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Today I learned that the Oasis Mediterranean Foods company (located in Toledo, OH) has lost their hechsher on stuffed grape leaves. Formerly the entire product line was certified by Star-K, so I called Star-K's kashrus hotline to inquire about the reasons for the change, and whether the rest of the product line was still kosher.

I spoke to the rabbi in charge of that region, and he informed me that Star-K had changed their policy with regards to bishul yisrael. Essentially the company had not changed anything in terms of how they prepare the food, but the certification agency became more machmir. (This was his own description of the change, by the way, not just my interpretation.) He also confirmed that this change only applied to the grape leaves, not to their stuffed cabbage, hummus, fattoush, or other products, all of which are still certified.

I have a hard time understanding the logic behind this. If the grape leaves were kosher six weeks ago, and nothing has changed in the production system, and all the rest of their products are still kosher, what is the logic behind removing the hechsher on the grape leaves now?

More generally, what is the logic underlying any "policy change" or "standards change" by a kashrus certification agency? If the underlying halacha hasn't changed, and the facts on the ground haven't changed, why should something be kosher one week and not kosher the next?

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Kashrus is a business where the certifier has to balance between the companies and consumers. The certifier determines whether consumers are looking for a higher or lower standard relative to the income they make from the certified company. Most likely the certifier determined that the loss of certifying this company is less than the gain of consumers that will trust and use the Hashgacha.

  • This is probably the correct (and only possible) answer. Still, it is disappointing: I still prefer to believe we live in a world in which the certifier aspires to as close as possible to an "objective" determination of fact, rather than merely reflect the machmirization of the public. – mweiss Dec 7 '15 at 18:59
  • @mweiss There's really no such thing as "objective" determination of fact. In the end of the day, kashrut agencies are businesses. Their certification is most valuable (and therefore earns them the most money) when the greatest number of people are willing to hold by it. If a large segment of the population won't purchase products with your hashgacha because you don't hold by their chumra, there is motivation to start holding by that chumra. There is demand in the industry for lenient kashrut supervision and there are organizations such as the Israeli Rabbanut who pursue that market. – Daniel Dec 8 '15 at 2:26
  • @Daniel "At the end of the day, kashrut agencies are business". In point of fact, both Star-K and OU are nonprofit organizations under US tax law, and their primary purpose is not to make money, but to provide a service to the observant community. I think we should be disturbed if, at the end of the day, they are driven primarily (or even significantly) by market considerations. – mweiss Dec 8 '15 at 2:44
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    @mweiss In any case, what standards should they use? There are many different opinions on these issues and nobody (at least nobody serious) claims to be following the one correct way. But every organization needs to follow some set of standards, and they might change their mind at some point about which opinions to follow. – Daniel Dec 8 '15 at 3:08
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Without knowing any context or the underlying reasoning behind the policy change, it's difficult to know why the standard was changed. Certainly it is possible that politics and/or customer satisfaction played a role, for better or for worse. It is also quite possible that halachic decisors genuinely changed there view independently. There is no rule that a posek cannot change his mind. Indeed one would expect that fallible humans who are intellectually honest do change their minds from time to time, both toward more stringent positions, as well as to more lenient ones.

  • +1 for "Indeed one would expect that fallible humans who are intellectually honest do change their minds from time to time, both toward more stringent positions, as well as to more lenient ones.". Although I rather doubt any kashrus agency has ever reversed itself in favor of a more lenient position. (Maybe this would be a good spin-off question...) – mweiss Dec 7 '15 at 19:08
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    A number of years ago, kashruth agencies released that unflavored pills containing chametz were acceptable on Pesach. I think the assumption till then had been that they were a problem. – Loewian Dec 7 '15 at 19:35
  • @mweiss "Although I rather doubt any kashrus agency has ever reversed itself in favor of a more lenient position." One notable example where things became more lenient - it was only last year or 2 years ago where the OU permitted quinoa to be used on Pesach, though, of course, it had to be only their certified brands. Point is, that until then, they didn't allow it at all. I also think that the "DE" (Dairy equipment) designation was a leniency that was later eliminated and they became stricter. – DanF Dec 7 '15 at 21:01
  • My impression is that kashering plastic has become more commonly accepted over the years – Double AA Dec 8 '15 at 0:49

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