Abstract: Who says It's Kosher? Authority, Knowledge, and Regulation in Modern Food Production

Roger Horowitz


This paper identifies the shift between two modes of regulation of kosher food in twentieth-century America. These regulatory methods both rested on claims to knowledge over what constituted kosher food, but embodied authority and power in different institutions. The first regulatory phase, fully consolidated at midcentury, rested on linked spheres of religious law, union contracts, and government regulation. Its emergence in the first half of the century reflected the difficulties of controlling kosher food in what were largely local—that is, city or state—markets. These regulatory methods were, however, inadequate to manage the growing national market for kosher products after 1960, especially the uncertainty introduced into kosher law by processed foods whose contents contained ingredients unknown to the pre-twentieth-century rabbinate that first codified kosher law. Hence, in the last third of the century a new constellation of practices emerged to supplant the old, consisting of rabbinical organizations, trademark law, and management control systems over factory operations. By the early twenty-first century, this second mode of kosher regulation had enabled hundreds of thousands of products to receive authoritative certification as meeting Jewish religious requirements as kosher.