Hey, Have I Got An Alloy For You!

There are all sorts of kosher products, from soda to pickles. But kosher steel? As meshuga as it sounds, steelmakers like U.S. Steel are moving to get some of their products certified as kosher (or halal for Muslims).

Why? Why not? as Rabbi Jonah Gewirtz of Silver Spring, Md., might say. Three years ago Gewirtz discovered that container and steelmakers protect their products from corrosion with a lubricant containing a tiny bit of animal fat. When that steel comes in contact with food, it violates Jewish and Muslim food laws that prohibit impure materials. Working in an alliance with Muslims and Seventh-day Adventists (they are vegetarians), Gewirtz lobbied the steel industry. Steelmakers were cautious, and so were some rabbis who thought the animal fat wasn't a problem. But most of the nation's container and steelmakers are now switching to synthetic or vegetable-based lubricants. Said Muhammad Chaudry of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, "The guy upstairs must be with us."

Gewirtz had some earthly advantages working for him, too. The steel industry could have lost business to plastic makers. "Our customers ... wanted to be sure they were buying steel products from a certified producer," said a Weirton Steel Corp. spokesman. How do steel companies get certified? Easy. Gewirtz and his colleagues formed a nonprofit Maryland company that will charge steelmakers a fee for kosher certification. Gewirtz, who is president, estimates annual revenues of up to $700,000. "Nobody gets rich," he says, and adds that he's reminded of a Talmudic saying: "They who do something for the glory of God find their work being done by angels." But watch your costs anyway.