Authentic Kosher Certificates

Sunday, March 02, 2008

An article appeared this past Shabbat in the weekly B’Sheva newspaper,
a free newspaper distributed in religious neighborhoods around the
country. I believe they claim over 160,000 copies are distributed
weekly.

Anyway, one of the regular columnists is Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who is
the dean of the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva, a man known as a prominent
Torah personality in the Torani National Religious Camp.

What is significant to Jerusalem Kosher News is the rabbi filled page
32 of the past edition of the paper with information supporting the
work we are doing – stating outright that there are many unauthorized
kosher supervising agencies and G-d fearing individuals must be
cautious before deciding to enter an eatery. To date, I have not been
able to find a prominent rabbi willing to put his name out publicly
regarding the unauthorized agencies, but Rabbi Melamed has taken the
giant step. The rabbis generally speak with me ‘off the record,’ and
are not willing to give me permission to use their name.

I will provide a general translation of the lengthy article which
significantly assists in getting my message across, that ‘not all that
says kosher in Jerusalem really is’.

“Authentic Kosher Certificates”
By Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
B’Sheva Newspaper – Feb. 28, 2008 – Issue 282 – Page 32
The original article appears in Hebrew

To my sorrow, I was compelled to write on a number of occasions
regarding the need for those who care about kashrut to eat only in
restaurants with a mehadrin supervision. The reason being that some of
the rabbis and kosher supervisors feel that due to the general
consensus in the hareidi-Orthodox community, that any place with a
regular kosher supervision does not have proper supervision, and is
therefore unsuitable. This is particularly applicable regarding meat
restaurants. As a result, I received numerous letters and the most
important and significant I will share with you.

AN IMPORTANT LETTER REGARDING KASHRUT
Dear Rabbi Melamed,
The rabbi recently asked and wrote about kashrut issues. I thought it
appropriate to write regarding something I witnessed firsthand -
something directly pertaining to kashrut, especially related to
regular and mehadrin kosher.

Last summer, I worked in a restaurant in [the Jerusalem neighborhood
of] Emek Refaim for period of time. The restaurant had a regular
Jerusalem Rabbinate kosher certificate as well as the “glatt Beit
Yosef mehadrin” by an agency calling itself “Badatz Nezer HaHidur”.

The owner, a non-Sabbath observing Jew, explained to me and others
than in an effort to expand his potential client base he took the
mehadrin certification in addition to the regular Jerusalem Rabbinate
certificate.  He added he did not take the Jerusalem Mehadrin
certificate since it was too expensive and too demanding and it was
not “financially sound” due to the agency’s (Jerusalem Rabbinate
Mehadrin) many demands.

During my employ in the restaurant I had occasion to meet the
Jerusalem Rabbinate mashgiach (rabbi kosher supervisor) a number of
times. He would always pop in during the afternoon hours, so the boss
and staff knew that the problematic matters were dealt with during the
morning hours when he was not present.

The mashgiach would come and inspect the vegetables. He explained to
me he had a way of knowing if tithes were taken as prescribed by
Jewish Law just by looking at them. He would stay a bit longer, look
around, and then leave.

The kitchen staff got along well with him. They would hang out
together somewhat, and they always gave him his favorite dessert
before he left. He would generally not eat the food prepared in house.

I asked him on one occasion and he told me without hesitation that he
would never eat in the restaurant. (The dessert was purchased out-of-
house and came in a sealed package). He proceeded to tell me of a
number of kosher certifying agencies that one may rely on, explaining
the agencies affiliated with the hareidi-(ultra)Orthodox are
trustworthy.

I discussed with him the matter of ‘bishul akum’ (a non-Jew lighting
the gas on the stove) and he told me that he instructed the boss that
only a Jew may turn on the gas and during the course of the day, they
[non-Jewish kitchen staff] may light the other burners from that
burner. (I must add there was not a single Jew employed as a member of
the kitchen staff, which was all Arab. There were Jewish waiters).
When I asked the Arab kitchen staff they replied, “Sure we light the
gas all the time”.

During my employ I saw the restaurant used meat imported from abroad
marked kosher glatt Beit Yosef but there was never a name of a
supervising rabbi or agency. The boss would tell the kitchen staff to
finish preparing the meats and to discard the wrappings before the
rabbi came and made problems for them.

The most serious issue was concerning the raw livers. They were not
prepared over an open fire as Jewish Law demands, but at times, fried
in a fry pan with oil or placed raw in an oven pan with onions and
seasonings and stewed. I told the mashgiach they are not koshering the
livers properly, to which he replied, “I will tell them. Good that you
point this out. I have told them numerous times and I will tell them
again. Good that you told me. You can help during the hours you are
working here. They know that I am easy-going, but they also know I
will throw things into the garbage if need be and that I am serious
and unwilling to compromise.”

