OU kashrut supervisor at work in a food manufacturing company.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE OU)
When thinking about the Arabian Peninsula, many things come to mind, such as fabulously rich kingdoms and sultanates, endless deserts, magnificent oases and flourishing cities built on oil wealth.
Kosher food, on the other hand, might not be top of your list.
But according to the Orthodox Union, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are now among the 104 countries worldwide where the kashrut authority has supervisors overseeing the production of kosher products.
In March, the OU sent two kashrut supervisors to the region, one to a factory in Saudi Arabia and one to a factory in Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the OU Kashrut Division, would not disclose which products received supervision, although one is a ready to consume food item and another is a food ingredient.
He noted that both products were relatively simple to approve and did not involve any complicated inspection.
In total, the supervisors were only on the ground for a few hours and the travel time took longer than the inspections themselves.
One obvious concern the OU had was for the safety and security of the two rabbis who went to inspect the respective facilities, given the human rights record and troubled relationship of the Arab world with Jews.
Elefant said due to security concerns, the organization took advice from the State Department and the companies involved before approving the visits.
The rabbi said that both companies guaranteed the safety of the supervisors and said that they would do everything necessary to ensure the rabbis would be well taken care of.
And following the inspections, both supervisors reported that they had no problems or concerns during their visits and were properly looked after.
According to Elefant, both of the companies in question approached the OU themselves, a phenomenon which is part of a larger trend due to the requirement of many food manufacturers in the US requiring kosher ingredients because of their kosher certification.
The OU itself stated that the addition of Dubai and Saudi Arabia by the OU as places where kashrut supervisors can work is “a reflection of the changing geopolitical situation where these countries have warmed considerably to Israel” due to the common threat they face from Iran.
Elefant was even more enthusiastic, noting that the OU also certifies products in Muslim majority countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt.
“What’s incredible is that we’re seeing the incredible growth of kosher supervision, and seeing the OU certifying products in 104 countries, and maybe kosher food could bring greater unity to the world,” the rabbi said. “If that’s the way to being people together then we’d love to be part of it.”
In total, the OU has almost 1,500 kashrut supervisors worldwide, 1,000 in the US and another 500 working abroad.
Because in the US many of the larger food companies are kosher certified they cannot use ingredients that are not kosher.