A Kashrus Legend: Rav Chaim Goldzweig zt”l

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It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of Rav Chaim Goldzweig zt”l, rov of Congregation Tiferes Moshe in Chicago, senior mashgiach for the OU, and a board member of Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago.

Rav Goldzweig retired a number of years ago and relocated with his rebbetzin to Chicago to live near their son, Rabbi Zev Goldzweig, maggid shiur in Yeshivas Hachaim in Los Angeles.

Rav Goldzweig, known as “the mashgiach’s mashgiach,” was among the most important figures in the kashrus industry in the United States over the last 50 years.

A native Chicagoan and a son of renowned mekubal Rav Moshe Gershon Goldzweig zt”l, young Chaim was sent to learn in Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland. Upon his marriage and return to Chicago in 1960, he took a position as a field mashgiach for the OU.

Rabbi Goldzweig soon developed encyclopedic knowledge of virtually every kosher ingredient, including intricate coding sequences, which he would recognize in an instant. His vast knowledge was helpful to the entire kashrus industry.

Although he was based in the OU, other national agencies, including the Chicago Rabbinical Council and the Star-K in Baltimore, benefited from his expertise. His humorous manner endeared him to many food manufacturers, whose natural instinct would seem to be antagonistic to a rabbinical supervisor.

The Beginning of a Career

One day back in 1960, while America was in the midst of the Cold War and about to enter the space age, the phone rang in the Goldzweig home in Chicago. At the request of Rabbi Alexander S. Rosenberg, Rabbinic Administrator at the OU from 1950 to 1972, Rabbi Shlomo Hecht of Chicago asked Rabbi Moshe Goldzweig of Tzefas, Israel, if he knew of anyone in the area able to fill a position as an RFR for a company just starting to run kosher glycerin. Rabbi Hecht called, hoping Rabbi Goldzweig’s oldest son would take the position. There was one problem; his son didn’t drive a car. Then Rabbi Goldzweig’s fateful question: “What about my younger son, Chaim?”

After ten years at Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Rav Chaim accepted the OU job as Rabbinic Field Representative for Proctor & Gamble. At the time, the world of organized kashrus supervision was still very young.

“The public didn’t know about ingredients in those days,” recalled Rabbi Goldzweig. “As long as the ingredients panel didn’t list lard, everybody thought it was fine. And companies didn’t have to list everything.”

Learning as he went, Rabbi Goldzweig educated the companies along with himself.

“Everything has to be looked into,” he once related. “When checking out a new plant, I get all the information I can.”

He began jotting each relevant fact on paper, putting slip after slip into his pockets and committing every essential detail to memory.

“When I started out, there were maybe ten people in the OU office,” Rabbi Goldzweig recalled in an interview.

All issues of ingredient approval would go through him. He would take along stacks of papers of ingredient requests submitted by companies, relying on his foolproof memory, which predated and was likely more reliable than the computer. As his experience in kosher supervision increased, so did his breadth of knowledge about ingredients, ingredients within ingredients, all aspects of food manufacture, and every nook and cranny of plants worldwide.

Although he was considered the OU’s undisputed most senior expert in the field, Rabbi Goldzweig never wore his revered reputation on his sleeve. During his initial visits to plants requesting OU certification, employees’ heads would inevitably turn as an elderly gentleman with a straggly beard and bulging pockets – filled with notes and an array of pens – sauntered past them, smiling broadly at each puzzled face.

“I once visited a plant with him,” recalled Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kashrus. “We found a box without kosher certification on it or any indication of what it contained. The plant manager hadn’t a clue as to what it was. Rabbi Goldzweig eyed the assorted numbers on the package and nonchalantly said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s a Durkee code’ (a manufacturer of shortenings). He knew exactly what it was.”

Within a short time, everyone on the plant floor considered him his buddy, certain that the feeling is mutual.

“He was a master at being able to win people over and making them feel comfortable as he’s getting the necessary information from them,” said Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator at the OU. “This is one of the most important aspects of kashrus supervision. You don’t want the company to feel that you are checking up on them or looking over their shoulders. No one likes to be monitored. He was extremely successful in his own home-style way of getting the needed information.”

Rabbi Goldzweig often added a package of salami to his pocket assemblage as a gift of goodwill and gratitude to many a plant manager.

“He was a man with outstanding ability, direction, and warmth,” said Rabbi Genack. “He was the OU’s kosher Columbo.”

