Our goal today in this class is to try to facilitate a type of “basic awareness” about the kashrus scene here in Eretz Israel and specifically in Jerusalem. Having a heightened awareness about these issues can help tremendously in terms of making good decisions about what and where to eat, as well as what to buy for yourself or your hosts.
Step 1: Dispelling General Myths
Myth: The Chief Rabbinate in Israel Makes Sure Everything is Kosher; the Rest is Politics.
- The Rabbanut Mehadrin Controversy – basically the government fired the head rabbi and put a bunch of not so qualified people in the field. This was a very irresponsible move and until this day there is a cloud of darkness hovering over their name. The present status is that each place is on a case by case basis. Also there are some other cities that have a mehadrin department to their rabbinate. For example Tzefas, Arad, Petach Tikvah to name a few have good reputations. One should look into the matter more but there is what to talk about if the question arises.
- Regular Rabbanut – The general policy of the rabbinate is that any establishment can get a teudah if they accept to use and serve only products which bear the minimum state rabbinate hechsher even if the owner or proprietor is totally secular. Furthermore the policy of the rabbinate with regards to which products they certify is “anything that has some hechsher from some kshrus organization somewhere in the world it is accepted”. Both of these points make it very problematic to eat anything at these places. Also the rabbinate standard meat has had countless problems and suspicions of treifus over the years. Generally it assumed that these places are “chashash treif” – outside of Jerusalem this is certainly true.
- Politics – Look kashrus organizations are a business not a chesed operation. They are looking to make money. However that said they want to maintain a standard and keep on top of their field. Therefore they want to and take pride in providing a name you can trust. There are many many “policy” decisions about how to deal with so many aspects of the restaurant and its functioning or the factory and its functioning that altogether these standards represent much more than politics. We will see ahead that there are so many issues that are involved and this is what separates one kashrus organization from the other.
Myth: If the neon sign in front says “kosher” that means the restaurant is kosher and I can eat there.
- Whereas in the states this type of sign may mean something, here in Israel it doesn’t mean anything. This is mainly due to the Chief Rabbinate issue above.
- This is true unfortunately even if it says “kosher l’mehadrin” on the neon sign. Many times this means that they have a mehadrin hechsher but not always, and even when it does mean that – it may be a hechsher we don’t feel is up to our standards. One must look into the matter carefully.
Myth: If there are frum looking people eating there it must be okay.
- Unfortunately this isn’t true either. Many of the frum people you see eating in there are travelers who just don’t know better or they don’t keep the same standards as you keep.
Myth: If a restaurant is vegetarian or dairy, what could be so bad?
- Unfortunately this isn’t true either. As we will see ahead there are numerous kashrus issues in a vegetarian restaurant, and even more in a dairy one. Therefore although this may seem like a benign situation it is potentially very much not so.
Myth: If a store or restaurant bear a kashrus certificate that proves they hold by a standard that is acceptable.
- This is unfortunately proven to be very untrue. In the last couple years there have been numerous totally bogus “badatz mehadrin” type kashrus certificates that have been put up in popular establishments. This seems hard to believe but sadly it is true. Attempts have been made to notify the public but an unsuspecting tourist or passerby may not be so lucky. Be careful.
- Keep in mind that even when the establishment bears a valid kashrus certificate – ask yourself does that agency uphold standards that I keep for myself. (See list of hechsherim)
Step 2: Some Basic Background
What are some of the “kashrus issues” involved?
What Types of Products Does the Restaurant Use?
- Meat and Chicken – the laws and standards of shechitah are broad and serious. The various different kashrus organizations have varying degrees of standards with regards to what meat they allow their establishments to use. Some of the main issues are the level of yiras shamayim and expertise of the shochtim, how strict they are on the examinations of the organs after the shechitah, the removal of the assur fats and parts we don’t eat, the salting process, the storage and shipping process. We will spend a little more time on this in a later class but suffice it to say there are major differences that come out here. EXAMPLE – The Badatz Beit Yosef meat, or the OU Chickens and Meat in Israel (pending)
- Deliveries – When a restaurant receives a delivery of goods and food products who is there to make sure they are getting the right stuff they ordered and the type that is of the standard they ordered. This is another important role for a mashgiach to fulfill and one you are happy he is doing. Be careful!
