Sunday 24 February 2013

An Insider's Briefing with the man behind "the MK"

A few weeks ago I got a call from Larry Rosenthal, a community activist for the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, B’nai BrithCanada, The Young Israel of Chomedey Congregation and The Montreal Torah Centre.

“Have you ever met Rabbi Saul Emanuel?”  he asked about the man who heads the JCC and Canada’s Kosher Certifier, otherwise known as the “MK.”

 I had interviewed Rabbi Emanuel on a number of occasions, but never sat down with him before.

Larry was anxious to give the JCC, a.k.a. the  Vaad Ha’ir, some exposure. 

I suggested to Larry that he try to organize an Insider’s Briefing with Rabbi Emanuel and some of the local Jewish media. The idea was sold and on February 19 a number of us gathered quite appropriately at one of the city’s most popular kosher restaurants, Ernie and Ellie at Decarie Square where owners Roman Kreyzerman and Rabbi Israel Sirota not only sat with us, but took part in the dialogue.

Roman Kreyzerman, Rabbi  SaulEmanuel, Rabbi Sirota and Larry Rosenthal.

Rabbi Emanuel, a charismatic native of South Africa, has headed the JCC/Vaad Ha’ir of Montreal for 14 years. He told us how companies from across the country continue to source out MK Kosher certification. “We make running a kosher business easy, keeping all kosher data on a private database called Digital Kosher,” he explains. “This is an automated system for managing ingredients lists, updating to the latest kosher certificates, and ensuring that certified kosher products contain only kosher ingredients.

Last year the Canadian government entered into a partnership,   making an investment of   $763,650 in support of the Vaad’s efforts to strengthen food safety for kosher certified foods. “If one of our inspectors is going to visit a company and so is the government then we have some overlap,” reasons Rabbi Emanuel.  “This experience has gone very very well. The grant ends in April, at which time we will share our findings. The support we received from Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada allowed us to work with our partners across Canada to extend the benefits of the expertise in food quality and safety that exists in the kosher inspection network and to reinforce trust among consumers in Canadian food products. This project complemented the work of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which already applies the strictest standards to our food supply, and will give Canadians even more reason for confidence in the safety and healthfulness of the food on their tables.”

As Rabbi Emanuel pointed out,  in the public’s mind, “kosher” tends to be associated with the Jewish people and the dietary rules governing the practice of our religion – most importantly, knowing what ingredients are in the food you eat and knowing how it has been prepared.  “But the appeal of kosher for modern consumers is much broader, extending, for example, to vegetarians and to individuals who have allergies or are lactose intolerant,” he explained.  “In fact, kosher is attractive to anyone who wants assurance that the food they are eating is safe, due to the vigorous maintenance and ongoing inspection of plants bearing kosher certification.”

Rabbi Emanuel said he wanted to clear up the common myth that the kosher certifier is responsible for the high price of kosher beef and meat. “It is a terrible misconception,” he said. “Our books are open. The cost of beef and meat in Canada is prohibitive.”

Kreyzerman agreed that it is not the Vaad which sets the prices. “It’s our suppliers,” he said.

Rosenthal shared a story about how dedicated an individual Rabbi Emanuel is. Having become aware of an elderly woman who could not access any kosher food at the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal in Cartierville, Rosenthal called Rabbi Emanuel.  After having no luck with the dieticians,  the rabbi reached the hospital ombudsman who promised to get back to him with an answer …in 45 days. “Ombudsman,”the rabbi responded, “she might not be alive in 45 days.” Taking the matter into his own hands, the rabbi accessed a dietician he knew at St. Mary’s Hospital who was able to help resolve the situation.

“What percentage of the  Montreal Jewish community keeps kosher?” he was asked.

While the rabbi said he could not give precise figures, noting he would love to see a formal study done on the topic, he estimated that as much as 25 percent are kosher in the strictest sense.

On vegetables, the rabbi said that many  in use today are likely to be infested by insects and/or worms. These pests are usually difficult to detect because they are often the same colour as the vegetable and/or they are extremely small - barely visible to the naked human eye. They can be as small as the period-dot at the end of a sentence. Due to this serious problem and the great effort required to check them properly, only certain vegetables are permitted for use in MK establishments. Others have restrictions and can only be used after the vigorous cleaning and checking procedures set forth below:

The  JCC has been in the business of kosher certification since 1922.   For more information about the Vaad, log on to

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