From the Frum Follies Archives. First appeared on 10/25/09. I am re-posting for my readers bcause we are approaching Purim and we are tired of the dreary true life stories of scandal in the world of kosher certification, such as How to Succeed in Kosher Without Really Trying about Doheny Kosher Meats in Los Angeles.- Yerachmiel Lopin
The essential elements of this business are:
A Rabbinical degree of the orthodox variety. However if you are aiming for ethical certification you should go for conservative ordination. Movement choice is an important permanent decision. The orthodox won’t ever accept a conservative rabbi. The Conservative movement will accept orthodox rabbis. Over they years their seminary has employed a number of illuyim. As they expanded into suburbia in the 50s and 60s they employed many musmachim from Chaim Berlin, Torah Vodath and YU. However the conservative jobs are centered in ethics certifications, this may be a bad year. There is a general suspicion of how machmir the orthodox are on ethics. You will have to go conservative if you have an obsession about a same-sex lover or eating sturgeon. Women interested in kosher certification as rabbis will have to go to a Conservative seminary. The orthodox will not take them, yet. The Reform and Reconstructionists don’t have any food certifications. If you are very entrepreneurial, you can get any ordination, or none, and then strike out on your own.
A Good logo Make it vague for the general population so that non-kosher shoppers and anti-Semites will not be turned off. Think geometrically. The more basic forms are taken. You may have to go to ovals or polygons. Certifications for hareidi customers should have circles inside circles (to dray around chumras) with many Hebrew words in bad typography. ABDZ (Av Bet Din Tzedek, Head of the righteous court in Hebrew is good Grand rabbi is a superfluous holdover from the signs in front of every building whose owner was seeking an exemption from taxes.
A Name is important, preferably one that stands out. most chareidi-oriented hechsherim are just rabbi ploiny, or nametheplaceRabbi/rebbe. Some times after a division of the estate, the hyphen is obligatory (e.g. “Bobov-SE Quadrant of Boro Park). Think ahead for the kids, leave space for 2 more hyphens for the next two generations. Additionally, if you have no sons and it will pass to son-in-laws go for short names (e.g., Pam is better than Shachnowitzgetshein). Absolutely ban the hyphenated last names used by some feminist couples. This will make the hyphen problem unmanageable. Congregational names can be added. Do not use the congregational name if it is not your property or you don’t have a lifetime contract
A Rule manual (aka Shulchan Orach). In addition you will need supplements to cover important questions not addressed by Karo and Isserles or just Karo if you are Sephardi). It is usually better to be an Ashkenazi hechsher. Sephardim are tolerant with Ashkenazi hechsherim. But the opposite is not true. There is a regrettable attitude of “if R Yosef Karo was so smart why wasn’t he an Ashkenazi.” However, if you need to move a load of rice and legumes near Passover you will have to go Sephardi or have a separate affiliate with its own Sephardi rabbi. When this is done for Split Pea Soup for Passover, it is known as a split fee arrangement.
A High powered magnifying glass the better to spot things that will require a hechsher.
Ingenuity in combining market segments Consider the crossover possibilities of Kabala Water guaranteed to be free of invisible crustaceans, kosher for Passover, and with assurance that it is also parve. It is also not clear if the distinguished Berg family is wiling to share their profits with you.
Chumros– by carefully timing the chumroh, the publicity and the arrival of the product you can dominate a market before anyone else gets a foothold. With chumros, unless you are a heavyweight, it is best to form strategic partners or coalitions covering many rabbis and products.
Heterim. Sometimes you can get business by picking up a food purveyor someone else rejected. The food producer is bound to show his gratitude to you. In general this is not a tactic for a newbie because it can sink your ability to attract customers for the manufacturer. But later in your career you can show your extraordinary halachic courage. This tactic works better with modern orthodox constituencies. Don’t adopt this approach unless you can mix it up with enough chumras. Otherwise people will begin to suspect that you are in the pocket of the manufacturer.
A Consultant on turf issues: In theory, the more hechsherim the better. But be careful. If you tangle with the wrong folks you can get mauled and your career can die at the starting gate. You have to call it right knowing when to brawl and when to fold your cards. Ordinarily hechsher wars are not a blood sport. But if someone does threaten violence hire the Shomrei Tznius guys.. They enthusiastic hard workers with a well-earned reputation for ferocity and their higher ups will cover for them. Just remember the rule of doubles; pay both Monroe and Williamsburg or you may end up on You Tube.
Mashgichim– I almost forgot this. Forget about illegal Costa Ricans. You need a Jew to light stoves, make sure no one is cheating, and show your customers that you really have a rabbi blessing the food. Generally the fellows with thick eyeglasses make less trouble and convey an air of piety.
Customers– you can’t sell a certification if no one buys it (aren’t you glad we reminded you of this). If you don’t have any muscle you will probably have to be a subcontractor and when the time is right you make your move and steal the customers. Customers may go along with a change if you reduce the price or find some way to make it easier to comply.
Website– The front page should have logo and some statement of your commitment to kashruth, affordability, and your expertise and experience. If it is a small shop it should have your picture. Remember this is really more for the buyers of hechsherim than the buyers of the food product. So aim for a corporate look and provide a very accessible link to your form for them to fill out which you will use for your sales calls. Sub pages should have the following, explanations of decisions and the process of supervising that show how smart you are and how hard your work, pictures in both your study, your modern office, and in the factory with the mandatory hard hat.
Follow these rules and you can prosper, get free Passover vacations, and grow your business for many years.
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