There are literally hundreds of different hechshers, or kosher certification symbols, that appear on foodstuffs, beverages, and dining establishments of all types around the world. The sheer array of these kosher stamps of approval can be mind-boggling even to consumers who keep kosher for religious reasons and who are well-versed in the kosher laws.
The "Big Four" are the largest kosher supervision establishments in the country. These include Organized Kashrut Laboratories (better-known as "the OK"); the Orthodox Union (OU), one of the oldest and largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in America; the Kof-K, the first kashrus organization to introduce computer technology to the complexities of kashrus supervision/management; and Star-K, which originally served the Baltimore Jewish community exclusively.
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The four biggest kosher supervision agencies in the world all originated and are headquartered in the United States. Their symbols, "OU," "Kof-K," "OK," and "Star-K" are the most readily recognized kosher certification symbols around the globe.
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America also leads the world in the number of regional kosher certifiers it supports. Many states have at least one kosher supervision agency; states with large Orthodox communities like California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida often have several.
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While the OU, OK, Kof-K, and Star-K have deep international reach, there are kosher agencies on all six habitable continents. Particularly prominent among the various international kosher supervisors are the London Beit Din, the Kashrus Council of Canada, Kosher Australia, and Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg (Chief Rabbi of Paris).
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Though there are plenty of secular Jews living in Israel, a far greater percentage keep kosher compared to Jews living elsewhere. As in the United States, there are a plethora of kosher supervising organizations, each with its own hechsher. Some cater to very specific segments of the Israeli Jewish community while others have a wider scope and appear on many exported foodstuffs.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Specialty Kosher Certifications
As interest in organic, vegan, and GMO-free foods grows, kosher consumers have begun to seek out these special designations, along with kosher certification. A handful of savvy certifiers, most notably EarthKosher and Natural Food Certifiers, are now offering companion certifications to go with their kosher approvals.
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Some hechshers are considered controversial (and may be considered unreliable) for any number of reasons. Some kashrut agencies have been involved in food manufacturing scandals. Some hechshers are bestowed by rabbis operating solo, which tends to spark questions about training, credentials, personal religious practice, the ability of said rabbis to be present on site for proper inspection of food manufacturing facilities, etc.
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While many Orthodox observers of kashrut would lump non-Orthodox hechshers into the controversial pile, there are a growing number of Conservative, Traditional, and other certifications throughout the United States and around the world. While these hechshers may not be considered appropriate or reliable for Orthodox kosher consumers, for those who find them acceptable, they are an important part of personal kashrut observance.