Friday, November 13, 2015

But Who is Watching my Cheese?: An Expose’ into the Current Dairy Crisis within the OU

Push the Button!

Rabbi S. remembers the exact day when he realized that there was a problem. He was on a day off from his job as Assistant Supervisory Advisor to the Undersecretary of Field Mashgichim (Dairy Division) at the OU, when he noticed something odd on his computer screen.

At 9:30, his longtime coworker from the daily division, Avrohom Gordimer, posted a blogpost to Crosscurrents.

At 9:32, Gordimer  responded to a comment on the blog.

And again, at 9:34, and :9:35, and again every few minutes, until noon, when he posted yet another blog entry. Each of the entries exceeded 5000 words. Rabbi S. recalls feeling concerned, for Gordimer had been dispatched that day for a very important job:  to activate the rennet feeder for over 3 vats at a cheese factory. If Gordimer was online all day, who was pushing the “on” button on the rennet vat? If he did not do it, the cheese may fall into the category of “gevinas akum” (according to some rishonim).    

Around 300 pm Rabbi S. was relieved to see that an entire hour went by without Gordimer posting. But as he soon discovered, Gordimer was in fact not turning on rennet feeders, rather he was getting his makeup touched up for a photo shoot for a glossy Hareidi magazine. Rabbi S. later determined that the button on the feeder was indeed never touched by Gordimer’s unassailably Jewish hand.  


That there had been issues with the cheese supervision within the OU for some time now is something of an open secret around the mashgiach community, but nobody has spoken to the press about it until now. After days of reporting and a prime number of interviews, a complete picture of unboiled parmesian cheese lines, calf stomach linings, and unpressed buttons appears.


The Cheesehead

Avrohom Gordimer was known for years as one the top 20 cheese mashgichim in the Greater New York area, earning him such nicknames as “The Cheesehead,” “Gevinas Da’as,” “The Munster Rebbe,” “The Big Cheese,” and “Avrohom Farve.”  

“He could do hagala on a cheese line like nobody’s business” Rabbi W., a mashgiach, told me. But even years ago, according to Rabbi W., Gordimer displayed some questionable behavior. Gordimer had a lot to say about non cheese related issues, and was desperate to get his message out. Numerous Kosher cheese consumers lodged complaints with the OU when they found, included with their cheese, hand written screeds against the Nishmat Yoetzet Program, Philosophy professors in Yeshiva University, and Carlebach minyanim.  The OU looked the other way. After all, how many notes could one guy write? But that was before the fateful day that Avrohom Gordimer discovered the internet.



According to many reports, Gordimer was hesitant to blog at all, as none of his rebbes did so (and certainly not the tzaddikim from previous generations). But after much pressure from the Crosscurrents blog, he wrote his first post, “Women Belong in the Kitchen, Unless it’s a Big Industrial Cheese Kitchen, In which Case they are not Allowed and Doing so would Violate the Mesorah.” It was not long before an angry comment by a famous radical open orthodprax feminist was posted on the site. Gordimer replied. The feminist replied. And his cheese supervising skills were never the same.

“I remember the day when his name rose to the second most popular option on the google search autofill for ‘Avrohom.’” Rabbi F., another mashgiach told me. “He threw such a party. Empty cheese spray containers were everywhere. But tell me, whose signature appeared on the packaging? Who wrote the letter on the cover of each individual batch? Who applied the special coded insignias unique to the mashgaich and kashrus to the cheese?”

One oft told story, though yet to be confirmed by hard evidence, tells of a pile of young goat stomach linings in one of the factories for which Gordimer was responsible. Another has the OU being placed on Kraft’s “Bacon Flavored Cheese with Real Bacon Flavor”, whose source was a factory that Gordimer was responsible for “negative supervision”, in which mashgichim are sent to visit the cheese plant when it is making its regular, non-kosher products, to assure that kosher labels are not applied at such times. (Negative supervision is needed for all non-kosher facilities which schedule special kosher productions, but it is more critical in the case of retail cheese manufacturers.)

“I personally have stayed fleishig for over two years straight,” Rabbi W. told me, “Just so I could avoid eating cheese without anyone realizing the real reason- that I cannot trust its hashgocha.”


Closed Orthodoxy but Open Cheese- odoxy?

No one can possibly find fault with Gordimer’s persistent attacks on the open orthodox kofrim with their mishkav zachar and semichas nekeiva. But at what cost? Who is watching my cheese? I am more than happy to expunge evil from the community, but not at the cost of affecting my diet in the slightest way.

As Gordimer puts so clearly in his voluminous writings, Hakadosh Baruch Hu has a specific tafkid for everyone, and it is not for us to step out of our roles. You, Avrohom Gordimer, have clearly been put on this Earth to watch cheese. Please do us all a favor and resume your proper role.       

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