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Different Community Standards

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Some of my siblings live in Eretz Yisroel, and the rest of us live in different cities around the United States. It seems like whenever we get together and compare notes, we are each checking our vegetables for bugs in a different way. We’re each trying to do what’s right so why are we all getting different direction from our Rabbis? 

A. There are Rabbis who do not keep abreast of latest information in this area and still tell people to do what worked for them decades ago. But assuming your community leaders are in touch with updated issues and methods, I can think of three legitimate reasons why there might be difference.

Firstly, there are different Rabbinic opinions about which bugs are so small that they are considered “not visible to the naked eye” and which insects must be removed before eating. A community which takes a stricter stand on that issue will have more intense cleaning methods to make sure they get rid of those insects. But others who are not looking to remove all of those insects will be satisfied with a simpler wash procedure to accomplish that goal. This is obviously not the forum to decide – or even really discuss – that issue, but it is something that stands behind many decisions relating to vegetable inspection.

A second difference between communities has to do with their location and climate. There are many environmental factors that play a role in which bugs are in each vegetable and which seasons are better or worse. For example, it is common knowledge that there are insects in broccoli, but there was a time when a reputable hechsher certified frozen broccoli based almost completely on the fact that it grew high up in a mountainous region where they never seemed to have insects in the broccoli. Accordingly, it is quite understandable that what’s terribly buggy in one place is clean or just mildly infested elsewhere, and the cleaning instructions will be based on that reality.

Lastly, there are certain insects which do not come from the fields where the food grows but rather develop from poor storage conditions. This is a particular issue with grains and pasta kept for extended times in places which are dark and damp. If that is an issue in one community, the Rabbis might, for example, recommend sifting all flour or checking all quinoa, while in another city they don’t have that issue, and the Rabbis will have no reason to give those types of directions.

As you can see, there is a great amount of variance in this area from one place to the next, and each person should follow the guidance of their local Rav.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, May 12, 2023.