Peninat Ha’ir – Another Jerusalem Catering Horror Tale

25 Tammuz 5770
July 7, 2010
catering-photoFor those of you who have heard me speak of late, you are aware that I am now focusing on the caterers, an industry that seems to be operating with impunity regarding kashrut, simply hosting affairs in the religious community that lack a hechsher. Below is another story, with some of the identifying facts pertaining to the real victims changed to avoid disclosing the anguish they endured as they prepared for a recent family simcha.

I stress that the blame rests with us above all others, since our failure to demand transparency, a simple kosher certificate, clears the way for the unscrupulous individuals to dupe us.

The article is a bit wordy, so please; follow along and learn. Too many frum, Orthodox, chareidi, and dati-leumi folks are eating at affairs, each assuming the other religious guy at his/her side seems to be comfortable with the food, but this my dear friend is not a replacement for a legitimate kosher certificate, a teudat hechsher.

The Peninat Ha’Ir Hall located in the Talpiot section of Yerushalayim advertises itself as ‘Jerusalem Rabbanut mehadrin’, and the young couple that was seeking an acceptable hall that was in their price range felt lucky, as they signed on the dotted line, assured that both sides of the family would rejoice along with them knowing full well that the kashrut was in the trusting hand of Badatz Yoreh Deah, Rabbi Shlomo Machpud. (The family in this case reports they were told the hechsher is Badatz Yoreh Deah. When I phoned, I received a different response – read on).

At this point I would add that as one picks up a pen to sign a contract, one should first insist on seeing a valid kashrut certificate from the agency, in this case Yoreh Deah. This means a certificate that contains the four basic components of a kosher kashrut document:

1. It is an original and NOT a photocopy (NO excuses accepted here)
2. The name on the certificate matches the name advertised by the caterer
3. The address displayed on the certificate is that of the wedding hall, not some commissary located elsewhere.
4. It must be valid. Expired even by a day renders the document invalid.

Had the young couple done this, the story would have ended here.  They were negligent as are many, since we are trusting. Sorry, you are responsible for the kashrut of your guests. No place here for trust. You must see documentation. Failure to adhere to this simply requirement places you at blame.

BACK TO THE WEDDING STORY
One of the family members phoned the caterer and explained that while she too is pleased with the young couple’s decision, there are some family members (Ashkenazim) who do not eat this particular hechsher and she wished to inquire into how one can make arrangements to have some other food brought in to accommodate them.

The response was “no”, explaining that Rabbi Machpud is strict and only his hechsher is permitted and unfortunately, due to the priority given to kashrus in the hall, such a request cannot be honored.

It lands out that someone in the family is a neighbor of the mashgiach in charge of the hall, and he decided to visit his friend at his home, in the hope of using the famous Israeli Vitamin ‘P’rotektzia (it’s not what you  know but who you know) to see if an arrangement cannot be made. This visit took place a short time prior to the wedding, with the family member hoping he might be able to persuade the mashgiach to permit a limited quantity of food under a premium Ashkenazi hechsher for a number of guests who would not eat the Yoreh Deah delights.

At the same time, he asked his friend if he could accompany him, the mashgiach that is, to the actual wedding hall kitchen for a look at the kitchen, the hechsherim being used, and to meet the mashgiach who will supervise the affair. An agreement was struck and the two went to visit the hall to permit the family member to see what takes place behind the scenes, a visit that he was making with good intentions, hoping to allay the fears of all to permit everyone to enjoy the simcha and take part in the food.

Without actually listing the names of the various kashrut agencies, I will tell you dear reader that the family member was a bit surprised, for when he inspected the kitchen, he found it not only well-stocked, but it more resembled a supermarket meat section, containing products (poultry and meats) from an array of legitimate Ashkenazi and Sephardi hechsherim, a far cry from “we only permit Machpud”. (Once again, the mashgiach hid nothing, and is not at fault for the place is under a regular Rabbanut hechsher, not a mehadrin hechsher as claimed by the caterer).

This led to a few more questions which permitted the family to stumble onto the fact that that the caterer simply lied, something that occurs too often. The hall does indeed have a legitimate hechsher, that of the Jerusalem Rabbanut [regular, not mehadrin], and upon request, they will use whatever schita one seeks, but that is not tantamount to being under that kashrut organization’s supervision. Actually, it is a far cry from being under any mehadrin hechsher. 

To clarify the point, if you cook shabbos using chickens certified by a certain schita (pick the one you favor and insert here), you cannot tell guests “this shabbos is under the supervision of that agency”, but you can say, the chickens I bought and cooked are from that agency. Big difference! You are not under any agency’s supervision!

People at times question the schita and if the response meets their standard, they happily sit and eat. HELLO, what about the other ingredients, the fruits & vegetables, sauces, spices, grains, bug inspections, washing of greens, ovens and kitchen utensils, plates and silverware, kitchen staff (Jews, non-Jews, religious Jews, non-religious Jews) and much more!

