Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Another Chag, Another Scandal -Kashruth & Money Don't Mix Well With Oil

by N. Katzin

Two weeks ago Taaman CEO Chaim Shalom told the following telltale fact: If olive oil is priced below NIS 20 per bottle it might be fake. One week later Taaman olive oil could be found on grocery store shelves for NIS 11.75. So what is the smart consumer to conclude? This anecdote typifies the state of the olive oil market in the chareidi sector during the Chanukah season. It seems the rumor mongers who started disseminating stories about supposedly fake olive oil did not imagine how high up the rumors would spiral.

The wild competition in the lucrative oil market reached its peak recently when competing dealers sent samples of each other's products to the Israeli Standards Institute for lab testing, only to find not a single brand met the institute's standards. What are we to make of these findings? Have commonly sold olive oils really been uncovered as fake? What does the kashrus seal on the bottle indicate?

The first rumors in circulation spoke of revelations that products labeled olive oil were actually not made from olives according to the Standards Institute. These vague rumors from unnamed sources effectively indicted all of the dealers selling low-priced oils. The rumors were accompanied by supposed telltale signs of fake olive oil.

Chaim Shalom of Taaman, whose oil was sold at a relatively high price, explained that the primary identification mark of fake olive oil is the price. "Every bottle sold today under NIS 20 is suspect since the oils in Spain itself are currently priced at approximately NIS 17 per bottle," he said. The same rumors suggested the chareidi consumer could also spot fake olive oil according to the shape of the bottle. These rumors were accompanied by praise for the quality of Taaman olive oil, which should be a sufficient tip- off for even the innocent reader to realize this is not exactly objective advice.

The rumors alerted the managers of chareidi grocery store chains who were astonished to discover an attempt had been made to set high price levels by disseminating vague rumors about low-priced products. They insisted olive oil sold for NIS 15-19 — and even less — was genuine.

The claims of false olive oil were reminiscent of the walnut oil affair on Erev Pesach 5765, when major shortages in olive oil jacked up prices significantly. At the time Yated Ne'eman revealed that the exclusive importer, Taaman, was accused of taking advantage of the situation to rake in large profits at the public's expense. The company's CEO denied the claims.

Discovered Fake Last Chanukah

Where did the rumors really originate? Apparently from a combination of factors.

The only bona fide fake was a product labeled "Yerushalayim Semen Zayit Katit," which HaRav Machpud's Yoreh De'ah organization announced was no longer under their kashrus supervision. But this was actually old news, for a simple test revealed it was fake even before last Chanukah.

Last year the standards institute issue a press release saying two brands of olive oil, Yerushalayim and Romis, had been found to be diluted with soy oil although they were packaged as fine pressed olive oil. Both brands were marketed for eating, not for lighting purposes, whereas the recent rumors referred to candlelighting oil.

Another brand, Menora, also lost its kashrus certification. Contrary to rumors Chug Chasam Sofer of Bnei Brak did not remove its kashrus certification because the product was not genuine olive oil.

"We discovered the oil was purchased by a party that bought the oil in barrels, bottled it and sold it to two dealers who marketed it," a Chasam Sofer spokesman told Yated Ne'eman. "We learned the bottled oil was sent to a certified lab for tests and was found to be 100 percent pure, clean olive oil. But because the oil was not under our supervision at the time of packaging we removed our kashrus certification and announced that Menora olive oil was not under our responsibility."

"Anyone who reads the wording of the announcement carefully can see this was stated very clearly, not that fake [olive oil] had been discovered but that the oil was packaged without supervision and therefore we do not take responsibility for it. The decision was made several days before we made a public announcement and certainly before the rumors about fake [olive oil] began to circulate."

The Kashrus Seal and the Reliability of the Oil

The products the rumors refer to were marketed under mehadrin kashrus. What does the kashrus seal indicate? Does the hechsher apply only to the kashrus of the product or does it include supervision over the reliability of the claims by the manufacturer or dealer?

According to the Badatz Eida Chareidis its kashrus "includes supervision to ensure the oil is 100 percent pure olive oil as the label indicates. We are very careful to avoid misleading the public in this matter, which is important in and of itself."

Through its representatives in Eretz Yisroel, Dayan Osher Yaakov Westheim's kashrus organization also confirms the olive oil under its supervision is 100 percent pure. They say Maagal Hashana Olive Oil was under their supervision "from the start of the production process to the finish, all along the way through the marketing of the product. In the middle samples were sent to certified labs and it was found to be clean olive oil."

Dr. Eliyohu Licht, a chareidi chemist and an established authority in the area of kashrus, refused to comment on any brand of olive oil, but remarked, "Every chemist checks the samples brought to him at the lab and the certification applies to these samples and not all of the products. The chemist certainly does not oversee or grant a hechsher for the products.

