Lakewood, NJ – In a small basement, high school science lab, Rabbi Yoel Shocket holds up a navy blue pinstripe with a tag boasting 100 percent wool. A dissection of the lining inside the floating chest piece, however, reveals a cocktail of other fabrics, namely horse hair, acrylic and linen. It's the linen that bothers Shocket.
"This was sold as a kosher suit in Hong Kong,'' he said. "But it is only fulfilling the legal requirement, not the Torah requirement.''
Across the globe, rabbis and religious scholars are devoting large chunks of their lives to protecting an arcane Jewish called shatnez, the mixing of wool and linen is forbidden by the Torah, whether in garments, sofas, carpet, boots or baseball gloves. Yet the Federal Trade Commission often only requires labels to list materials comprising the shell of the product.
That has forced Orthodox Jewish communities to cultivate their own textile police. Over the years, they have grown under one organization, the NCSTAR, with their headquarters in a cramped basement of a private home in Lakewood.
There, Shocket and his NCSTAR co-director Yosef Sayagh, teach the laborious science of identifying shatnez. A typical training session involves three to six pupils bent over a microscope from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Passing a final test will authorize them to begin an apprenticeship under a seasoned tester. xtease Intense screening.
Only three or four courses are offered each year. Students range from doctors, computer programmers and engineers to Hasidic rabbis and rabbinical college students. They are admitted after an intense round of screening that involves written recommendations and aptitude tests in dexterity, patience and eyesight.
There about 80 testing labs in the United States and Canada and another 62 abroad. Those labs not started by NCSTAR eventually joined the group.
Besides teaching, Shocket and Sayagh also police the local clothing shops and dry cleaners. Shocket said he visits about six stores every week, charging $15 to $40 to remove shatnez, which is most commonly found in higher end suits. [app]