BACK TO THE STORY AGAIN
Now in a panic, close to the wedding, the family began using their knowhow to inquire, and they confirmed what they hoped was not the case. The caterer tells a convincing tale and family in this case reports that a source at the Badatz Yoreh Deah confirmed this is not the first time this hall used their good name without authorization, misrepresenting the kashrut and once again, not asking to see a legitimate teudat kashrut or phoning the Yoreh Deah office to confirm the caterer’s claim led to a most difficult and unpleasant situation. (Once again, one cannot blame the Jerusalem Rabbinate or Badatz Yoreh Deah)

In this case, the family did hire a mashgiach who they described as a bulldozer, who came in [at considerable expense since the work days before the wedding were laborious] to bring the kashrut standard to one acceptable to the family.

I made some telephone calls today, Wednesday, July 07, 2010. The results follow:
1. According to the Jerusalem representative of Badatz Yoreh Deah, Rabbi Yonatan Amrani, the hall does not have the organization’s hechsher. (No surprise here)

2. According to Rabbi Shmuel Semelman of the Jerusalem Rabbinate, the hechsher on the hall in question is regular, not mehadrin. (no surprise here either)

3. A colleague with an Israeli accent called the hall, speaking with Meirav, and he was told the hechsher is Jerusalem Rabbinate Mehadrin, with an option of Machpud, Eida Chareidit, Mutsafi, Atara (schita of Beit Yosef), or Rubin. She said everything is mehadrin and you can call the mashgiach if you wish, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zamir.

4. I called Meirav with my American accent and was told the hechsher on the hall is Jerusalem Rabbinate mehadrin, and there are meats from Machpud, Mutsafi or Rubin, but there is an additional cost for Rubin.

5. I phoned Rabbi Yaakov Ruchamkin of the Rabbanut, who is a person responsible for the mashgichim of the halls, seeking to confirm that Rabbi Zamir does indeed work as the Rabbanut-appointed mashgiach. Since I already don’t trust the caterer, I wanted to make sure the guy they are sending me to is not the caterer’s brother or who knows what. Rabbi Ruchamkin confirmed that R’ Zamir is the rabbinate mashgiach, as well as confirming the hall has is NOT mehadrin, so no need to phone Rabbi Zamir since I just wished to make sure of my facts, that the caterer is telling a story.

All of this running around is not necessary. Just demand to see on original kosher certificate. If that supervising agency works for you, sign the contract. If not, don’t fall for the “Trust me’ routine, please! You owe it to your guests to make sure the event is what you believe.

Let’s even say that I don’t doubt for a moment that the meats and/or poultry may be what is claimed, but that is not a hechsher for a kitchen, catered function, wedding hall or anything else. In addition, once they do not tell the truth regarding the Rabbanut hechsher, seeking to paint a mehadrin picture in my mind, they lost any trust regarding their abilities to provide a kosher event on the standard I seek.

On two websites that I selected advertising the hall,
http://pninathair.dsites1.co.il/HTMLs/article.aspx?C2004=839&BSP=822&BSS21=839&BSCP=822 and http://pninat.index.co.il/, no mention is made of kashrus.

There is mention of menu, design, service, wheelchair accessibility, parking, security and more, but not kashrus, not in itself a crime, but just strengthening my point regarding the kashrut integrity of the place.

EPILOGUE
1. Some caterers compensate for their lack of Yiras Shomayim (Fear of G-d) by replacing it with their gift of gab.

2. When inquiring into the kashrut of a hall, restaurant, hotel, NEVER take the word of management of banquet manager, but you MUST speak to the rabbi or mashgiach. Banquet managers and caterers have one goal, book the event!

3. My apologies if any of your legitimate caterers are offended, for this is not directed at you. Actually, I am doing you a favor since these sinister individuals appear to have successfully infiltrated the capital and other areas, giving giving the kosher catering industry a bad name. Let’s get rid of them.

4. You MUST SEE a legitimate kashrut certificate. The most worrisome words are “trust me” and I am not kidding. A beard, peyot (sidelocks), the type of yarmulke (kippa) one wears is not a replacement for a kashrut certificate.

5. The booking folks will try to make you uncomfortable, placing you on the defensive with statements like “What’s the matter, you don’t trust me?” to which you respond, “No I do not” or “It is not a matter of trust. There is a way to go about things and I need to see the teudat kashrut before signing anything”.

I would like to see if this guy would trust the car company which promises a three-year warrantee without receiving the document in writing. Fat chance of that happening.

Con artists make a living by boxing us into a corner, compelling us to feel discomfort. “Trust me” — no thanks. I trust legitimate kosher agencies represented by their certificates. 

The next time a cop stops you and is about to issue you a summons for driving without a license try the “trust me” line with him. He may even believe you forgot your wallet, but there is a way of going about things, and you must have the TEUDAH, in this case the drivers’ license when you operate a car. The caterer must have his TEUDAH when he operates his kitchen. Actually, not complicated at all. 
Folks, it is time to regain control and send these fakes on their way. No kosher certificate, no deal. Go to another hall. Do not have your simcha marred to save a few shekels. Whatever the kosher certifying agency, that the kashrut, nothing else. Yes, you may select a particular schita, but that alone does not raise the kosher operating level of the commissary.

