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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. My chavrusa and I are learning about berachos and we were wondering: Why do you not also indicate the product’s bracha next to the hechsher?
A. The current state of kosher food certification in the United States is not anything that anyone would have predicted. Thousands of companies – including some of the largest in the world – pay money, follow all types of guidelines, and expend tremendous efforts to ensure that their food is kosher, and then mark the food with a logo to indicate that it meets this standard. All that allows consumers to purchase certified food in every supermarket in the country, knowing that it is suitable for them to eat.
Of course, most of these manufacturers are not doing this because they believe in kashrus and want to service the Jewish community, but rather because it helps them sell more products to consumers. But how large is the Jewish community that eats kosher? Probably well less than 1% of the American public. One would not think that that alone would justify all these companies becoming certified, but with time kosher certification has become very important to manufacturers for a variety of reasons: the core Jewish market, people who look for kosher logos to be sure the food meets some other cultural or personal sensitivity that they have (e.g., vegan, dairy-free), or just because they have to keep up with their competitors.
All of this is wonderful for those who keep kosher, but we must bear in mind that in the final analysis this is a symbiotic relationship. We provide kosher certification which helps them sell products, and they provide kosher food which helps Jewish consumers have easy access to a wide variety of kosher foods. This is something that we do not take for granted – and in most of the world does not exist – and we, therefore, think twice before imposing unnecessary requirements on companies. If something is required to ensure the food is kosher, then there is no room for negotiation, but once kashrus is guaranteed we shy away from asking for other things which might benefit our constituents.
Berachos is a great example of this. Many consumers would appreciate it if the proper bracha was indicated on the food’s package, and in fact, many manufacturers who produce specifically for the frum market will do just that. But for companies that sell their products to the general public, adding more words (or even mysterious bracha-codes) to their package is something that would be considered an imposition, since it clutters their packaging and provides no benefit to 99% of their customers. Therefore, we do not even request that they put that information on the package.
Nonetheless, most hashgachos are sensitive to the ambiguity of the bracha on certain foods and will research the details of those types of foods to help consumers who have questions on these matters.
For a list of berachos for a wide variety of items, see https://consumer.crckosher.org/consumer/berachos/.
This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, December 30, 2023.