The Jewish community of Montreal is blessed with an abundance of Kosher products from which to choose. Given modern methods of transportation and distribution, Montrealers can enjoy Kosher foods manufactured in the farthest parts of the world. Such a cornucopia notwithstanding, certain basic foodstuffs must still be produced locally. Fresh dairy products and breadstuffs form underpinnings of a thriving community, and Montreal is blessed with a number of local manufacturers satisfying the needs of the community with a bounty of fresh dairy and bakery products. The ease with which these products may be purchased, however, belies the hard work that the MK and the Vaad Horabonim expend to ensure that they indeed meet the highest levels of Kashrus demanded by the Kosher community. An inside look at recent efforts by the to certify several large, national bakery chains should afford us with a better understanding of the efforts and standards of the , and highlight the important Kashrus concerns that are addressed.
References to bread as the symbol of human sustenance can be found in the earliest sources. When Hashem sought to punish Adam for his first transgression, He chose to use bread as the vehicle, and the appellation as The Staff of Life is actually based upon a phrase in Isaiah (3:1). Chazal recognized bread as the central part of a meal, and hence regarded all food eaten in a meal with bread as being Tafel – secondary – to it and included in the Bracha of Hamotzei Lechem Min Ha’Aretz. Although we may tend to eat less bread than our forefathers, it nonetheless maintains a central place in Halacha and, as we shall see, its importance as a symbol of civilization was also of great significance to Chazal.
Although the variety of bread is virtually limitless, we generally consider bread to be dough made from flour, water, and yeast, which is then baked. The Kashrus concerns with bread can be divided into the following categories: Ingredients, equipment, and several special rules that are unique to bread (see below). Of the basic ingredients used to make bread, the flour used for Canadian bread is predominantly wheat. While wheat is inherently Kosher, a Kashrus issue called Yoshon should be noted. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, a special offering called the Omer was brought on the second day of Pesach, and one was not permitted to eat from the new crop of grain until this sacrifice was brought. The new crop was called Chodosh (“new”), while the grain from the previous year was called Yoshon (“old”), and one could only eat Yoshon until after the Omer was brought. The Gemorah tells us, however, that when the Bais Hamikdash is not standing, all Chodosh becomes permitted as soon as the second day of Pesach passes (the day of the Omer), even if the Korban Omer is not brought. The status of grain grown today depends on when it is planted. For example, winter wheat is planted and begins to grow before the winter. Although it is not harvested until the middle of the summer (well after Pesach), it is nonetheless permitted after the second day of Pesach since it had already begun to grow. Spring wheat, however, as well as many types of oats, are planted after Pesach has begun, and thus do not enjoy the benefit of the day of the Omer. As such, spring wheat may pose a Kashrus concern. Halachik authorities, however, differ as to whether this prohibition applies to grain outside of Eretz Yisroel, and the prevailing custom among most Jews living outside of Israel is to be lenient. As such, the MK (as well as most other Kashrus organizations) certifies bread and other products that contain Chodosh grain. There is, however, a significant segment in the community that wishes to be Machmir and avoid the use of Chodosh, and for that reason many of our local bakeries make a great effort to use only Yoshon flour all year long. Such bakeries and products are clearly marked as Yoshon, and the MK takes a leading role in ensuring that such products are available.
In order to cause bread to attain its classical form – and not turn into Matzah – it must be leavened. Leavening is the process where yeast spores ferment the grain, causing the sugars found in the dough to be converted into carbon dioxide, causing the bread to rise. In the olden days, leavening was made by allowing dough to ferment naturally, and then using small amounts of heavily fermented dough to leaven new batches of bread. This material is called Se’or (in English it is called “sour”), and is the ingredient that gives certain types of bread (e.g. rye bread) their tangy taste. Most bread today, however, uses commercially processed pure yeast, which is grown on molasses. Large bakeries will use fresh active yeast, while the yeast often purchased for home use comes as a dried product that does not require refrigeration. Both require a reliable Kosher certification, since the food used to feed the yeasts may contain non-Kosher ingredients. Another Kashrus concern specific to dried yeast stems from the use of certain fats and oils to protect the yeast spores during the drying process. It is therefore imperative that the consumer insists on a reliable Kosher certification for this product.