I must point out that I did not see a single serious act on his behalf
towards improving the level of kashrut in the store. Words are
meaningless, especially when there is not a single God-fearing
Orthodox Jew on the kitchen staff. Regarding the need to sift flour -
there is nothing to talk about here. It never happened.

I am compelled to point out that during my employ; I did not see a
mashgiach from the Nezer Kashrut agency even once. Other employees
also told me they never once saw the mashgiach.

My conclusion from this experience that if one wants truly mehadrin
food, one may only rely on the well-established well-known kosher
supervising agencies.

End of letter – Back to Rav Melamed

THE PROBLEMATIC BADATZ AGENCIES
As a result of the letter, I contacted Rabbi Rafi Yochai, from the
Chief Rabbinate Kashrut Fraud Enforcement Unit. He told me that as far
as the Chief Rabbinate is concerned, “Badatz Nezer HaHidur is
unauthorized to grant kosher certification. Inspectors of the Chief
Rabbinate have determined the level of kashrut of this agency is
unacceptably low and falls very short of the expectations of kosher
consumers expecting true mehadrin.

This is also the case with other “Badatz” agencies such as Keter
HaKashrut, Nachlat Yitzchak (in the name of Rabbi Kadouri), Tiferet
Yerushalayim, Chomat HaKashrut, Mishmar HaKodesh- Shemen HaMishcha and
Mor U’Levona in the northern area.

It is important to add that even when a Badatz agency uses the name of
a reputable rabbi, that rabbi may not necessarily be knowledgeable
regarding kashrut, a field demanding a real expertise and a wealth of
experience.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REGULAR KASHRUT AND MEHADRIN
It is important to explain the difference between a regular Rabbanut
kosher certification and Rabbanut Mehadrin.

Mehadrin demands a mashgiach be present most of the working hours of a
restaurant and the ingredients used must have kosher certifications
deemed suitable by most prominent rabbinical authorities. The mehadrin
certification demands paying a mashgiach a fulltime salary, usually
between NIS 5,000-10,000 a month.

Nevertheless, there are places unwilling or unable to pay such an
amount, but they are still seeking a kosher certificate to maintain a
minimum level of kashrut. A Rabbanut mashgiach is instructed to visit
restaurants at all hours, even the unexpected, to properly supervise
deliveries and so-forth. If he fails to perform in this way, he is not
doing his job and if he becomes aware of kashrut problems and suffices
with a reprimand, he is not fulfilling his responsibilities.

It is also important to point out that the new Badatz agencies [as
listed earlier] charge far less for their service, making their
agencies a far more attractive option to those restaurants unwilling
to pay for one of the established mehadrin agencies. They are provided
with a kashrut certificate that states “Mehadrin min Ha’mehadrin”
without anything backing it up.

HOW TO ACT REGARDING A SIMPLE RABBANUT CERTIFICATE
To my sorrow, there are more than a small number of mashgichim who do
not perform their job properly for a number of reasons. Therefore, one
wising to be certain regarding kosher food should only eat in
restaurants with a mehadrin certificate from a reputable kashrut
agency.

Nevertheless, those wishing to eat in a restaurant with a regular
Rabbanut certificate can and should take a number of precautionary
steps.

One must inspect the kosher certificate to ensure it is valid and not
expired. Ask to speak with the mashgiach and if he is not in, ask for
his number and call him on the phone and ask if you can be certain
that if you eat in his restaurant you are eating kosher. Even if the
mashgiach is not a strong-willed person, we assume he is not evil and
will not lie when asked directly. If the kashrut is not what it should
be, more than likely he will say something like, “if you are really
concerned about kashrut, you might want to select another restaurant”
or “perhaps you shouldn’t eat here”.

Only if the response is as clear as the sun in midday can you eat in
such a restaurant. You must take great care when asking, since the
mashgiach may ask, “Are you stringent regarding glatt meat?” and if
you respond “I am not,” then he may tell you that you may eat.

That is because the mashgiach believes anyone not stringent regarding
glatt (chalak) meat is not too concerned with kashrut. Therefore, you
as the caller must be firm and state, “Even though I do not demand
glatt, I am indeed quite strict regarding kashrut.”

MANY MITZVOTH ARE CONNECTED TO EATING MEAT
As you know, the more importance given to something by our Torah, the
more rules and laws there are governing our behavior and we may either
raise our status as a result, or God forbid fall as a result of
falling short of our responsibilities. Examples would include the many
mitzvoth that surround our married lives, the service in the Holy
Temple, and our actions pertaining to the preparation and ingestion of
foods.

The eating of meat also involves many mitzvoth, and it is known that
most animals are forbidden to us as kosher observant Jews. Even when
dealing with an animal which is permitted, it must be ritually
slaughtered in adherence to Torah law, and the prohibited portions,
fats and vessels removed, and then soaked and salted. Only then is it
permitted to be eaten and we must take great care not to mix meat and
milk.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed – rav…@gmail.com . www.yeshiva.org.il

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