9 Cheshvan 5770
27 October 2009
As I continue to seek to learn and share information pertaining to the kashrus scene in Israel, I would be derelict in my efforts if I did not probe the rapidly growing Badatz Beit Yosef organization, launched by HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shlita, and run today by one of his sons, HaGaon HaRav David Yosef.
For the veteran subscribers of this service, you have read my comments pertaining to Beit Yosef on a number of occasions, usually associated with words of praise, pointing out that my research has shown that regarding Beit Yosef, there are no surprises. What the rabbis claim to be the standard is indeed practiced, and when a mashgiach is expected to be present, this is the case, as least in my visits to a number of restaurants and establishments under the Beit Yosef supervision.
As I continue to meet new rabbonim and students, addressing yeshivot and seminaries with my kashrut slide show, I find there are more than a small number of Ashkenazi rabbanim who frown when “Beit Yosef” is mentioned, or admit that simply do not know if the agency is reliable. This has prompted me to contact the folks who run the kashrut agency, and I made an appointment to come and visit the organization’s administrative headquarters located at 2 Beit HaKerem Street in Jerusalem.
I met with administrative director Menachem Ben-Zichri, who is quite impressive for his age, a modest 28, already boasting 10 years of experience in the kashrus industry.
I could not control myself, asking how he landed such a position at age 18. He explained that at the time, his older brother was working with R’ David on other projects, primarily the educational system connected to R’ Ovadia Shlita and no one knew how to operate a computer. He however was young and daring, and began teaching himself and painfully sitting for hours to enter data into the computer. One thing led to another and those around him realized he has what it takes and today, he runs the administrative end of the Badatz Beit Yosef (BBY) operation.
We sat for quite some time, and to explain the experience in a few simple words, I would say that regarding Badatz Beit Yosef, “transparency”, “redundancy” and “uncompromising” would be descriptive terms that would be justified. As with every kashrus agency, each of us must decide if a particular hechsher addresses our kashrut standard.
I have done my best to transmit the information accurately, and this article is not intended as an endorsement or a criticism, but a sincere effort to present facts as I understand them.
The Badatz Beit Yosef began about 20 years ago, with R’ Ovadia Yosef deciding it was time to actualize a kashrut organization that adheres to the rulings of “Maran”, the Beit Yosef, the halachic authority for Sephardim. R’ Yosef began by instructing the team leaders of Rabbanut schita teams traveling abroad to begin adhering to these stringencies, placing an emphasis on the importance of returning to what he perceived to be a critical need to adhere to these rulings, which were not practiced by other agencies in Israel.
The operation was not “run like a business” in the beginning Menachem explained, but as it grew, things become increasingly formal due to the demands placed on the rabbonim. Today, BBY certifies over 400 food plants, restaurants and eateries in Eretz Yisrael, and in addition to the mashgichim assigned to these places around the country, there are 40 regional inspectors who are part of the redundancy system, making sure the mashgichim are doing their job.
To jump ahead, this snowballed into what is now the BBY agency, headed by one of the Rav’s sons, Rabbi Moshe Yosef.
A HECHSHER FOR EVERYONE
While the hechsher was launched to return to Maran’s halachic rulings, Menachem explained that it also adheres to the rulings of the Rama, Rabbi Mosher Isserles, the halachic authority for Ashkenazim. This he explains holds true for beef, poultry and many and all other aspects of kashrut – pointing out R’ Ovadia is well-aware of the differences between the Beit Yosef and the Rama, making certain both are accommodated.
“It is important for us to be a hechsher for Ashkenazim too” explained Menachem, who stressed from a pragmatic point of view, setting out to serve Sephardim only would be short sighted.
I can say that after living in Israel for 25 years, and working for a glatt butcher and a glatt catering operation in NYC prior to moving here, the issue of schita and a hechsher on poultry and beef (veal or whatever) is quite a controversial one, one that is probably responsible for discussion and even controversy as we seek out an ‘acceptable’ schita.
I was urged to pass the word, that any rav in the kashrus industry or those knowledgeable regarding schita who would like to observe and make his own determination is urged to phone and set up a time to come to BBY schita and do so. Poultry schita is in Kfar Menachem by the way, for those who are interested. The beef schita is abroad.
