STAR-S- Solving the Passover Rice Riddle

By Judah Levi
Posted on 01/30/13

Baltimore, Md - Jan. 30 - When the major American Kashrut agencies were developing, the Sephardic communities were not well-represented in American Jewish communal life. Over the last 30 years, Baruch Hashem, American Yeshivot have been filled with many of the best and brightest boys of our communities. In addition to Syrian and Morrocan boys studying at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, many Persian boys studied in Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, MD where the President, Rabbi Herman N. Neuberger, ZT”L, was instrumental in helping tens of thousands of Jews escape after the Shah’s fall in 1979.  One of the earliest of those  talmidim is Rav Emanuel Goldfeiz, Shlit”a, who arrived in Baltimore as a refugee from Shiraz almost 30 years ago.  Rav Goldfeiz now occupies a major position of Torah leadership in Baltimore’s Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities as the Rav of Beit Knesset Beit Yaakov, a revered and beloved halacha teacher in the local Bais Yaakov of Baltimore, and as a member of the hanhala of Ner Israel.  He also answers hundreds of shailot every week from people of all backgrounds and levels of observance.

STAR-S Seeking to Serve The Needs of U.S. Sephardic Communities

Rav Goldfeiz shared many conversations with Dr. Avrom Pollak, President of STAR-K Kosher Certification, during his weekly visits for shatnez checking (another of his many talents!) concerning the kashrut needs of Sephardic communities worldwide.  As the presence of Sephardic communities continued to grow, he felt that the particular chumrot required in the Edot Hamizrach for centuries should be offered in the United States as well.  A logical extension of the growth of Sephardic communities would be caring for their kashrut concerns.  During these discussions, Dr. Pollak pointed out that  there was also a major need for this in the New York/New Jersey area that could - the Syrian communities in Brooklyn and Deal.  These communities have grown with incredible speed into a large community of Bnei Torah, with representation in all the major yeshivot in the U.S. and Israel.  With two strong communities sharing these common kashrut needs, a solution to this issue was realized. Rabbi Zvi Holland the newest Kashrut Administrator for the STAR-K, formerly the Rosh Kollel in Phoenix, AZ, and Rav Goldfeiz,  mapped out a plan to create a hechsher  identified as STAR-S.  This new hechsher would utilize the STAR-K’s international network of kosher certified companies, to address the needs of all Sephardic  communities by providing them with much needed products at the highest standards of Sephardi minhagim and Bnei Edot Hamizrach.

It was agreed unanimously between all the Rabbanim that rice  for Pesach was the highest priority. Finding rice with the highest level of kashrut for Pesach was to be the first STAR-S project.

Starting with “Carolina Mehadrin” Rice for Pesach

Rice for Pesach with no kashrut concerns was no simple feat. One of the greatest ongoing challenges for Sephardim is finding properly supervised kitniyot foods for use on Pesach.  For many years, national kashrut agencies debated as to whether commercially available rice could be used for Pesach.  One of the main issues concerned the enrichments used in U.S. rice mills to replace the vitamins removed in the polishing steps of rice milling. Another issue was that rice is often packed in facilities that also pack Chametz products on the same equipment. For national Pesach certification this almost always requires some type of meaningful Hashgacha beyond just assuming that it is acceptable.  Rabbi Zvi Holland, STAR-K’s newest Kashrut Administrator assigned to the STAR-S project,  assisted by Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, STAR-K’s Kashrut Administrator for U.S. rice production, determined that much of the enrichments could not be endorsed for Pesach according to national kosher standards and that the vast majority of rice packed in the U.S. shared lines with enriched rice and packaging at plants that also pack chametz.

Carolina Mehadrin-Extra Long Grain White Rice

After discussing the project with the STAR-S Rav Hamachshir Rav Goldfeiz, Shlit"a, Rabbi Rosen and Rabbi Holland, along with Rabbi Moshe Cohen of Ateret Torah, who agreed to serve as mashigiach temidi at the rice production, traveled to rice country to find a way to produce extra long grain white rice for Pesach.   They arranged for a run of this rice for Pesach, L’Mehadrin.  Carolina Mehadrin will be unique, as it will be the ONLY white rice that STAR-S can endorse for Pesach with the following Hiddurim:

·         The rice is grown and transported in fields dedicated exclusively to rice that is located hundreds of miles away from other grain fields;

·         The rice transported in trucks dedicated exclusively to rice

·         The rice is packed in specially dedicated clean lines without concerns of chametz additives;

·         The rice is produced under hashgacha temidit from beginning to end.

Despite the fact that these rice products are meticulously cleaned in the factories with advanced machines, the Gedolei Haposkim of the Sephardic kehillot feel that the established custom of checking the rice, grain by grain, three times is still required.  Therefore, STAR-S-P certified rice products should be checked, grain by grain, three times prior to its usage on Pesach.

For information on how to order Carolina Mehadrin, please contact Quality Frozen foods at (718) 256-9100 or for more information contact STAR-K at (410) 484-4110.

Jasmine and Basmati Rice

Two other very popular kinds of rice used by the Sephardim are the basmati variety from India, and the aromatic jasmine rice from Thailand.  While fundamentally a pure product, when packed in the U.S., these products can present Pesach issues with regard to transport and packing.  Fortunately, STAR-K Kashrut Administrators Rabbi Avraham Mushell and Rabbi Moshe Schuchman deal with certification of rice produced in Thailand and India.  After a review with STAR-K mashgichim, STAR-S was able to certify two other brands of STAR-K rice for Pesach 5773:

·         Super Lucky Elephant Jasmine Rice (packed in Thailand) bearing STAR-K

·         Himalayan Pride Indian Basmati Rice (packed in India)  bearing STAR-K

More Passover & Kitniyot Products To Come

By Pesach 2013, STAR-S hopes to provide other products that meet the strict requirements of the Sephardic community. Rabbi Zvi Holland of the STAR-K and Rav Asher Eckstein, Shlit”a, the Belzer Dayan of Boro Park met with some Rabbanim of the Syrian Community  to describe the Sidrei HaKashrut of California Delight Tuna and Im Yirtza Hashem new runs of this tuna will be certified “STAR-S P Bishul Beit Yosef L’ Sefardim” after implementing some new protocols in place under the direction of Rav Goldfeiz, Shlit”a.

B’ Ezrat Hashem, frozen beans that can be reliably used for Pesach by the Sephardic community will also be available in time for the Pesach holiday.  Furthermore, STAR-S hopes to provide other products from Israel and around the world that have never before been available to U.S. Sephardi consumers seeking Kashrut l’Mehadrin.