"I would also like to state regarding quotes that had me saying one brand of candlelighting olive oil or another is edible and the label `Semen Zayis Lema'or' is affixed because of import customs, etc.—if the manufacturer does not take responsibility the olive oil is edible nobody else will take responsibility for determining the oil is edible."

Pure Olive Oil — But Does Not Meet Standards

Dr. Eliyohu Licht explains in greater detail what tests are conducted on olive oil.

The first test is to check the fatty acid, which provides an indication of its source. Every type of oil has a different composition, which allows us to identify whether it is olive oil or a different type of oil, i.e. whether the olive oil was diluted with a different type of oil. If the additives are a substantial percentage they can be discovered at this stage.

Two other tests relate to quality: Acidity testing: olive oil contains free acids. The standard institute ascribes different terms to olive oil according to a ranking of acidity. Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil has an acidity level of up to 1 percent. Virgin olive oil has an acidity level of up to 2 percent. Regular olive oil has up to 3.3 percent.

Beyond 3.3 percent acidity, according to the standards this is inedible olive oil. Dr. Licht notes, "The public should be made aware that even if the standard sets an upper limit of 3.3 percent still this does not mean that in actuality the oil cannot be consumed. The limit is hard to determine. In any event olive oil above 3.3 percent acidity is not fake. It is pure, clean olive oil, but it is not of high enough quality in the eyes of the Standards Institute. By the way, acidity level is advancing and rising all the time [as part of the normal aging process of olive oil]."

Another test is peroxide value: oil that comes in contact with air oxidizes and goes bad over time. The standard institute has determined that within one year of bottling the peroxide level should not exceed 8. It definitely can happen that when the bottle was filled the oil has a value of 2-3 and at the end of the year it is hovering around the 8- mark.

This leads us to an interesting conclusion: olive oil should not be stored, certainly not for more than a year, for its quality diminishes over time.
( In other words, throw out the oil so you have to buy F*** NEW kosher oil next year at a higher price, GET IT??? - Who makes this shit up? UOJ)

Another test is solvent residue. Olive oil can be 100 percent clean, but pose a health hazard. Using a chemical process oil can be extracted from olive dregs after the pressing. Although the oil is clean and has a low acidity level, its quality is poor and it may contain chemical residue.

Note: This article addresses consumer, not halachic issues surrounding olive oil (except for the sidebar).

The closer Chanukah came the stiffer the competition became. Dealers sent samples of competing brands to private labs for testing and reveled in the findings: none met the standards for olive oil. But their exultant claims competing brands were "fake," were based on a lack of knowledge and understanding, for the standards institute does not have a separate set of criteria for candlelighting oil.

Did a shyster infiltrate the group of dealers involved in the import and marketing of candlelighting oil and deceive the public by diluting olive oil? This claim goes unsupported. It goes without saying that the chareidi consumer should not buy olive oil blindly but should choose the product based on the trustworthiness of the importer, manufacturer and seller, and of course "mehudar" kashrus.

Ho-Hum just another day in the world of bullshit hashgachas.


Anonymous Boog said...

What crap! What can we eat? What can we use?

Everything is suspect.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 9:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

religion is big business.A few jews want to perform a mitzvah like
lighting a menorah using pure olive oil,and the oil becomes a scam.How do we let the charletons know that we've
had it with their frauds?Even chanukah oil is tainted by fraud.
when does it stop?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 10:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Boog said...

Holy Cow! Scooter! Did you see that!

Another frum scam with mehadrin hechsher hasgocho L'Shame Shomayim.

Don't have to watch "The Survivors".

Living it every day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous BT said...

Back when I was first married, and bought my first house, schnorrers used to come to the door. I thought, "if someone is desparate enough to come to my door, and ask for money, they must really really need it," and I used to pay out $100 and more a pop. I learned eventually that many of these guys are total fakes. I felt like a fool, and today pass out only one or two dollars to schnorrers. I really think the custom of going from door to door schnorring money is disgusting and should stop. Scam after scam after scam. Where does it end? Rabbis and "frum" Jews who participate in scams really harm the Jewish people.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

It's getting so incredible out there even a cynic like myself has to start smacking myself to see if I'm dreaming.

Nothing is sacred & nothing can be be trusted anymore.

I'll give them mehudar oil, have the big cahunas piss in it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go to a supermarket and buy some reputable non-Jewish branded olive oil. This nonsense propagated by self serving “rabbis” is demeaning to the essence of Chanukah.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 1:11:00 AM  
Blogger eddydean0688 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 8:45:00 AM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...


Tell the door knockers to get a job, they probably make more money than you.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger rodefemes said...