The rules here Menachem explains are quite simple. There is no such thing as a meat restaurant without a mashgiach timidi, one who maintains a constant presence, or at the very least, an “oved ne’eman”, that is to say an employee who has been tested and deemed responsible to act as an in-house supervisor, keeping things going and reporting to the mashgiach, who in all cases, must report daily to every restaurant. Menachem explains that since Beit Yosef maintains bishul yisrael for Sephardim, non-Jews are not permitted to cook and therefore an oved ne’eman and/or mashgiach must be present at all times. In some larger cooking establishments, both [oved ne’eman and mashgiach] operate simultaneously. All meats and poultry served are Atara brand, Beit Yosef schita only, no exceptions.
The same holds true regarding dairy restaurants pertaining to bishul yisrael. To go down the list, here are some of the main points;
1. Bishul yisrael for Sephardim
2. Chalav yisrael only
3. Shmitah L’chumra only
4. Yoshon only
5. All greens are washed before use (needless to say, bug-free)
6. All legumes and rice undergo meticulous inspection
7. Flour is sifted and the sifters checked and cleaned
Some of the unique matters we discussed include the fact that a pizza shop is permitted to offer anchovies, which is in contradiction to the Beit Yosef ruling prohibiting fish and cheese. The kashrut certificates in such a store will state that the use of fish and cheese is only for those who do not adhere to the rulings of the Beit Yosef, in this case, Ashkenazim. As Menachem points out, once again an example how the agency seeks to cater to ashkenazim as well.
A pizza shop or falafel shop will not have a mashgiach timidi, as is the acceptable industry standard, but the mashgiach is present daily, and there is an oved ne’eman and the agency maintains control on the establishment’s operation.
I asked what the procedure is when a new or functioning restaurant wishes to obtain the hechsher, how the agency goes about it.
A rav is assigned to each new file and he is responsible to walk the restaurant through the process. Today, due to the size of the organization, there is a kashering team, which goes from place-to-place doing what needs to be done, experts in this specific aspect of kashrut. I asked “what about glassware”, aware the Beit Yosef is lenient regarding the use of glass from dairy to meat and the opposite, but the Rama prohibits such a practice. There are other difference regarding the kashering of a place, here, the Ashkenazim are stricter.
Once again, the kashering is done to adhere to the stricter approach, in this case the Rama/Ashkenazim.
Perhaps along the same lines, there is the question of toveling dishes. I will add here that many many an eatery does not, as is the case in hotels, with many relying on heterim, but Beit Yosef insists on toveling all the dishes, not wishing to rely on the leniencies.
One major torah authority who issued a ‘heter’ for using non-toveled dishes in hotels and the like would be Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach zt”l, so those who do, have something solid to rely on. Anyway, Beit Yosef opts for the chumra approach in its kashrut operation.
Rav Ben-Ezra explains that generally speaking, there are no blanket endorsements and products are approved by request, on an individual basis. Of course the high-end hechsherim are approved, but there are many items under an array of hechsherim and this is decided on request.
The rabbi stated I must understand that the chumra line adopted by the agency is maintained and decisions as per products and hechsherim are made in line with this policy in mind.
BBY does address the chadash issue and items are yoshon, with R’ Ben-Ezra explaining even the Carlsberg beer which BBY certifies is included in these concerns, with hops coming from Germany, Demark and at times, from areas of the United States, to comply with yoshon.
While R’ Ovadia Shlita is known for his famous heter regarding the use of heter mechira during shmitah, this does not hold true for BBY and this is never the case, not during shmitah year and not the years following where there are many canned and frozen items from heter mechira produce. They are never used.
Without a doubt, Pessach poses a real challenge since we are aware Sephardim use kitniot while Ashkenazim do not. At the end of this article, I am posting examples of the many different labels one might find on kosher for Passover items certified by Beit Yosef, but one thing is for certain, if you take the time to read, you will see and understand what is in the box/can. Labels include “kosher for Pesach without kitniot” or “with kitniot” or “without kitniot but with cottonseed oil” to list some of the examples.
Yes, there are Pessach items unsuitable for those who do not use kitniot, but they are clearly marked, once again, not seeking to mislead anyone.
LABELS and LABELING
I began asking questions regarding labeling, and to my surprise, this led to a major discussion and display of paperwork.
Back to the issue of new firms taking on the BBY hechsher. They must present ‘print ready’ documents as to what the label will look like and the rabbonim will decide if the wording meets halachic standards and considerations, what Beit Yosef tag will be attached (dairy, meat, parve, Chadash and more). The label is stamped “approved” by the rabbonim and kept on file. When the product hits the shelves, it too is checked and if there is any change from the approved label, the product is yanked off the shelves.
