During my recent trip to Eastern Europe, I encountered a method of observing kashrus I had not seen in quite some time. A kashrus observing family naturally bought the few products that had kosher symbols but also many products that they judged to be “no problem” products. It included, of course, fruits and vegetables but also “natural” bread that was deemed to include flour, water, sesame seeds and salt. There were other products too that were consumed on that basis. Bottled water, of course, was no problem if it was not flavored. And so it went.
I could not help but recall the days several decades when even Brooklyn Jews would judge products on that basis. Even Ice Cream at Woolworth’s was deemed to be OK for consumption. That is not to say that this was a standard practiced by everyone. Hungarian Jews, most of whom arrived in the US in 1956 following the revolution, were aghast at such a process when they got to the US. But kashrus agencies have educated the public that not everything is as it appears. And yes, even benign products can be questionable if the same lines are used for other flavored products or if problematic cleaning agents are used. What I experienced was not just a case of de ja vu. It was more a reflection of how far kashrus has come, especially when you consider the sheer number of kosher certified products nowadays and the meticulous standards that are applied.