For the past 50 years, “Reb Chaim,” as his colleagues affectionately referred to him, brought his disarming personality and kosher expertise to people and plants around the world. He went as far as China, the Far East, Kuwait, India, and Poland, to name a few places.

“I have more stamps than Carter has liver pills,” Rav Chaim once said in his inimitable fashion.

He also had to keep up with the food industry’s technical advances, as well as the increasing number and complexity of ingredients.

After a few-day stint supervising the kashrus at a plant in a faraway continent, Rabbi Goldzweig often returned home with many enthralling, sometimes chilling stories to tell, the “miracle in Colombia,” for instance.

His plane landed at the airport, on September 9, 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks. Rabbi Goldzweig waited for his pick-up person to take him to his assigned plants. He waited and waited, wondering if someone would show up. A man approached him and asked in English, “Rabbi, are you lost?” He replied with his customary quipping, “I know what country I’m in, but have no idea who’s coming to get me.”

He showed him a piece of paper with the name of the company. Recognizing the name, the man made a number of calls on his cell phone, speaking fluent Spanish. He informed Rabbi Goldzweig that he would be picked up shortly.

“I’m thinking,” Rabbi Goldzweig later recounted, “I don’t know this guy; he could be a terrorist.”

The man pointed to his car and instructed Rabbi Goldzweig to wait there with his suitcase for a minute.

“I looked at his license plate and felt relieved; it read: U.S. State Department,” Rabbi Goldzweig recalled. “When he returned, he said I shouldn’t worry about going into his car because it was bulletproof! Then he advised that I not take any cabs in this city and never leave the hotel without someone who speaks fluent Spanish.”

The RFR finished his work in two days and eagerly anticipated his flight back home. As he entered the airport, all the monitors flashed the dreadful sight of two planes pummeling through the World Trade Towers. Loudspeakers repeatedly blared, “The Airport Is Now Closed.” The rabbi reluctantly stayed another week in Colombia, not sure when he’d be able to get back to the United States. And Rosh Hashana was only a few days away. It dawned on him that he still had the card of the fellow who had helped him at the beginning of the trip. He fished it out of one of his crammed pockets and realized the man was a diplomat from the United States. That Motzoei Shabbos, his helpful acquaintance arranged for a treasured ticket home. “I got back just hours before Rosh Hashana,” recalled Rabbi Goldzweig. “Hashem wanted me home for the Yomim Noraim.”

A Love of Kashrus

With all his traveling around, the crazy hours, and unusual interactions with all kinds of individuals, Rabbi Goldzweig absolutely loved his work.

“I dream about ingredients!” he once said. “I believe it’s a mitzvah to help people eat kosher food. An RFR has to be a person who wants to help people.”

Those fortunate enough to cross Rav Chaim’s path said that he delighted in reaching out to others.

“I was single and working in the West Coast region,” said Rabbi Michael Morris, Rabbinic Coordinator. “One evening, I had just finished eating my dinner, which, for a bachelor, consisted of a sandwich, when the phone rang. It was Rabbi Goldzweig calling from a plane flying to Los Angeles from San Francisco.He told me that he was changing planes at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) to return to his hometown in Chicago and had a few hours to spare. He said, ‘You probably haven’t had a good meal in a while. Pick me up at LAX. We’ll go to a restaurant for dinner and then you can bring me back to the airport to continue my journey.’ I cherished both the meal and the company.”

Whether a kashrus veteran or novice, Rabbi Goldzweig’s colleagues knew personally of his no-holds-barred willingness to go all out to improve another’s lot.

“When I was a relative newcomer to the OU,” said Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, Rabbinic Coordinator,“I met with Rabbi Goldzweig to review some potato plants in Maine. This was my first long-distance OU business trip. As he drove me to the airport for my return flight to New York, it began to storm heavily.We found out the flight had been cancelled. Seeing that I was itching to return home, he insisted upon driving me to another city in Maine to catch another flight. After finding out that flight had also been cancelled, he told me to call my wife to let her know what was happening. Five minutes after I hung up, he advised I call her again to say hi and shmooze, as it was the right thing to do. He then took me to a local hotel. As I exited the car about to thank him, he got out with me, accompanied me to check in, and escorted me to my room to make sure it was okay. I will never forget his amazing kindness and warmth.”

Rabbi Goldzweig’s ample experience, knowledge and congeniality made for the consummate OU RFR.

