14 Kislev 5770
December 1, 2009
Holy Bagel – Talpiot Jerusalem (factory) 02-672-0844
I visited the Holy Bagel factory, located in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, in the heart of the bustling commercial area. I was prompted to head to make a visit by the growing number of emails seeking additional information on this increasingly popular bagel operation. The recent article in a weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post did not hurt, adding to the email queries.
Holy Bagel is owned and operated by two former North American, Ze’ev Wernik and Aryeh Dubin, with the latter meeting me during my visit, escorting me through the factory complex.
I also met with the mashgiach of course, who accompanied us during the tour, Rav Avraham Yanovitz, a Yerushalmi yid whose parents immigrated from the United States, making him equally comfortable speaking in Hebrew or English [or Yiddish if you please].
I met both Aryeh and Ze’ev a number of years ago, shortly after they opened their first store on Jaffe Street in the capital, up the block from the central bus station. That store is still in existence, as are a number of others, in the bus station, in the center of town, also on Jaffa Street, on Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony, in Geula, and of course in Modi’in and Ra’anana. Baruch Hashem, they have grown significantly since opening the first store.
Anyway, the kashrus of the operation is Jerusalem Rabbinate Mehadrin. That is what compelled so many Jerusalem Kosher News readers to ask that I check the place out, since Jerusalem Rabbanut Mehadrin permits many legitimate hechsherim, and readers are interested to know what is and is not used.
I preface my remarks by explaining both partners are shomer shabbat, as are many of the employees in the factory. There are some who are not observant, but all the employees in the factory and stores are Jews, making life significantly simpler from a kashrut perspective, especially regarding bishul yisrael.
It is also noteworthy to add that while the kashrus is from the rabbinate mehadrin, two other notable kashrut organizations have a play in the factory’s operation, Badatz Rav Rubin and Badatz Eida Chareidit. I will explain in the course of my report.
On that note, please accompany me to my first stop, the Bagel Room. Yes indeed, a separate room just for bagel production and nothing else. That is because the Badatz Eida Chareidit supervises the bagel production due to the simple fact that a quantity of the bagels leaving the factory are under the Eida supervision, since the branch store in Geula, called “H” Bagel, is under its hechsher. The “H” replaced “Holy” Bagel to differentiate between the hechsherim, to prevent any confusion.
Other places also buy bagels under the Eida Chareidit hechsher. While officially, the bagels served in the other stores are under the Jerusalem Rabbinate Mehadrin, they are indeed made in the same room; the same automated flour sifter is used, the same soaking of raisins and inspection for cinnamon raisin bagels, and the same everything. The process is the same mehadrin standard for the bagel production under all the hechsherim.
The Eida Chareidit insisted on creating a factory within a factory to permit supervising the bagel production to its standard, and that is just what Aryeh and Ze’ev did.
Since we are on the ‘other’ hechsherim, permit me to address R’ Rubin too. Rabbi Rubin’s mashgiach is generally present one day a week, and on that day, bagels are made to supply bagel stores under his hechsher. So you see, the factory is under the supervision of the mehadrin department of the Jerusalem Rabbinate, but the process used to manufacture the holy rolls enjoys the supervision of two additional agencies, while officially, only those bagels boxed and sealed with each agency’s respective markings are under that agency’s supervision. Confusing? Yes it is.
Let me move onto the burekas and the pastries that are not made in house, but they are all purchased frozen. This includes the danishes, rugelach, and all the burekas. They are under the supervision of Rabbi Landau of Bnei Brak. The factory only bakes them off and distributes them to the stores, or the stores bake them off and sell, whatever the case.
All other pastries, including the cookies, brownies, cheese cakes, and other scrumptious goodies are made in house. The same holds true for the quiches, salads, and many more items in the company’s extensive and ever-growing catering menu, which is dairy and parve items. The bagels by the way are 100% parve.
There are cream cheeses purchased from various companies, as well as soft and hard cheeses, pastry shells for petit fours, small pie shells, lasagna noodles, sauce mixes, powder base for muffins (made in house), cheddar cheese replica hard cheese (not real cheddar), other hard cheeses and many many more items. We did take a walk through the store room where dry ingredients are stored, and all the products were higher end hechsherim, with most being Eida Chareidit.
Hechsherim vary, covering a spectrum of many legitimate mehadrin agencies, including Belz Machzikei Hadas, Chug Chatam Sofer Bnei Brak, Chug Chatam Sofer Petach Tikvah, Rav Landau Bnei Brak, Eida Chareidit, Agudat Yisrael and Rav Rubin. For those who wish to know, the cheese cake for example is made only with cream cheese under Agudat Yisrael hechsher, the Tara cheese, since its flavor is more suitable for the cake than the Chug Chatam Sofer cream cheese, which is used elsewhere, including for the bagel and shmear.
