How Have Jewish Americans Adapted Kashrut to an American Lifestyle?
According to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, 21% of Jewish Americans keep kosher at home. This includes the people who, although they keep kosher home, will eat whatever they want when they leave their homes. For the Jews who keep kosher both inside and outside the home, there are many kosher certifications that make kosher foods more accessible.
For example, the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America (UOJCA), also known as the Orthodox Union (OU), is a distinguished organization that supports synagogues, youth groups, Zionist movements, and, most commonly, a kosher food preparation supervision service. The OU has a hechsher symbol (Hebrew word for “kosher certification symbol”) consisting of a circled letter U on many commercial food products to publicize that this product’s preparation has been checked by the Orthodox Union and is certified kosher.
According to the OU website, the process to gain kosher certification consists primarily of four steps:
1) Listing Ingredients
- The OU must have a list (which they call schedule A) of all ingredients that go into a product. Once they obtain this list, the OU’s ingredient approval registry staff reviews these ingredients and makes sure all are kosher. If they come across any non-kosher ingredients, they contact the producer and together they either modify or extract that ingredient until the ingredient list is completely kosher.
2) Establish Brand Names
- This list (known as schedule B) is where the OU decides which products will or will not bear the OU symbol. In addition to the regular OU symbol, the Schedule B also indicates whether a product must bear a “D” (dairy which means it is not vegan) or a “P” (Kosher for use on Passover as well as all year round). Recently the OU has created another symbol “De” (dairy equipment). Dairy equipment enables certain Jews, depending on their strictness levels, to eat this product after meat, because there is no dairy in it.
3) Establish Special Instructions for Use of Equipment
- If a producer puts out both kosher and non-kosher products, there must a divider within the factory or area of production to keep the kosher product truly kosher and separated from the non-kosher equipment.
4) Rabbinic Field Representative
- This is a figure assigned by the OU to intermittently visit the facility to verify that schedule A, schedule B, and all other additional instructions are being strictly adhered to.
In addition to the OU there are many other organizations that complete this process. Some of these organizations are respected just like the OU, but there are other organizations that do not have Jewish support or business because of a lack of respected rabbinical backing. Notwithstanding these disregarding certifications, there is an abundance of packaged foods with kosher certifications that everyone, both Jews and non-Jews, eats nationally.
These are all respected kosher certifications:
Besides American-brand packaged foods having kosher certification, there are American franchises that have strictly kosher branches. In Israel there are a few Kosher McDonalds’, KFC’s, Dominos’, and Sbarro’s. In Jewish-American neighborhoods, it is likely to see a Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts (DD), Krispy Creme, and Subway. Additionally, all Baskin-Robbins’ are considered kosher. This is because their process for creating the ice cream and ingredients has been certified kosher by the Vaad Hakashrut of Massachusetts. There are only a few ingredients that have not been certified, indicated by “non-kosher” signs next to the ice cream flavors that include them.
Some Jews believe that even if a certain branch is not certified kosher, certain foods may be considered kosher. One example is a plain bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts. A standard rule of a franchise is that all foods/utensils/everything sold or used must come from the producer. Therefore the bagel sold at a kosher DD is the same as a bagel sold at a non-kosher DD. However, this is a controversial topic among kashrut eaters.
In addition to franchises, there are regular American chain stores such as Starbucks whose products are broken down by Jewish-created websites stating what within the store is kosher and what is not.
American Jews have adapted to a typical American lifestyle in many ways. They attend American universities, play at the same parks, apply for the same jobs. They even eat their “Fakin’ Bacon” to be just like regular Americans.