“I learned how to relate to people when conducting an inspection with him,” says Rabbi Luban. “He also demonstrated to all of his colleagues that the more one knows about food technology, the more profound must be one’s understanding of everything going on in a facility. The RFR’s responsibility grows as the industry becomes more complex. He was called upon by virtually all kashrus organizations for his services.”

Company managers and employees worldwide became aware of his acute attentiveness to detail.

“Once, during an annual inspection, Rabbi Goldzweig saw a single pallet on the top rack of our warehouse,” said Jim Peacock, former Kosher Coordinator at Dawn Food Products in Louisville, KY. “From 15 feet below he recognized a particular product and supplier as one that required a rabbi’s signature on the label, and he knew exactly which rabbi. I am happy to say it had the signature.”

According to Rabbi Genack, Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig was the OU. “The kashrus department was built on his shoulders,” he says. “He was a man of commitment, knowledge and concern for every aspect of the job, the technical and human. He viewed kashrus as a mission. I couldn’t imagine Chaim Goldzweig not doing kashrus work. He is what we called the ‘Super-Mashgiach.’”

Rabbi Goldzweig is survived by his wife, Rebbetzin Gittel Goldzweig, and his children, Rabbi Pinchos Goldzweig, Rabbi Moishe Goldzweig, Rabbi Zev Goldzweig, Mrs. Baily Lichter, Mrs. Chani Nisenbaum, Mrs. Mashie Schneck and Mrs. Suri Stern, and many grandchildren. The family will be sitting shivah at 1117 55th Street in Boro Park, Brooklyn.

Yehi zichro boruch.

{CB Frommer-Matzav.com Newscenter, with thanks to the Orthodox Union and its Jewish Action}

11 COMMENTS

  1. So so true what a great man.
    He also had a shteeble in chicago where I would daven chol hamoed what fond memories I have.
    May he be a miletz yosher for his entire hometown.

  2. yes, a great man indeed. used to come up to my house many times when i was a child in the early 1960’s. he was “mr. kashrus”. the ultimate authority already back then. we were lucky as children for pirchei day camp to have a personal guided tour of the proctor gamble plant, a courtesy extended to rabbi goldzweig. such a great man and yet so humble. was everyone’s best friend. how sad that he now belongs to an era which is only a memory.
    he should be a meilitz yosher for all.

  3. I spent the night on Shabbos in their home many nights. I loved being near him. He was there for me to give me a bracha under the chuppah and while I buried my father. He insisted on paying the CRC for my gerus. I loved him very much. BD’E He will be missed. Thank you for the nice story Matzav.

      • Details please.

        If he changed the minhag of a Shul, that would not be proper. I hope he did teshuvah if that was so.

        Or perhaps you are mistaken in your account.

  4. can you please write the names of the rav that are sitting shiva in chicago?
    and where will most of the family be sitting shiva?
    can you post the names of all the children?
    any sitting in eretz yiisroel?

  5. Probably any person who eats kosher anywhere in the world has to be makir tov to this Tzadik and Anav for his mesiras nefesh to making it all happen. He gave up his life to be a globetrotter for Klal Yisroel! In addition he would take in to his home and shteeble many tzebrochene yidden and care for them. His pockets were filled with tons of pieces of papers filled with information it was a sight to behold.A gaon in chesed and pashtus. A really irreplaceable Yid. HKBH should be menachem His very Choshuve Rebetzen and Family of Bnei and Bnos Torah. Yhi Zichro Boruch! A fellow Chicagoan who was zoche to have some Shaychus to this Godol Byisroel.

  6. Rabbi Goldzweig was special to many of us Chicagoans. His humbleness, knowledge, and expertise in his field had us respect Kashrus and its complexities. My Father OH also had been involved in the field of Kashrus in the DP camps. When my Father moved to Chicago he used to consult with Rabbi Goldzweig on many issues pertaining to Kashrus. My Father always told us kids how much he respected Rabbi Goldzwieg’s knowledge and expertise. I remember back in the 80’s when Rabbi Goldzweig spoke in my high school, (previously known as “The Girl’s School”), about products that would be permitted to be used on Pesach. Not only did he explain what was and wasn’t permitted but WHY…. and allowed students to ask questions and receive answers that were respectful and content rich! We were lucky Chicagoans indeed!!
    May his Neshama have an Aliyah!

  7. He was a wonderful man and being able to know him and daven in his basement shul was an honor. He had a great sense of humor and was always great to our children. He will be truly missed and remembered always. He was everyone’s father and grandfather you could ask him anything and if he didn’t know he’d find out.

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