Rabbi Gallor checking grape processing. Photo by Joel Magalnick/JTNews, Seattle.
Insects are not kosher. This is why Rabbi Yitzhak Gallor’s work begins out in the orchards and fields where fruit and vegetables are grown. This part of his job requires a personal inspection to ensure that a crop destined for the kosher marketplace is free of infestation. Gallor’s duties only start with these inspections; he monitors kosher production from harvesting to the grocery store shelves. Altogether, he supervises kosher production done by 97 companies in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, involving a variety of foods including fruit ingredients, juices, fish, potato commodities, and candy. Besides working with Tree Top, Gallor cooperates with such additional wellknown firms as Red Hook, Safeway, Starbucks, Ocean Spray, and others.
In 2009, Gallor’s monitoring involved the product lines at all of the Tree Top plants, except the Rialto, California, operation where another rabbi was in charge. The Tree Top plant at Prosser is exceptional because it is one of only four facilities in the world where grape processing under kosher supervision runs through the Jewish High Holy Days, seven days a week and around the clock. For the other Tree Top plants, Gallor makes unannounced visits about once a month. At Prosser, he directs a crew of 8 to 12 rabbis remaining onsite throughout the grape harvest, which may last six to eight weeks. These crew members, who often have left wives and families back home, come from virtually every part of the world. During the 2009 harvest, 4 of the 12-member Washington grape crush crew came from Israel; others came from such places as Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, and New York.
Gallor’s home base is in Seattle. He and his crew, all Orthodox Jewish rabbis and volunteers, are affiliated with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), a nonprofit organization with headquarters in New York City. To accomplish its objective of making kosher food readily available, the OU gives its stamp of certification (an O encircling a U) to those products that meet its rigid standards. Tree Top contracts with the OU organization, which compensates the rabbis for their services. The OU stamp of certification on specially processed products provides Tree Top access to the kosher market involving billions of dollars. Not only do Orthodox Jews buy these goods, but also Reform and Conservative Jews as well as Seventh-Day Adventists, Muslims, vegetarians, and others with dietary and health concerns. In some large urban centers, consumer preference for kosher foods rivals, or exceeds, the sales of organic products.
Cover courtesy of Washington State University Press
At Prosser, observation of grape juice production by Rabbi Gallor and his crew amounts to “kosher quality control.” First, their inspections ensure that all of the ingredients, including enzymes and settling agents, come from vegetarian sources. Second, since Jewish law considers grapes as sacramental fruit, all juice must be heat-treated while monitored by a rabbi. Computers, heat charts, and a seismographic recording device are utilized to assure accuracy. Third, the crew keeps watch on the maze of pipes and feeder lines in the Prosser plant to guarantee that non-kosher ingredients are not mixed in with the kosher product. At the end of production, the rabbis apply a label and tamper-proof seal on the drums, pails, or tanker trucks headed out to the marketplace.
While on assignment at Prosser, the rabbis stay in a nearby motel. Rabbi Gallor notes that the Tree Top management and employees always are congenial and helpful. The rabbis not only have office space in the plant itself, along with a cot, microwave, hot plate, and similar extras, but also receive special attention on Jewish High Holy Days. For instance, the eightday Jewish holiday of Sukkot commemorates the 40 years the ancient Israelites wandered in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Reminiscent of the Exodus lifestyle, Orthodox Jews live and eat during Sukkot, as prescribed by holy writ, in a makeshift structure with a bamboo roof. Tree Top has made such a structure available at Prosser. The Prosser facility is known for its versatility—for the variety of fruits handled to the different methods of processing performed—and the unusual work of the kosher rabbis is one more proof of this point.
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Reprinted with permission from Tree Top: Creating A Fruit Revolution by David H. Stratton and published by Washington State University Press, 2010.