A Taste of KCL

April 27, 2023

The project: KCL (Kashrus Council of Lakewood)

The person: Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Weisner

How it all started

“A noted talmid chacham, Rabbi Meyer Rosenbaum, was closely connected with the Lakewood rabbanim and roshei yeshivah,” says Rabbi Avrohom Moshe Weisner, rabbinic administrator at KCL. “He had the foresight to see that a local kashrus organization needed to be created despite the fact that at the time, Lakewood had a small population with only a couple of food establishments.

“Rabbi Zeev Rothschild felt a deep connection to kashrus. With a background in Khal Adas Yeshurun—one of America’s first chareidi kashrus organizations, founded by Rav Yosef Breuer and Rav Shimon Schwab—Rabbi Rothschild was passionate about bringing kashrus to the frum consumer. Financial backing from Rabbi Rosenbaum allowed Rabbi Rothschild to help found Lakewood’s hechsher, KCL.”

More than just a benefactor, Rabbi Rosenbaum invested his time, efforts, and organizational skills to get the hechsher off the ground.

The hashgachah launched in July of 1989 with five founding rabbanim: Rav Yaakov Forchheimer and Rav Osher Chaim Lieberman—both of whom are still with KCL today—as well as Rav Shmuel Meir Katz, Rav Gavriel Finkel zt”l, and Rav Shimon Eider zt”l.

“Until his petirah, Rav Finkel was the senior rav involved in the day-to-day proceedings of the hechsher. He was a great chacham who deeply understood people and gave us endless encouragement and on-the-mark advice. For all those years, I spoke with Rav Finkel almost every day.”

For the position of rabbinical administrator, the rabbanim and board members chose Rabbi Weisner.

“I had just finished learning Yoreh Dei’ah, and I gave a shiur on hilchos treifos,”Rabbi Weisner explains. “I also knew Rabbi Rothschild personally.”

Rabbi Weisner had also received semichah from Rav Yechezkel Roth and Rav Fischel Hershkowitz, the Karlsburg and Klausenberg dayanim, several years earlier.

Growing with Lakewood

Bookman’s Meat and Poultry was the first shop to be certified by KCL.

“I traveled many times to Lamm’s, a Williamsburg butcher shop, to watch the nikkur (deveining) and salting processes in action,” says Rabbi Weisner. (In those years, nikkur and melichah happened in the butcher shop. Currently, most butcher shops generally receive the meat deveined, salted, and vacuum-packed.)

Falafel and Chips, an early Lakewood takeout store, was next, along with Bais Faiga and the memorable Capitol Hotel. In the early 2000s, Heimishe Bake Shop, Gingerbread House, Glatt Gourmet, and later, Gelbstein’s Bakery enlisted KCL supervision.

The hashgachah expanded in more than just size to keep pace with Lakewood’s rapid growth.

“At the same time, we were gaining more expertise in kashrus,” Rabbi Weiner notes. “I traveled to learn about kashering hotel kitchens for events, and BMG started using KCL for large gatherings. Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Friedland, a mumcheh in the field, began running our events.”

KCL today

“KCL was established as a nonprofit organization, purely l’sheim Shamayim.The founding rabbanim never received any compensation for their involvement. Without financial stakes in the business, they could demand the highest levels of kashrus.KCL continues to operate according to the pure intentions with which it was established,” Rabbi Weisner asserts.

Today, KCL certifies upward of 130 establishments, including many home-based operations. Led by head mashgiach Rabbi Shloime Perl, mashgichim, including Rabbi Stern and Rabbi Krupenia, cover participating stores, caterers, and halls.

What qualities does Rabbi Weisner look for in a mashgiach?

“Good people skills, a sharp eye for noticing details, and of course, lots of experience.”

From the very beginning, the KCL has been in contact with kashrus mumchim all over the country to keep up-to-date with kashrus developments, products, and processes.

“For example, Rabbi Zishe Blechwas a great source of information about many common kashrus issues.”

Rabbi Yechezkel Auerbach, a product kashrus expert, is closely connected to KCL. On-staff kashrus specialists include Rabbi Shloime Perl, Rabbi Aharon Shain, and Rabbi Gottlieb.

“We have inside connections with other kashrus organizations. In the past, I worked for the national kashrus organizations. There, I gained familiarity with flavor plants, industrial plants, and Pesach production,” says Rabbi Weisner.

Catering to the clientele

“I like to say that we have 5,000 mashgichim, so to speak—the eagle-eyed residents of Lakewood. Locals are quick to contact us with concerns and questions; we get hundreds of calls a week. We appreciate every call, and because as a local organization we’re so familiar with the infrastructure and the issues, we’re able to immediately look into and address every concern.

“Lakewood is a community of bnei Torah, and our standards have to be impeccable to satisfy this discerning clientele. We also want heimish and chassidish people to feel comfortable with the KCL standard. It’s important for consumers to recognize that they are a very important part of the kashrus process. The higher the standards they demand, the more willing store owners will be to accommodate.”

Standards and stringencies

KCL prefers to use products with heimishe hechsheirim whenever it’s practical. Rabbi Weisner explains that very often, a heimishe hechsher has extra levels of supervision and a stricter interpretation of bishul Yisrael requirements.

“When there’s a need to use a non-heimishe product, our experts research it and make sure the product meets the KCL’s mehadrin standards. We are in touch with other heimishe hechsherim to keep current with all kashrus matters.”

Under KCL guidance, Lakewood establishments have revolutionized their vegetable-checking process. Their investment into cutting-edge equipment allows KCL establishments to sell vegetables and greens at the highest level of kashrus, with no chashash of bugs.

Additionally, it is KCL’s policy to only certify businesses owned by shomrei Torah u’mitzvos. Even with a mashgiach temidi,they do not give a hashgachah to a proprietor who isn’t frum.

Looking ahead

The newest members of KCL’s rabbinic va’ad are Rabbi Shulem Thumim, son of Rabbi Dovid Thumim, a mashgiach well known for his dikduk b’kashrus;and Rabbi Yosef Fund, a talmid chacham and posek with connections to many kashrus organizations.

Among their other responsibilities, the rabbanim visit KCL establishments. Instead of simply checking the mashgiach’s notes, they express interest and show involvement in each business. Their on-the-ground efforts bring owners a higher level of regard for the hashgachah.

“We have access to cameras in our establishments, so we can check them at all times,” says Rabbi Weisner. “The importance of installing a camera is something we stress in our initial contract with each establishment.”

As more establishments take on the hashgachah, KCL leadership looks to technology to help meet the demand, up the level of transparency, and enhance operations.

“For example,” says Rabbi Weisner, “we are working on a computerized system to track when every establishment was visited and streamline addressing concerns in real time. As KCL upgrades, look out for a new logo. We are also in the process of developing a user-friendly website where consumers can learn about kashrus.”

Thirty years ago, KCL filled a vacuum in Old Lakewood. Today, the landscape has shifted and the needs have changed. Foodie culture, an ever-growing population, and increasingly complex kashrus issues present fresh challenges and opportunities.

Many enhancements and innovations are in the works as KCL prepares for a future of advanced commitment to local kashrus.

KCL can be reached at 732-901-1888.