Remember, you are not just feeding yourself but many guests, family members, community rabbonim and so-forth, so your decision will impact many. It is an awesome responsibility and the kashrut end of your affair deserves at least the same attention as the band, flowers, photographer and color scheme receive – don’t you agree?

If you wish to do something, call Peninat Ha’Ir (02- 673-4894/5) and ask what hechsher they have. Whatever the response, politely ask if they can fax a photocopy of the kashrut certificate to you. I advise you do not spend too much time waiting by your fax for the document.

In short, this entire painful ordeal could have been avoided, and you can avoid it in the future too. Demand to see a valid kosher certification. That is the level of the kashrut.

All the testimonies, statements and promises do not add to the level of kashrut. It’s really that simple. This holds true for you when attending an affair as a guest as well, no certificate or mashgiach to verify the statements of the kitchen staff, then you are sitting down and eating blindly.

10 Comments

  • Paul
    July 7, 2010 - 12:57 | Permalink

    In Israel, is it always the case that the hall that is booked provides the kashrus (if under supervision)?

    Can you not book your own caterers (with your level of supervision) and they will come into any hall and provide their own hashgocho?

  • yechiel-admin
    July 7, 2010 - 15:55 | Permalink

    FROM A READER – Hi Yechiel

    I phoned and asked what Kasrut/Hechsher they have and they told me , when asking if they can fax me a copy , they told they could not fax a copy but I could come and check it there .
    The persons name is Meirav

  • yechiel-admin
    July 7, 2010 - 17:30 | Permalink

    FROM A READER:
    Amazing that you are doing the work that “frum” journalists should have been reporting in their weekly papers for years…

  • yechiel-admin
    July 7, 2010 - 17:30 | Permalink

    FROM A READER:
    Recently, we went to a wedding catered by mesamchim caterers.We had been told that it was under the eidah charedit. When we got there, (it was in a park),we found the mashgiach,and he confirmed that he brought the food ,and it was eida charedit. However, he said that he had not borught the dishes or silverware,and he didn’t know where it came from. the manager said it was also eida charedit.We thought it was very strange that the caterer did not bring the serving things.

  • yechiel-admin
    July 7, 2010 - 17:32 | Permalink

    FROM A READER: Excellent article!
    I also liked the article you reprinted on Mehadrin chickens written by HaRav Malinowitz.

    It is about time that the Chutznikim, specially, start thinking what they eat….
    Behazlacha!

  • yechiel-admin
    July 7, 2010 - 18:35 | Permalink

    FROM A READER:
    Thank you for informing the public about the disgusting situation with some of the so-called “Kosher L’Mehadrin” caterers. I was so incensed about the whole thing that I just went to their website and sent them a message of my personal outrage. I also told them that I plan on letting everyone I know to avoid using their catering services.
    I want to thank you again for the wonderful important service that you provide the community!

  • Menachem
    July 8, 2010 - 00:34 | Permalink

    I am soo confused and upset. I live chutz laaretz and my son has made aliyah and is IY”H getting married this summer. They (together with my mechutan) booked the Hadar D Mall in Ramat Gan. I am told that it is mehadrin. It’s listed in Koogle http://www.koogle.co.il/English/Business/Halls/Hadar-DMall and says hashgacha is “HaEida HaCharedit, Harabanut Mehadrin, Harav Lando – BB, Harav Rubin”. Are you familiar with this?

    I am getting upset and confused reading your various posts about fraud. Israel seems like the “wild west”.

    Michael

  • yechiel-admin
    July 8, 2010 - 07:58 | Permalink

    I looked in the Eida Chareidit handbook published this past Pesach, their latest publication, and the hall you mention based on the website (which I visited too) does not fall under supervision of the Eida Chareidit. I guess to be absolutely certain, one should phone and ask if that hall is under the supervision. (Your son may call them at 02-670-0205).

    I beleive, or at least I understand the website as telling me that all the different shechitas mentioned are availalbe, similar to the article above, and I guess for the unintiated, seeing the word “kosher” followed by the various high-end agencies would lead you to believe as you did, but remember, the kashrut agecnies are NOT responisble for Koogle.

  • yechiel-admin
    July 8, 2010 - 11:26 | Permalink

    FROM A READER:
    Years ago a local charedi family made a wedding in Haifa and paid extra for shmitta veggies and everything fleishig glatt, a special mashgiach etc. so that the guests (and they themselves) could eat there.

    A short trip to the mashgiach’s office before the chuppah notified us that the only thing really mehadrin was.. the herring!

    PS none of the chosheve guests cared, everyone still took the word of the father of the chosson who was obviously fooled, and they all ate everything! So some people don’t want to know all this…

  • yoni
    July 8, 2010 - 16:29 | Permalink

    “It is about time that the Chutznikim, specially, start thinking what they eat….”

    Excuse me? I challenge you to find a Hebrew language web site which provides the same services as JKN. “Chutznikim” are apparently at the forefront of these kashrus issues in Israel!

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