Holiday Hotel Packages – Scholars in Residence

Jerusalem Plaza Hotel - Sukka construction

Jerusalem Plaza Hotel - Sukka construction

With the New Year rapidly approaching, 5770, we are entering holiday hotel season, with many of us opting to ‘celebrate’ Sukkot in a hotel. Actually, there are already ads for Pessach resorts, and this too is fine. We seem to plan ahead and doing so can result in significant savings.

I feel compelled however to share some information with you. I recently saw a number of adverts for holiday packages, usually sponsored by travel agents or agencies which design all-inclusive holiday packages, which may include hotels, travel to and from and much more. This going-away trend seems to be gaining in popularity in Israel too, once only seen in North America and Europe.

Over recent years, the concept of a ‘scholar in residence’ has caught on and in the frum world; this is now a common practice. A guest rabbi, usually a noted Torah personality, will enhance the yomtov experience. The torah lectures by such notables are truly a welcome addition and serve to enhance the hotel’s yomtov atmosphere. Some of these rabbonim draw large crowds and it is a win-win situation for all.

What is my point you are asking by now – the point is the following. Most of the adverts that I have seen of late do not mention anything regarding kashrut, only the level of accommodations, round-the-clock tearooms, luxury accommodations and other amenities, as well as the name of the torah notables who will grace the hotel for the upcoming holidays. I phoned a number of hotels and travel agencies, and they explained the supervision is the same as year round. In one case, they told me “there is glatt meat but the ‘regular kosher supervision seen year-round is the same’”.

What I am trying to say, without mentioning any names, is that holiday packages containing reputable torah personalities say absolutely nothing about the kashrut of a package. Some rabbonim are perhaps too trusting, or out of the kashrut loop, so their presence is not a statement attesting to the level of kashrut. Some rabbis are not kashrut specialists and as such, are as clueless as many of us, torah knowledge aside.

The scholar in residence is not acting as a mashgiach! In some cases, he may never enter a kitchen or question the level of kashrus in a hotel. The hotel may tell you “it is mehadrin” but this is an undefined term which can mean anything from outstanding kashrut to barely higher than basic, which is why a certifying agency or reliable reputable rav ha’machshir is required.

You see, in some cases, the rav, who may be a torah scholar, but out of the kashrut loop, actually unknowingly serves the hotel’s agenda, or that of the booking agency, bringing in frum people who would otherwise not consider entering such a hotel. We tend to say “if rabbi so and so eats there, we can go too”. You need to check. I tell you from actual real-life cases, phone calls pertaining to the upcoming yomim tovim, that some hotels boasting torah notables are at a very low kashrut standard, and that is simply a matter of fact. Those who accompanied me on shuk tours saw first-hand how externally chareidi looking people unsuspectingly buy in stores without any kashrut whatsoever!

I met on Sunday morning (September 6, 2009) with one rav of a mehadrin hotel, who explained that even the hotel packages advertising “for the chareidi public” or “mehadrin” or “glatt” for example do not really tell you a thing. He went on to elaborate, explaining if there is the name of a rabbi without a kashrut agency attached, that means there is no kosher agency assuming responsibility for the holiday kashrut. Therefore, if the rabbi who is mentioned is an unknown, one basically knows nothing about the hotel kashrut.

If you phone, as I do, the first thing you are guaranteed to hear is “the meat is glatt” or “chalak”. That mean only that [at best] and it says nothing regarding all other ingredients, checking of greens, legumes, rice, sifting of flour, operations on Shabbat and chag, and many many other issues that must be addressed. If you maintain a mehadrin standard, in many [if not most] cases, a regular kosher hotel will not even kasher prior to the yomtov, which means the kitchen standard has not changed from year-round to the yomtov (Chag – Sukkot in the upcoming case).

In conclusion, I am simply trying to say a ‘scholar in residence’ at a particular hotel does not exonerate us from inquiring at the level of kashrut and the certifying agency. If the level works for you, enjoy. Do not make assumptions. You need a kashrut agency or reputable rabbi taking responsibility for kashering a hotel for yomtov. (I guess the problem abroad is even more complex, since in many cases, hotels that are non-kosher year-round are advertised as glatt for yomim tovim).

If you are one of many visiting a hotel for Sukkot, I hope you will do so here in Israel with us, and permit me to wish you a most joyous, meaningful and fulfilling yomtov experience, wherever you may be.

One comment

  • September 7, 2009 - 22:18 | Permalink

    Yechiel, very good point and one that thought of myself! As child and bachur went with family to certain hotels where Choshuv Rav in attendance, and discovered kashrus problems. He had no idea. “Not in Kashrus Loop”, as you put it. And one time I recall thought good because a certain Rav there, only to notice halfway through Yom Tov he was eating own food from home!
    Sorry for digressing, but also feel compelled to comment that unless extenuating circumstances, the place for Yom Tov is home, not hotels with a myriad of spiritual pitfalls, of which Kashrus is but one.

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