I asked about one place which many of you enjoy shopping at, Marzipan Bakery, located on Agrippas Street at the Machane Yehuda Shuk. I explained I am perplexed as to why none of the bags and boxes in the store has any indication that the product is under the Badatz Beit Yosef while there is an obvious kashrut certificate prominently displayed at the entrance.
Menachem was actually quite pleased with the question, providing him with an opportunity to explain BBY(Badatz Beit Yosef) policy. The store is self-service he explains, where shoppers take a bag or box, tongs, and begins filling. “Anyone shopping sees the hechsher hanging and decides to shop” he explained, but the kashrut agency does not wish to take responsibility for bags filled by shoppers, not sealed in a controlled setting.
“What about when they bring it to someone for Shabbos? How can they know?” I questioned, with Menachem responding this is correct, but the rabbis decided since we cannot control what is being placed in the box, it is best not to display the kashrut symbol.
On the same note, he showed me a file on his computer with Marzipan stickers with the BBY seal, adding the bakery is about to begin distributing. His pastries will be sold in other stores and these items, sealed in a factory under controlled conditions, will bear the BBY seal as is customary for food items. (As we go to print, stopped by Marzipan and the new cake boxes have a new design as well as the BBY logo).
KASHRUT CERTIFICATE & TEUDAT KASHRUT
Eateries will generally display a teudat kashrut, which is displayed below. In rare cases, one may see a ishur kashrut, as was the case for readers who saw my posting around Yom Kippur time pertaining to Aldo Ice Cream on Jaffa Street, which had an “ishur”, not a “teuda” (examples of both follow article as well).
The teudah (certificate) is standard, but every now and then, the printer breaks or there is another logistical problem and the store may be anxious to display the kashrut certification so an ishur may be issued for a week or so, but this is rare. (I happened to document one such event in the article).
In addition, the teudat kashrut is prominent, framed, with a hologram, signature, rubber stamp of the agency and Rabbi Moshe Yosef and numbered. The ishur is intended for perspective clients. Stores are prohibited from photocopying a teudah but a potential client may ask to verification of the kashrut before ordering and the ishur may indeed be photocopied and/or faxed.
It should also be pointed out that R’ Moshe Yosef is not a sit-in-the-office type of rav, but Menachem explains he is “out in the field” and constantly monitoring the status of the organization and the places it supervises.
APPROVING A STORE’S CERTIFICATION
I personally enjoy this system, the method by which Rabbi Moshe Yosef approves a business/restaurant/caterer for certification, personally reviewing each file.
After the rav in charge, the kashering team and the others agree a restaurant is ready to begin operating under the hechsher, the file is brought by Menachem to R’ Moshe Yosef in Har Nof, who lives in the home of his father, R’ Ovadia Shlita. Rabbi Moshe reviews the file, usually asking some questions, and only after he is satisfied, does he affix his signature. Each kashrut certificate is signed by the rabbi personally, no rubber stamp signature. Only then is the certificate taken back to the office where the rabbi’s rubber stamp is added as well as the agency’s rubber stamp, as well as a numbered hologram. The numbers of the hologram and certificate are entered into the database for cross-referencing, steps taken to complicate efforts to produce fraudulent certificates. Menachem is the only one who prints the certificates, maintaining total control over the document.
Menachem pointed out that if a halachic matter arises, and they often do, R’ Moshe can walk directly into his father R’ Ovadia Shlita and receive a response from the gadol hador, explaining that not many agencies have such almost unlimited access to such a torah giant.
NEVER HESITATE TO CALL
Rabbi Yigal Ben-Ezra, who is the kashrut organization’s rabbinical administrator, urges me to pass this on, to tell you, the kosher consumer, that you should never hesitate to call, to ask, to inquire. “No question is too small” he explains, with Menachem adding that there have been a number of cases in which an innocent question from a consumer directed their attention to a problem, which was subsequently corrected.
I also was introduced to another of R’ Ovadia’s sons, Rav Moshe Yosef, who oversees the operation ‘in house’ if you will.
For the veteran JKN readers you might remember that occasionally, I mentioned that I called Beit Yosef with an inquiry, and the rabbonim have always been cooperative and cordial. This unfortunately, is not an industry-wide reality as some of you know.