- Fish – fish have to be a kosher species, some hechsherim check each fish, some rely on chazaka, there are many worm and bug infestation issues in fish that the kashrus organizations are dealing with.
- Dairy– Chalav Israel is a major issue. We will learn more about the details in a later class but suffice it to say that different hechsherim have different policies in terms of what they allow in the restaurant (also milk powder from akum is an issue)
- Products – Industrial Kashrus is a massive overarching issue. Every product they use in the restaurant was produced in some factory somewhere in the world, hopefully under the supervision of some reliable kashrus organization. That stuff is all in your food. You want to know that the agency giving the certificate to your restaurant cares about and has a responsible approach to this issue. ** This is especially relevant with one of thoe little sushi or oriental places as they use many hard to get and hard to imagine products. Be careful.
- Bug Checking – Here in Eetz Israel (unlike in the US) this is a major issue. The halacha requires checking for bugs in any type of food that is found to have even minimal bug findings on a regular basis. Just for giving an idea. Whole cashews have a bug in about every 50th nut or so. Strwberries are a big problem. Onions many times open on the bottom and have bugs in the lower 3rd in between layers, rice and flour are prone to bugs occasionally. Therefore the halcha requires they be checked by an adult who is shomer torah umitzvot.
- Bishul Nachri – There is a rabbinical prohibition from eating food that was cooked by a non jew. Many poskim extend this prohibition to non religious jews as well. A frum jew must therefore be involved in the cooking. The Ashkenazic custom requires the bear minimum involvement of having the frum jew turn on the fire. The Sefardim are strict and require that the frum jew be involved some actual part of the food preparation. Many of the hechsherim rely on the Ashkenazic custom with regards to this issue. This creates unique issues for Sefardim who want to eat “kosher” in a restaurant where the kitchen staff are either not religious or not jewish. This is extremely common in Eretz Israel.
- Hafrashas Challah – Any time a certain amount of dough is prepared one must separate Challah from the dough. We will learn more about this in a later class but suffice it to say that you want to make sure that the establishment is aware of the laws of challah and is doing it. This is just another role that the responsible “kashrus organization” fulfills when they oversee an operation.
- Trumos u’Masros – Here in Eretz Israel all fruits and vegetables must be tithed. We will learn more about this in a later class but suffice it to say that another reason you want to make sure that a restaurant here in Eretz Israel has a high kashrus standard is because of these very serious laws.
- Tevilas Keilim – Any vessels pots pans plates cutlery etc used to prepare food or serve/eat with it which were not made by a Jew need tevilah in a mikvah before a jew may use them. Unfortunately there are a number of establishments that are relying on some pretty week halachik basis in order to get around these laws. A good mashgiach from a high standards kashrus organization will not let something like this slide.
- Wine – Non Frum employees – who serves – Wine opened or served (when open) by a non religious jew is assur to eat (there may be certain leniencies). This law doesn’t apply when the wine is “mevushal”. (Pasteruized is a big debate). Therefore in a high standard kashrus organization they will make sure there is a religious jew opening and serving the wine. If you go somewhere and don’t see that – this is a pretty good indicator that the wine is mevushal or the kashrus is of a slightly lesser standard then you may be looking for!
What are the “Other Halachos” Involved?
- Ed echad ne’eman b’issurim – The halacha states that with regards to matters of “prohibition” like eating non kosher food, we may believe one witness. For all intents and purposes this should mean that when a Jew comes to you and says “this food is kosher” that is sufficient to rely upon without looking further in to the matter.
- Chashud – There are exceptions to this rule of ed echad.
- One on the main exceptions is “chashud”. This rule states that a jew whom is “suspect” with regards to a certain area of halacha may not be relied upon with regards to that area. Another issue is that when a person is not shomer shabbos he loses all reliability for all areas in Torah. This is particularly problematic when you consider that many restaurants are owned and operated by people who are not shomer shabbos or suspect as to whether they themselves eat kosher. This is one of the main reasons we need a mashgiach in a restaurant.
- Another issue is that even if the owner is frum and honest if he isn’t there and he has staff that are non jewish or non religious this creates a similar problem.
- Also even if the owner is frum and present he may not keep the same standards of kashrus as you. He may not be as careful as you would want. He is also trying to make money and thus has a bias towards the issues that come up towards his financial gain not the purity of your neshama.
