By COLlive reporter
Before Pesach, Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, head of OK Kosher, told congregants at his shul in Crown Heights that all the kashrus organizations are planning to issue a joint statement about a serious kashrus issue.
He was referring to Manhattan Beer Distributors (MBD) in New York, the largest single market beer distributor in the US which is owned by its founder and CEO Simon Bergson.
Being that among the brand names they distribute are Miller, Coors, Heineken and Amstel, these drinks would be considered Chametz She’Avar Alav HaPesach – chometz that was in the possession of a Jew on Pesach, and therefore forbidden for consumption.
Many kashrus agencies approached Bergson over the years and offered to sell his chametz for him; however, he always staunchly opposed the idea, Gershon Hellman reports in Ami Magazine.
Bergson was averse to “selling” his company in any way, and was not comfortable with the entire concept of giving over ownership of the business he had built up, even after it was explained to him that there was no risk of him losing anything, it was reported.
With no solution in sight, Rabbi Levy told his shul, kashrus organizations agreed to compose a letter warning the public to avoid purchasing brands distributed by Bergson’s company for a period after Pesach.
Hearing the speech together in the shul were R’ Nosson Sternberg, a Lubavitcher businessman from Crown Heights, and Rabbi Kalman Weinfeld, the OK’s Rabbinic Coordinator for Food Services.
“I know somebody who used to work for Manhattan Beer years ago,” Sternberg commented. “Maybe I could talk to him.”
Weinfeld replied: “I would do anything and everything to try to convince him to make a mechirah.
Sternberg called his friend the next morning but was told that the effort would be in vain as many rabbis approached Bergson over the years and no one had ever persuaded him to sell his chametz.
But he insisted and the meeting was arranged, at the end of which Bergson not only sold his company for the duration of Pesach but he also agreed to put on Tefillin and recite Shma Yisroel.
That would have meant that all of the beverages that Bergson distributes would be permissible for purchase after Pesach.
But instead, the Star-K organization based in Baltimore, Maryland, issued a “New York Post-Pesach Beer Alert” that no beverages should be purchased until late May – early June 2018.
In response, the OK issued a letter: “The Mechiras Chometz done for the main beer distributor in the Tri-State Area was done under the direction of respected Rabbonim/Dayanim Shlita.”
“The OK is surprised to see alerts posted to the contrary by those who have not contacted us and must not be aware of the details.
“The Mechira was based on well-known prominent poskin, including R’ Moshe Feinstein zatzal, R’ Yaakov Breish zatzal, and R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zatzal. The Mechira was done in a way that does not contradict what is mentioned the Maharam Shuk, Sdei Chemed and Divrei Yoel.”
In a statement to COLlive.com, Rabbi Sholom Tendler, Kashrus Administrator of Star-K, wrote:
“One of the largest beer distributors in New York is known to be Jewish owned. Longstanding Star-K policy has always been not to rely on a mechira in these circumstances.
“Therefore, while OK Kosher Certification was successful at arranging a mechira, and they are to be commended for doing so, Star-K certified establishments and caterers should only use items that are free from any concern. Individuals should consult their own Rov.
“The alert being publicized in Star-K’s name, which states all the affected beers as being Chometz She’avar Alav haPesach and makes no mention of any mechira, was a memo issued before Pesach to our certified vendors and establishments only, to give them adequate time to prepare, and before any mechira was thought possible or took place.
“Nonetheless, in keeping with our longstanding policy not to rely on a mechira in these situations, our position remains as stated for our certified establishments.”