Once again, I am not seeking to act as a salesman for BBY, but I made a genuine effort to address the issues that may permit you to decide if this is a hechsher you opt to rely on, at home or just when dining out. Your call to make, perhaps together with your rabbinical mentor. In any event, I hope you found this informative and below you will find an array of samples of some of the rubber stamps and seals that are part of the BBY redundancy and checks and balances system.
The photos follow the list I compiled of BBY eateries in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Tiveria, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh.
RESTAURANTS & EATERIES UNDER BBY
Remember, there are over 400 businesses with the BBY seal today. I worked to select the eateries from the list. I stress, and this is extremely important, that the list was accurate on October 21, 2009. Since then I am aware of a number of additions. You must remember that prior to sitting down and ordering, check for a current valid certificate of kashrut!
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1. Aldo Ice Cream – 40 Jaffa Street (dairy)
2. Aldo Ice Cream – Central Bus Station (dairy)
3. Lalush Bakery – 34 Agrippas Street (dairy)
4. Frenchi Bakery – 110 Derech Beit Lechem (dairy/parve)
5. Marzipan Bakery – 44 Machane Yehuda (dairy/parve)
6. Marzipan Bakery factory – 8 HaYuzma Street, Atarot Industrial Park (dairy/parve)
7. Hillel Café – 33 Pierre Koenig Street (dairy)
8. Bisto Toast and Sandwiches – 70 HaNavi’im Street (parve/dairy-fish)
9. Si HaGrill Restaurant – 100 Shmuel HaNavi Street (meat)
10. Soninu Pizza – 52 Agrippas Street (dairy)
11. Dolce Latte – 2 Luntz Street (dairy)
12. Burger Ranch – Malcha Mall (meat)
13. Tzion HaKatan Grill – 15 Kanfei Nesharim (meat)
14. Marvad HaKisamim – 58 King George (Heichal Shlomo)(meat)
15. HaShamen Grill – Malcha (meat)
16. HaShamen Grill – 3 Luntz Street (meat)
17. Pinati Humos – 66 Kanfei Nesharim (meat)
18. Pinati Humos – 22 Yad Harutzim (meat)
19. Café Café – Center 1 – (dairy – fish)
20. Café Café – Pisgat Ze’ev Shopping Center (dairy – fish)
21. Hillel Café – 1 Ramat Beit HaKerem (dairy-fish)
22. Hillel Café – Hadassah Ein Kerem Mall (dairy – fish)
23. Hillel Café – 54 Emek Refaim Street (dairy – fish)
24. Café – 6 Uruguay Street (dairy-parve)
25. Marzipan Bakery – 5 Rachel Imeinu Street (parve-dairy)
1. Yossi’s Bakery – HaGalil (parve/dairy)
2. Bakery – 26 HaBanim (parve/dairy)
3. Elite Bakery – 22 HaEmakim (parve/dairy)
4. HaDerech Bakery – 2 Weizman (parve/dairy)
5. Pizza and Pizza – 2 Neuberg (dairy/fish)
6. Bereshit Pizza – 5 Alchadiff (dairy/fish)
7. Merkaz HaPizza – 36 Alchadiff (dairy/fish)
8. Weizman Pizza – 30 HaGalil (dairy/fish)
9. HaAgam Shipudim – HaYarkon (meat)
10. Pizzarela Restaurant and Pizza – 10 Shimon DaHan (dairy/fish)
11. Arna Restaurant and Pizza – 20 HaBanim (dairy/fish)
1. Lev HaPizza – 75 HaMaccabim (dairy/fish)
2. Hollywood Pizza – 111 Jabotinsky (dairy/fish)
3. Pizzahaliya – 12 Jabotinsky (dairy-fish)
4. Chalutzim Falafel – 20 Chalutzim (parve)
5. Burger Ranch – 138 Jabotinsky (meat)
6. Burger Ranch – Gas station @ Coca Cola Jct (meat)
1. Falafel and Meats – 1 Reuven (Merkaz Shenfeld) (meat)
2. HaShamen – 21 Yigal Alon (meat)
1) I provided the names of eateries in a number of cities. When the BBY lists pizza shops, a note always appears in the database that the pizza is ‘motzei’.
2) For additional questions or inquiries, contact BBY at 02-655-0550.
3) You can check to verify if a business is under BBY certification on the organization’s free online website database.
Some examples of product labels/seals: