Ask the Expert: Kosher Symbols

What's the difference between the different hashgachot?

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Question: I’ve noticed that there are a lot of different symbols that indicate something is kosher. An OU, a triangle K, a cRc in a triangle, etc. One of my friends only eats things with some of the symbols, and not others. What’s the difference?
–Pam, Austin

expertAnswer: You’re right that there are dozens of different symbols that indicate something is kosher. Each symbol comes from a different organization or rabbi. So when you see an OU on a package, you know that product was certified as kosher by the Orthodox Union. A cRc comes from the Chicago Rabbinical Council. KSA stands for Kosher Supervision of America, and so on. You can look up symbols and their organizations here.

If all products with symbols on them have been certified as kosher by someone, then why do we need so many symbols? Well, because some people only trust certain organizations to do a good job of making sure something is kosher.

To help explain this I consulted with Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Congregation Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel in Chicago. He said that sometimes a rabbi or organization will accept a halakhic (Jewish legal) leniency regarding food that others take issue with.

What’s a good example?

“While there have been some lenient opinions over the centuries regarding gelatin,” Rabbi Lopatin said, “current Orthodox practice, at least in the Diaspora, is to not accept gelatin from non-kosher animals. Therefore, supervisions which do accept the leniencies of gelatin from non-kosher animals are not acceptable to (Orthodox) community standards.” And once you have an organization that allows for gelatin from a non-kosher animal, the community might be nervous accepting that organization’s supervision on any food, even if it doesn’t contain gelatin.

Think of it like hiring a babysitter. If you find out that your babysitter has been giving your kids ice cream for dinner, you might decide not to trust that babysitter to be in charge of your kids ever, even if you ensure that there’s no ice cream in the house.

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