Smoked salmon for example is either Rav Landau or Rav Rubin. The cream cheese could be Agudah, Rav Rubin or Chug Chatam Sofer Petach Tikvah. Orange juice is Belz, and fruits and vegetables are Jerusalem Rabbinate Mehadrin.
All bug-less greens are from the ‘approved’ companies, not just any brand, and they are soaked, rinsed and dried before use. Broccoli for quiches is the Bodek brand, the insect-free brand from the United States.
I can say manager Akiva Levine made an impression upon me, a shomer shabbat individual who appears to take his job seriously, from the quality perspective and kashrut as well. Rav Yanovitz had only words of praise for this young man, explaining to me in a number of situations his yirat shamayim (G-d fearing qualities) were put to the test, and he never wavered.
For any of you who may know Ze’ev or Aryeh, it is a no-brainer. Still exhibiting their American appearance, now somewhat masked under the maroon Holy Bagel polo shirts they usually sport, they are straight shooters, and while not every hecsher used may be suitable for you, they will tell you the deal, nothing hidden, no attempt to sweet talk anyone. They have integrity regarding the physical quality of their product as well as the spiritual side of the operation, and this is something that is painfully absent in too many businesses. They strive to find a comfort zone that meets both the kashrut and quality they seek, of course all items must be deemed suitable to the Jerusalem Rabbinate Mehadrin department. The bosses are aware that not all of the hechsherim used in their products meet everyone’s standard, and they will always try to make changes to accommodate a potential client, but what is important is you are dealing with trustworthy individuals, a major component in providing kashrut transparency.
They realize they could not possibly be exclusively under Rav Rubin or the Eida Chareidit, because they are not willing to abandon their popular broccoli quiche. The two agencies mentioned however will not permit the use of the broccoli, not even the insect-free brand. There are also other catering items they offer on the menu that would not be used by the two agencies.
Like the story read in Efrat [for the veteran readers], there is an obvious air of transparency that prevails, so you simply just need to ask and you will receive an explanation.
This factory has a good feel, from the daily mincha minyan to the constant presence of staff concerned with every aspect of production, and this pertains to kashrut too. Rav Yanovitz is present 5.5 hours daily. There are always religious Jews present on site, as well as the other mashgichim from the agencies of Rav Rubin and the Eida Chareidit, who come and go.
Regarding taking challah from the dough, and there is plenty, the mashgichim do this as well as a number of hand selected employees only. They all fill out a chart which is prominently displayed in the Bagel Room, and it is easy to see that this and other kashrut demands are adhered too with the stringency one expects and demands [and is entitled to]. The mashgiach deals with the fruits and vegetables, trumot and ma’asrot and also scrutinizes deliveries.
Aryeh told me it was not long ago that Rav Avraham spotted a number of items with an improper hechsher, including only a small quantity of oil, sent mistakenly by the supplier. They were set aside and returned. Aryeh explains he is quite rigorous regarding the inspection of all items entering the factory, as he should be.
By the way, the Modi’in store, like the Geula branch, is a franchise store, officially owned by someone else. The Modi’in branch is under Modi’in Rabbanut Mehadrin, Rabbi David Lau. I am not certain what hechsher the Ra’anana store maintains so I prefer not to say. These stores buy certain products from Holy Bagel, and the remainder is to be addressed with the respective hechsherim, not being addressed in this article. I can say the Geula branch is under the Eida Chareidit, and I have checked it on several occasions.
In short, the operation is serious and from a kosher point of view, transparent. I seem to make a big deal regarding transparency, while this should be a kashrut basic, but sadly, as we know, this is not the case today in many places, so when it is so obvious, I like to toot my horn on behalf of that company, in this case, Holy Bagel.
If there are hechsherim you do not care for, Aryeh explains he can, and has catered affairs using substitute products. He gave the Chug Chatam Sofer cream cheese as an example, replacing it with Rav Rubin cream cheese. One must remember however the affair is still not under Rabbi Rubin’s supervision, as Aryeh rightfully pointed out, but the ingredients are of a different menu, one that may be more suitable for some.
Rav Yanovitz explained that if one is willing to pay for the extra mashgichim one can actually have a catered affair under Rav Rubin’s supervision, but the menu is a bit more limited and the cost is commensurate with having a mashgiach escort the product from the factory to the hall or shul where an event is being held. These extra costs would be incurred under any supervision; since the rabbinical staff must be paid during the hours they work and accept responsibility for food during transport and during the event itself.
For more information, do not be bashful. You can call and speak to one of the company’s representatives, in Hebrew or English, and they will be all too pleased to answer your questions, or pass you to Rabbi Yanovitz for kashrut issues if need be, and even book your next affair.