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Q&A With the Founder of the Kof-K Kosher Supervision, Rabbi Zecharia Senter

When and why did you get into kashrus supervision?

I graduated from Yeshiva College in 1958. In 1959 I got my PhD in mathematics, and Smicha from RIETS in 1963. After I graduated, I taught mathematics at Fairleigh Dickinson University in the mornings, and at YU in the afternoons to supplement my income. In the early 1960s, the students at YU decided to publish a manual about kosher foods, and asked me to help them. Kashrus was always a special interest of mine. As a boy, local store owners called me “Kid Ingredients,” because I was always reading the ingredients labels on packaged foods. I knew which products were kosher, which were treif, and which were “yesh v’yesh.” So I served as the faculty advisor for the student publication, called “A Guide to Kashrut.”

Who was your first client in kosher supervision?

The first big company I certified was Howard Johnson Ice Cream. It was a popular product sold in restaurants that were part of the Howard Johnson motels; but it was not sold in supermarkets. I contacted the company and spoke with them about marketing kosher ice cream in supermarkets, which they eventually agreed to do. They asked me to be their certifying rabbi. It was a complicated process, because they had eight manufacturing plants across the country. Living in New Jersey, I realized I would need to hire mashgichim to inspect the remote plants. The company agreed to pay all the necessary costs. They asked me to submit all the details on my company stationery. At the time I had no company stationery, or even a company name. So I made up a name on the spot: Kosher Supervision Service, or KSS. I had the stationery printed, and I was in business.

Did your business grow quickly after that?

Baruch Hashem, yes. After one year of certifying Howard Johnson Ice Cream, there was a marked rise in their sales. As a result, more business came along. The next big name in ice cream was Schrafft’s. Somebody from Scrafft’s called me and said, “We’re interested in certifying our ice cream as kosher. Do you do any other ice cream brands”? I said, “Yes, we give the certification for Howard Johnson.” So he said, “If it’s good enough for Howard Johnson, it’s good enough for us”. Later, Carvel signed on as well.

What kinds of advice did you seek in your business?

I went to the Skvere Rebbe to ask another question. “Should I hire one person or a Bais Din and tell them to advise me on whether or not to accept a product?” I’ll never forget his answer: “NO! Not an advisor! It has to be his singular decision, or the bais din’s group decision. You have to accept that their word is binding, final and binding”! That’s what we did. It had to be someone who tells you what to do, and it’s done! And we follow what the Bais Din says!

The KOF-K now has a Vaad Halacha, a Rabbinic Committee which is responsible for all of the Kashrus policies of the KOF-K. The Bais Din of the Vaad is comprised of three eminently qualified Morei HoRa’ah, noted Rabbinic authorities: Rav Shlomo Gissinger shlit’a. and Rav Shmuel Meir Katz, shlit’a, Rav Moshe Chaim Kahan shlit’a. The Bais Din is the final authority on all matters of kashrus at the KOF-K.

When a question relating to kashrus is brought to the attention of the KOF-K, it is referred to Rabbi Ari Senter, Director of Halachic research. Assisted by Rabbi Moshe Dovid Lebovits, a KOF-K Rabbinic administrator, they research the KOF-K halachic database to determine whether or not a KOF-K p’sak already exists for the specific question asked and what other national kashrus agencies rule on the subject. Their findings are then presented to the Bais Din for a ruling. The final decision of the Bais Din is written up with utmost precision, signed by the Rabbanim, and then entered into the KOF-K halachic database for future use by the Vaad Halacha. The Bais Din meets regularly to ensure that all KOF-K certified products meet the highest halachic standards of kashrus.

Rav Shlomo Gissinger, shlit’a , Rav of K’hal Zichron Ya’akov in Lakewood, NJ, is well known as an expert in many areas of halacha, specifically on the subject of tolaim (insect infestation in foods).

Rav Shmuel Meir Katz, shlit’a, well known as one of the distinguished senior poskim in Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood. Rav Katz is a foremost authority on mehudar matzah production as well as all aspects of Kashrus and Halacha.

Rav Moshe Chaim Kahan shlita, A musmach of Lakewood’s Bais Medrash Govoha, Rav Kahan’s expertise in Halacha propelled him to the ranks of poskei halacha in the yeshiva, alongside his potion as Rav of K’hal William’s Street in Lakewood.