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OU Kosher marks another successful Pesach season educating thousands

Reflecting on its busiest period, world’s largest kosher certification agency is inspired by consumers’ eagerness to learn.

OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant discusses the intricacies of kashrut supervision at Bais Medrash Zichron Yechezkel, in Toms River, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.
OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant discusses the intricacies of kashrut supervision at Bais Medrash Zichron Yechezkel, in Toms River, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.

As the rabbinic coordinators responsible for managing the Orthodox Union’s OU Kosher’s consumer hotline and “Webbe Rebbe” online forum — an email address where consumers may send in questions on kashrut that are answered in writing — Rabbis Zvi Nussbaum and Chanoch Sofer have fielded some very unique Pesach-related questions about kosher items over the years.

This year was no exception: “My family is considering visiting a farm on Chol Hamoed [the intermediate days of Passover],” wrote one woman in an email query. “There is a booth where people can feed the birds a mixture of seeds. Could this pose a problem around chametz? What about the seeds, grains and milk (which we were told is actually formula) fed to the animals?” The answer, replied the Webbe Rebbe, was that one should not purchase such seeds or milk to feed the animals on Pesach.

The Pesach season — the month leading up to and including Pesach — is consistently the busiest time of the year for OU Kosher. As the world’s largest and most widely recognized international kosher certification agency, it certifies over a million products manufactured in 13,000 plants in 105 countries, and two-thirds of all kosher food in the United States.

OU Kosher managing director of community relations Rabbi Eli Eleff says that at a time when people have kashrut on their minds, OU Kosher is a primary resource for halachic [Jewish law] guidance and communal kashrut education.

“When it comes to the Pesach season, it’s all hands on deck at OU Kosher,” he says. “Klal Yisrael [the Jewish community] has questions and we’re there to help them to the best of our abilities. To do so requires harnessing all of our resources. We offer seminars and advise the community at large, with over 30 rabbanim [rabbis] fielding questions on our consumer hotline alone.”

During the 2024 Pesach season, the hotline was open for extended hours right until the holiday started, with up to three simultaneous operators responding to calls during peak times. Whereas about 135 daily calls come in during the year, about 300 daily calls were answered during the Pesach season, jumping to about 560 in the week before the start of the holiday. The Sunday before Pesach, Eleff fielded 75 calls in two hours, and on the eve of Pesach, 606 calls came in within three hours with multiple rabbis simultaneously staffing the hotline.

“We received almost 10,000 phone inquiries about kashrus on Pesach, and we tried to respond to them all,” says OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack. “I’m very proud of our staff. They did a stellar job. They worked far beyond nine-to-five and with alacrity; people received calls at home and availed themselves to consumers. That is something very special.”

Over 125,000 unique visitors clicked on OU Kosher’s dedicated Pesach landing page oupassover.org, and 95,000 unique visitors checked in the week before Pesach alone.

Close to one million pages were viewed on the OU Kosher site during the Pesach season, and 2,427 sheylos (questions) were emailed to the Webbe Rebbe.

Of the 166,700 times the OU Kosher app has been downloaded since its launch in 2012, 4,302 new downloads occurred during the Pesach season and 10,200 active users logged on to the app before the holiday.

Among the OU’s most sought-after publications is the “OU Guide to Passover,” of which 70,600 print copies were printed in 2024. The OU Kosher editorial team begins working on the manual around Chanukah time and continues the collaborative process until publication around Purim.

“People truly appreciate the guide for the great resource that it is,” says OU director of digital content Jeremy Chernikoff, the guide’s managing editor. “Whether they take it to the supermarket to check our approved products lists, or they consult it before kashering their kitchens for Pesach, it’s incredibly comprehensive.”

Rabbi Genack recalls, “When I first came to the OU in 1980, we had a little kosher directory for Pesach. A few years ago, we printed 50,000 copies of the OU Passover Guide, and this past year we increased production by more than 20,000 copies because of the demand. The guide is available online, and was viewed 23,000 times.”

Genack is proud of the OU Kosher staff responsible for kashrut education, which is integral to the agency’s mission. “I commend our kashrus education staff, who have a wonderful sense of communal
responsibility,” he says.

As regular guests on Jewish radio shows and podcasts, OU Kosher staff were particularly busy this past Pesach season. Rabbinic coordinator Rabbi Avraham Juravel appeared on the Kashrus Awareness Project’s “Let’s Talk Kashrus” podcast where he presented “Hidden Hazards: Chometz in Disguise,” and addressed what might be wrong with seemingly innocuous products that may contain chametz, leavened products that are not consumed on Pesach.

Rabbinic coordinators Rabbi Eli Gersten and Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld were on Nachum Segal’s annual Pesach products program on “JM in the AM,” and covered an array of topics from the kashrut of specific foods to preparing one’s home for the holiday.

OU Kosher COO Rabbi Moshe Elefant was a guest on “Talkline with Zev Brenner” for several weeks in in a row, leading late-night, post-Shabbat (motzei Shabbat) discussions that aired until two in the morning.

“The listeners submit the topics of discussion and they range through every possible question and situation,” says Elefant. “How to kasher a dishwasher for Passover, how to deal with a potential situation at a Seder? What medications are permissible during Passover?”

OU Kosher at Miami Bais Yaakov
OU Kosher’s Rabbi Mordechai Stareshefsky addresses the 11th- and 12th-graders at the Bais Yaakov of Miami. Credit: Courtesy.

