thought was not supposed to be added but R' Ralbag knew about and allowed for whatever halachic reason (bittul of some sort) and criticized the mashgiach for not following policy. If R' Belsky held like the mashgiach then you see why he'd word the story like this without it actually being so simple. This is why one sided criticisms are so useless
    – Double AA
    May 13, 2021 at 22:07
  • @DoubleAA The question is, "what is the OU's problem with Triangle-K." I'm sharing a teshuva, written by one of the main poskim for the OU, who describes that hechsher in very negative terms (OU documents confirm it's about Triangle K). It is clear from this teshuva that he held the hechsher to be no good, and that the rabbi was a "rav hamachshil" in general not just regarding oil. This explains the OU's historic problem with the hechsher. Perhaps things have changed and OU doesn't view it to be problematic anymore; but I directly answered the OP.
    – Binyomin
    May 13, 2021 at 22:13
  • @DoubleAA I heard from a mashgiach- I admit this is hearsay- who discussed companies using pig lard to grease equipment. He told me that triangle K permitted it, based on Shu"t Rama 53 that shuman chazir doesn't mix with the oil and is natla"f. So I don't find Rav belski's description so farfetched. In any event, whether you agree or not with rav Belski's version of the story, it explains the OU's reticence to the triangleK and thus answers the OP.
    – Binyomin
    May 13, 2021 at 22:15
  • (the hearsay for us is your story about the "internal documents") I'm not saying it doesn't answer the question; I'm questioning the propriety of posting it unqualified for minimal Toelet. The story you mention in the comments may not be farfetched but it CLEARLY sounds different from the presentation of "the rabbi just ignored mixing in pig". To say R Belsky and R Ralbag disagree if we should rely on or on how to interpret Shu"t Rama 53 is very different from the presentation in this answer which presents R Ralbag as nefariously negligent, arguably straight lashon hara.
    – Double AA
    May 13, 2021 at 22:40
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1- many use rav moshe on pasteurized wine
2- carrying grapes only by mashgiach is a stringency
3- one can still get non glatt from reliable kosher agencies
4- less checking and less openness is the main problem. If that was fixed then other problems would go away. Also if rabbi lopatin,a rather understanding individual, could not consider it reliable... Fuhgeddaboudit! Finally - look up crc ,you get their site as well as any other kashrut org. Look up triangle k and you get stack exchange! Obviously they are not very open

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    There is no need to shout (i.e., write in all caps). Second it is not clear how your points relate to the question, maybe you could phrase this is as self-understanding text. Last, if I Google Triangle K, I get .... their site.
    – mbloch
    May 7, 2021 at 3:17

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