How come rabbis like Slikin, Nosson Kamenetsky, Steinsaltz get into trouble with "the gdolim", and nothing happens to these bums?

Thursday, December 29, 2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Because these guys are a threat to the conventional ideas that these guys make a living off.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous boog said...


Just to play Devil's Advocate: Are there not instances where these things are done Lishmoh?

Thursday, December 29, 2005 3:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't get the point.And why waste time with newspapers anyway?I have more productive things to do with my life.And ALL newspapers are biased,therefore,only a moron would believe most of the things that's not fit to print.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 4:25:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Like how do you mean?

Thursday, December 29, 2005 5:23:00 PM  
Anonymous boog said...


Chumrahs that on face appear unnecessary but that are installed to act as a barrier against the possibility of committing (D'reisah) offenses.

How do you separate such from Chumrahs that in your opinion are put in place with the objective of exerting control and other "Lo Lishmah" motives?

Thursday, December 29, 2005 5:33:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Each chumra has to be viewed individually, and not lumped together with a particular mindset.

So, just because Hershel Schachter says something, we don't get a knee-jerk chumra from the Fundies.

Bottom line, we are in a religious war.
The Fundies are winning in the short run; when there's no money left to support the kollelim and the ass warmers, we'll see a rebellion.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 6:26:00 PM  
Anonymous boog said...

Speaking of R' Herschel Schacter I would say he's the real deal and the ideal Rabbinic prototype.

Do you agree, UO?

Thursday, December 29, 2005 6:31:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

Yes, one of the precious few left.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 6:33:00 PM  
Anonymous seeker said...

Chumras are for tzadikim who understand the reasons behind each chumra, and is done privately.Otherwise its plan old fashioned conceit.Conceit has a very bad smell.Does anyone agree?

Thursday, December 29, 2005 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Un-Orthodox Jew said...

There is never a reason to be machmer for the klal, if one has a reliable source of halacha.

Thursday, December 29, 2005 11:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

h.s. is an encyclopedia.

he would be very proud to receive a haskoma from uoj.

a check would be appreciated too.

Monday, January 02, 2006 4:47:00 PM  
Blogger emeslyaakov said...

Your comment on chumros is ingenuous at best.

You have a whole rant about fake olive oil (and after reading it, it didn't sound as if there was a lot of fake olive oil, just an attempt to raise prices by creating a fear of fake olive oil), but if I were to suggest that a truly frum person go out and make his own olive oil - you would rant that it is a ridiculous chumra.

Most so called chumros - certainly in kashrus - are attempts to get back to base line kashrus of a few years ago.

For instance, the OU has some very flaky kulos about bishul akum as does Heineman. These kulos do not withstand the smell test. The logical outcome is that you can not purchase anything OU unless it specifically says bishul Yisroel (or is usually eaten raw) (Menachem Genack's concept of oleh al shulchan m'lachim is ridiculous)and anything star k even if it says bishul yisroel. You would probably label this as a "chumra", while I call this baseline kashrus.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, as great as he was, thought that the milk is all milked in large dairies, and that the companies are desperately afraid of being caught adulterating the milk, and therefore, chalav hacomiens is equivalent to chalav yisroel. In fact, everyone who knows anything about food production knows about bribes and corruption. The president of Delwood Milk, interviewed by the Daily News after they were caught in a milk adulterating scam (fortunately just water, but in the eyes of inspectors, etc. the same crime if it had been horse milk), said that they knew in advance that they would be caught, but that the fine would be insignificant compared to the amount of profit.

So chalv Yisroel, for a thinking person who knows what is going on, is not a chumra, but baseline kashrus.

Rav Tsvi Pesach Frank was matir avkat chalav nochri (goyishe powdered milk) because you can't make powdered milk out of chalav tomei. Tenuva's Rabbi Witman just was forced to admit that tenuva products contained chalav akum and he didn't put it on the label because peop;e might think (correctly) that it wasn't as kosher as the other.

Anyone with google can find out that powdered horse milk is commercially available. Therefore avoiding powdered goyishe milk is not a chumra, it is baseline kashrus. Avoiding tricksters like Witman is not a chumra, it is baseline kashrus.

There are example too numerous to fit here in kashrus, but this applies in other fields as well.

For instance, one of the largested manufacturers of klaph (parchment for Torahs, tephillin and mezuzzot) was caught (in 1986)as follows; he went to a large goyish factory, put 10,000 skins into sid, went back to israel, and waited until the goyim sent him the finished skins. Did not put simanin on the skins.

Someone who wants baseline kosher tephillin must find out who made the klaph and how. This is not a chumra.

So too in area after area - what appears to you to be a chumra or you typical mo rabbi says is a chumra is really minimal, baseline halacha.

Friday, June 09, 2006 8:48:00 AM  

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