Brenner says Elefant is a fan favorite. “Rabbi Elefant comes from a position of great knowledge and strength, and is an individual who has received much respect from various segments of our community,” he says. “Listeners really find him refreshing because his knowledge is versatile enough to handle any questions we receive. He cuts across many backgrounds, and has become very popular over the years.”

OU Kosher also ran numerous Pesach-themed educational events in both North America and Israel, educating over 2,000 people in-person. Especially noteworthy was an evening at Khal Zichron Yechezkel in Toms River, N.J., which drew an overflow crowd of men for “Demystifying Kashrus”, a program that unraveled the complexities of kosher-food production and explored how to better navigate the marketplace.

About 60 women also explored the fundamentals of modern kashrut at a separate synagogue program called “Unlock the Secrets of Kosher.”

Other community events run in conjunction with yeshivot, kollels, colleges, day schools and synagogues were held in Boston, Cleveland, and in Jackson and Lakewood, N.J.; Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, N.Y.; and North Miami Beach, Fla. Topics included Q &A panels on the laws of Passover, “Kashrus of Medicines and Nutritionals for Pesach and All-Year Round,” and “Pesach Preparations.”

A special session expounded upon clean and lab-grown meat in halachah, the bakery industry, and a class on bedikat tolaim (checking fruits and vegetables for insect infestation) for women.

In Israel, where kashrut on Pesach can be complex for Ashkenazi Jews due to the overwhelming proliferation of kitniyot products, the OU Israel’s Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education, directed by Rabbi Ezra Friedman, ran a number of English and Hebrew classes in Yerushalayim, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Alon Shvut, Kiryat Sefer and Charish. Topics included a “Practical Guide to Preparing and Shopping for Pesach,” “Kosher L’Pesach Products,” and “Making Pesach in Charish.”

Both Anglo olim and veteran Israelis enjoyed an “Erev Pesach Hachana” evening, a “Keep Your Pesach Kosher” symposium, and a seminar for women at the start of the Jewish month of Nisan by OU Israel’s L’Ayla women’s initiative, featuring discussions on the Haggadah and practical Pesach highlights to insights to add meaning to the Passover Seder. The Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education also prints a Pesach guide in collaboration with the OU’s guide to Passover with modified content specific to kashrut in Israel.

“In Israel, there are a few very good hashgachos [kosher certifications], however they cater to specific communities with specific customs and stringencies,” says OU Kosher Israel Department director Rabbi Yissachar Dov Krakowski. “Although we at OU Kosher previously regarded our main role in Israel as ‘exporters’ of kashrus, the need to offer kashrus education in Israel has become far more imperative with every passing year. We are proud of Israel’s growing interest in the OU in general, particularly among anglo olim.”

As a show of solidarity with the people of Sderot, OU Israel’s Center for Kashrut Education also created a behind-the-scenes video tour of the OU Kosher-certified Birkat HaPesach Matzah Factory in Sderot, called “How It’s Made: Matzah.”

“OU is an organization centered on yirat shamayim, and Torah values, and we put our Torah education above everything,” says Friedman. “We are so honored to use education as a powerful tool to help improve kashrut both in Israel and around the world.”

OU Kosher’s Rabbi Avrohom Juravel answers questions following his presentation at Bais Medrash of Albert in Lakewood, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.

Back at OU Kosher headquarters in New York, the agency hosted multiple school visits where students received kashrut overviews and participated in fascinating workshops. Students at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, N.J., participated in a session on inspecting food for bugs. Students at SAR (Salanter Akiba Riverdale) High School and the Ramaz School, both in New York, had a presentation on the mesorah of birds, including live ones, and Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls went behind the scenes at Manhattan’s Wall Street Grill restaurant to see OU Kosher’s certification work in action.

Hundreds of people also benefited from OU Kosher’s Kashrus Education from the comforts of their homes — or in the case of military personnel, from their stations around the world; in partnership with the Aleph Institute, OU Kosher held a virtual pre-Pesach webinar for army chaplains and lay leaders who often lack access to kosher
products abroad.

“Depending on where they are stationed, products may be limited and their circumstances may be restrictive,” says Eleff. “Imagine making Pesach on a naval ship, or in Okinawa, Japan, for example. We discussed which supplies are permissible to use for Pesach, and how to kasher things in light of their circumstances.”

OU Kosher also led a “Smart Shopping and Kashering for Pesach” webinar together with OU’s SPIRIT Initiative for retirees, virtual pre-Pesach sessions for the Council of European Rabbis, as well as one for the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based program for rabbis affiliated with “Kav Halachah,” an Israeli-based, global halachah (Jewish law) hotline. “Matzah and Medicine: Navigating Pesach in Healthcare Settings,” a webinar conducted with Touro University’s New York Medical College, drew over 200 medical professionals.

Reflecting on the busy Pesach season, Elefant says, “There is nothing that makes the team at OU Kosher happier than to answer kashrus questions from the community. That Klal Yisrael [Jewish community] is interested in kashrus education and in doing the right things on Pesach brings us tremendous joy, and we can’t wait to do it all over again next Pesach.”

CONTACT: Ilana Weinberger, assistant director of public relations, 347-514-0184, weinbergerI@ou.org.

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
OU (Orthodox Union) Kosher is the world’s largest and most widely recognized international koshercertification agency, certifying over 1,000,000 products produced in more than 13,000 plants located in105 countries around the world. The agency certifies two-thirds of all kosher-certified foods in the UnitedStates.
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