Although many types of bread use no fats or oils, many modern types of bread do contain them. In addition, they can be used to grease the pans in which the bread is baked, ensuring that it will not stick. Oils and shortenings may be of animal origin, or may be processed in equipment that is also used for animal fats. Such ingredients clearly require a reliable Kosher certification, and for this reason one should be concerned with the Kosher status of oils and fats for all types of bread.
Aside from ingredient issues, the equipment used to bake bread poses serious Kosher concerns. When establishing a new Hashgacha in a bakery, one must Kasher the equipment that had been used to make the non-Kosher products. While Kashering equipment may often be accomplished with boiling water (Hagolah), such a process is only effective for pots and pans that were used to cook foods in liquids. Sheet pans, bread pans and oven shelves on which bread is baked directly can only be Kashered with a process called Libun, where the metal is heated until all non-Kosher residue in the metal has been burned out. This requirement poses significant difficulties for factories in their efforts to make Kosher products, but the MK demands full adherence to the Halacha. Sheet pans, which are generally made of aluminum, cannot be Kashered with Libun, and must be replaced. Steel bread pans, as well as steel oven shelves on which bread is baked directly, must be sent to a metalworking facility, where they are placed in a kiln and heated to over 1000 F. While these requirements may seem onerous, they serve to ensure that the Hashgacha of the bread in Montreal meets the highest Kashrus requirements.
In addition to ingredient and equipment issues, two special rules governing bread must be addressed in order to be granted an MK Hashgacha. First, Chazal were concerned that bread not be a source of mixing meat and dairy products, especially since it was the mainstay of the meal. Chazal therefore ordained that all bread be Pareve – contain no meat or dairy ingredients, thereby ensuring that one would not inadvertently eat a dairy bread with a meat meal. From this perspective, bread is unique, for even if all of the ingredients in a loaf of bread are Kosher, the bread would still be considered non-kosher if it contained either Kosher dairy or Kosher meat ingredients. In modern bakeries, however, this creates a significant problem, since one of the basic ingredients in classic “white bread” is milk. Indeed, a special variety of white bread called “milk bread” must contain 6% milk by Provincial decree! In order to resolve this problem, the MK requires that all bread certified as Kosher must be Pareve, as well as all equipment used to bake it. [It should be noted that this Halacha applies only to regular bread and not to cake, and may not apply if the bread is baked in a particularly irregular shape and in small amounts, thereby making its dairy or meat status obvious.]
Another rule peculiar to bread concerns Pas Yisroel. Chazal instituted a number of rules surrounding the types of food that may be eaten in order to maintain the uniqueness of Jewish culture. Bread was recognized as the most basic food, and throughout history Chazal indicated a preference that Kosher bread be baked by Jews – Pas Yisroel. Daniel abstained from the king’s bread (Daniel 1:8), and the Talmud thereby deduces that Daniel was the first to require Pas Yisroel (Avodah Zarah 36a). As we have noted, however, bread is a necessary staple, and recognizing that Pas Yisroel might not always be available, Chazal allowed for the use of bread baked by a non-Jewish baker when necessary (see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 112). While the concept for Pas Yisroel was not made obligatory, it is nonetheless deemed especially meritorious to eat only Pas Yisroel whenever possible. [A common Minhag mentioned in Shulchan Aruch is to require the use of Pas Yisroel during the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as a sign of special holiness. Indeed, some authorities are of the opinion that this custom applies equally to Shabbos.] Pas Yisroel can be effected by having a Jew light a small fire in the oven, thereby creating his involvement in the baking process, and the MK has a policy to ensure that all bread sold under its Hashgacha complies with this stringency. To this end, we ensure that a special heating element or fire in the oven is lit by the Mashgiach and remains on at all times, thereby affording Pas Yisroel to the community.
The Talmud (Berachos 8a) notes that one who derives benefit from eating from his own labor enjoys a special blessing, as it states – On the one hand, we eat bread by the sweat of our brow, but the efforts put into ensuring the highest level of Kashrus in the baked products in Montreal shall certainly earn us a part in the blessing, too.
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