- A mashgiach who is yotzei v’nichnas – Generally what this means is that once you have a frum jew “mashgiach” who is present to do spot checks even though he goes out occasionally this is sufficient to alleviate the concerns that arise from non jewish or non religious staff doing something fishy or making mistakes and not telling as that would mean their job and a bad reputation.
Step 3: Some Very Important Distinctions
A Kashrus Certificate has written on it what it covers
- Angels Coffee Shops – here is an example of where you need to read what exactly what is covered. In some of them the products that are wrapped and packaged are covered but things made on the premises are not – be careful.
- Moranu Nut Store in the shuk – here also the nuts and the chocolate machine are covered but the candies at the front of the store are not. Also they have a belz hechsher which some people don’t hold of. Best to call your host to ask or buy a better hechsher to start.
- Check the Date– One of the very common situations that arises is that the kashrus agency that gives the hechsher has not renewed the certificate yet thus making it current.
- Watch out – there have been numerous situations where people open establishments and tell people yes we are getting such and such certificate it just hasn’t arrived yet. Sometimes they in fact do end up getting that certificate but many times they don’t. Be careful!
Different Kashrus Organizations Have Different Standards, and That Matters.
- The Badatz Edah Hacharedis doesn’t give hechsherim to fancy restaurants. They will do pizza, little stands, or sit down catering operations. They will not give a hechsher to a place that is below the highest possible standards on ingredients and on the ruchniyus of the scene.
- Many of the other high level kashrus orgs (Rubin, Agudah, Chasam Sofer Bnei Brak, Belz) will give a hechsher to an establishment that is a proper fancy restaurant even though there is an implication of high culture. They are makpid gamur on the other standards (though each a little different some super high some high) like products and all of the food prep issues. For large restaurants with many issues and complicated orders of ingredients etc they may decide to require a “mashgiach t’midi” which means he has the keys to the place, he is there during opening and operating hours, and oversees all aspects of the operation.
- Rabbinate Mehadrin – will rely on a spot check masgiach if there is another shomer shabbos jew who also works there on a regular basis. They allow this even when the owner proprietor is totally secular and there is non jews in the kitchen. Deliveries are handled on spot check basis.
- Regular Rabbanut – secular owner, no ruchniyus standards, no mashgiach doing spot checks. Demand that the person not be a “well known public eater of treif food”. They “require” the use of products that minimally have the rabbinate of Israel on it but don’t “enforce” it.
Restaurants may have Kashrus Certificates but Distant Cousins and Random Hosts Don’t
- Being in Eretz Israel is amazing. Many people have “family” here or “friends of the family” that you “just have to go visit while you are here”. Be careful. Obviously if you know the people and that they are reliable in their mitzvah observance and have yiras shamayim then you don’t need to pry. On the other hand if you have a concern than you need to plan accordingly. Know what you are getting into and plan in advance. There are ways to be diplomatic about not having to rely on other people’s kashrus that you don’t feel comfortable with.
- Another thing to be aware of is hotels and simcha halls that you may be invited to for a simcha of a friend or relative. Do your research in advance. **Just last week I was invited to a simcha in a place where the “caterer” was holding a certificate from the “Badatz Eidah Hacharedis” but the hall itself had no hechsher at all and allows simchas to be made by anyone of any background. Just earlier that day a “plain rabbanut” gathering was held on the same dishes. This is a serious issue.
Step 4: Remember What we are Here for
On a closing note I think it is important to keep in mind the following idea when looking at this whole question of what and where to eat or not eat. Coming to learn in Eretz Israel is an amazing opportunity. What are we here for? Of course we want to enjoy ourselves here and develop a real connection to this place. On the other hand unfortunately there are serious questions of values and priorities that can be tested while here. Maintaining our focus on growth and on our learning is a real issue. Unfortunately along with the issues of kashrus on the restaurant scene there are also issues of tznius and lo aleinu of real treif of another kind i.e. shiflus and midos raos of every sort. We need to not only be careful for “kashrus issues” but also of our personal development at every turn. We all want to have a great year and enjoy our time here. The way to do that and be sure that you will succeed is by educating yourself and by staying aware of where you are and what you are doing.