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Kashruth Commission

In order to centralize kashrut supervision in all of Massachusetts, a Kashruth Commission was established by the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts (then called the Associated Synagogues of Greater Boston). The Kashruth Commission is responsible for fiscal and managerial policies, while the day-to-day supervision of Kashruth as well as the definition and implementation of Kashruth laws are under the aegis of the Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts.

Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger[email protected]
Rabbi Saul Epstein[email protected]
Tobe Shanok[email protected]


Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger and Rabbi Saul Epstein at a recent gathering

About the Commission Leadership

Rabbi Abraham I. Halbfinger (above photo-left) was ordained over 50 years ago by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. He served congregations in North Adams and Lawrence, Massachusetts. In August 1966, Rabbi Halbfinger became spiritual leader of Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe in Brighton, at that time a community of mostly elderly first-generation Americans. Since his arrival the Rabbi has revitalized the congregation, not only attracting young families through his personal magnetism and compassion, but also working for the construction and renovation of housing for the elderly. He serves today as Rabbi Emeritus of this synagogue.

Rabbi Halbfinger's service to the greater Jewish Community has been wide-ranging and significant. His impact has been daily as rabbinic administrator of the Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts, Va'ad Harabonim and Kashruth Commision since 1974, and his expertise on kashrut is a resource for both vendors and consumers.

Rabbi Halbfinger is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and is a member and former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts. He serves on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council as well as on the board of directors of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. He is also a member of the State of Massachusetts Governor's Council on Chaplaincy.

Rabbi Halbfinger and his wife, Sylvia, reside in Brighton, MA.

Rabbi Saul Epstein (above photo-right) has been working at the Vaad Harabonim and the Kashruth Commission since September 2007. His duties as associate director of the Vaad Harabonim include assisting Rabbi Halbfinger in managing the Kashruth Commissionís kosher supervision of local restaurants, facilities, bakeries, and caterers.

A native of Columbus Ohio, has a B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Jewish Studies from Yeshiva Unversity, as well as rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva Universityís Rabbi Issac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). During his rabbinic studies, he also completed a Masterís in Public Administration from Baruch College, NY, NY. Prior to his arrival in Boston, Rabbi Epstein worked for United Jewish Communitiesí Rabbinic Cabinet and the Orthodox Unionís National Conference for Synagogue Youth.

Rabbi Epstein and his wife, Sara Libby, reside in Cambridge, MA.

A bit about Kashrut.

Kashrut ("keeping kosher", is the term used for the Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with Jewish law is termed kosher, from the Hebrew term kasher, meaning "fit" (in this context, fit for human consumption). Food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treifah or treif ("torn"); the term originally referred to animals (from a kosher species such as cattle or sheep) which had been either incorrectly slaughtered or mortally wounded by wild beasts and therefore were not fit for human consumption. Among Sephardim it typically only refers to meat that is not kosher.

The basic laws of kashrut are in the Biblical book of Leviticus, their details explicated in the oral law (the Mishnah and the Talmud) and codified by the Code of Jewish Law and later rabbinical authorities. Foods are kosher when they meet all criteria that Jewish law applies to food. Invalidating characteristics may range from the presence of a mixture of meat and milk, to the use of produce from Israel that has not been tithed properly, or even the use of cooking utensils which had previously been used for non-kosher food.

Store-bought foods can be identified as kosher by the presence of a hechsher (pl. hechsherim), a graphical symbol that indicates that the food has been certified as kosher by a rabbinic authority. (This might be an individual rabbi, but is more often a rabbinic organization.) The most common symbol is the OU: a U inside a circle, standing for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Most rabbis and organizations, however, have their own certification mark, and the other symbols are too numerous to list. The KVH (Kosher Vaad Harabonim) is the symbol used by our local Orthodox rabbinic group, in cooperation with the Kashruth Commission of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.

Producers of food items and food additives can contact Jewish authorities to have their product deemed kosher. A committee will visit their facilities to inspect production methods and contents of the product and issue a certificate if everything is in order.

Ritual purity and holiness

According to the Biblical book of Leviticus, the purpose of the laws is related to ritual purity and holiness. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "holiness" is etymologically related to the Hebrew word for "distinction" or "separation." This idea is generally accepted by most Jews today, and by many modern biblical scholars. Cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas has written an important work on just how the Israelites may have used the idea of distinction as a way to create holiness. Her seminal work, Purity and Danger (1966), is still studied today. One theory widely accepted today is that the laws serve as a distinction between the Israelites and the non-Israelite nations of the world. Gordon Wenham writes: "The laws reminded Israel what sort of behavior was expected of her, that she had been chosen to be holy in an unclean world."

Similarly, the practice of Kashrut serves as a daily exercise in self-discipline and self-control, strengthening the practitioner's ability to choose other difficult paths. The ability to rationally curb one's most basic appetites can be seen as the prerequisite to living in a civilized society. Also, the aspects of Kosher slaughter which emphasize and incorporate the need to avoid unnecessary suffering of the animal remind the believer that having the power of life and death or to cause suffering, even to a farm animal born and bred to be eaten, is a serious responsibility rather than a pleasure to be sought after; and that to actually indulge in pleasure in the power to cause suffering, even in so common a practice as hunting, is to damage our own moral sensibilities.