For the first time in the northern state’s history, Montana will have its own kosher certification agency.

Under director Rabbi Chaim Bruk, the agency, Va’ad Hakashrus of Montana, seeks to educate the estimated 2,500 Jewish residents scattered across the state’s vast area about Judaism’s dietary laws and strengthen kosher observance.

As director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana, Bruk has, since 2007, helped seven local businesses in Bozeman achieve kosher certification through such agencies as Star-K. He says that he sees the new organization as a way to bring kosher products to more Jews across the state, the country and the world. To date, he’s provided supervision of such products as cookies, matzah, dairy goods and vegetarian/vegan foods.

“This is not just going to help Jews in Montana, but will also help the global Jewish community,” says the rabbi, who already conducts monthly inspections of plants that have hired him as their kosher supervisor. “We hope that companies all over the state will know that they have the opportunity to go kosher. As more realize that they can make the change, they’ll do it, and thereby increase their markets.”

Food processers in Bozeman are signaling their excitement.

“I can tell you I am very proud that our product is kosher certified,” says Robin Bequet, director of gourmet caramel producer Bequet Confections. “We have won numerous prestigious, national awards for our caramel. It seems only fitting that the best caramel in the world is kosher certified, doesn’t it? Rabbi Chaim is a remarkable person, whom I hold in the highest regard.”

According to Bruk, the primary goals of the new kosher label are to help Montana companies learn what going kosher can do for their business and help kosher agencies around the world that need local supervision. The label will focus on factory products, as opposed to individual restaurants, to heighten its global effect.

Wayfare Foods, a company that produces vegan dairy-free items in Bozeman, is among the producers who are working with Bruk.

“I can’t tell you how nice it is to have someone local doing our supervision,” says its CEO and president, Kelly Coffin. “When issues arise, and they always do, he’s always here at the blink of an eye. He’s phenomenal.

Bruk, right, directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana and the first kosher certification agency in the state.
Bruk, right, directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana and the first kosher certification agency in the state.

“And the kosher certification,” adds Coffin, “has helped our business in the Jewish community, which is very dear to our hearts.”

Rabbi Baruch Beyer, who works at the Star-K, says that Bruk’s location is vital to the effort.

“It allows us to give a [kosher label] to products from an area of the country that we wouldn’t normally be able to because of their lack of a large Jewish community,” says Beyer. “That he’s there enables us to do that, which is true of Chabad all around the world: being in places that are off the beaten path.”

Officials in the capital are also looking at the agency’s potential to boost the statewide economy.

“It’s really a good thing [to have the increase in kosher certification],” says Eric Stern, senior counselor for Gov. Brain Schweitzer. “It adds value to Montana products. One of the most important aspects of economic development is expanding markets.”