More fun with Kosherness

Stephen Richer is a co-founder and director of Gather the Jews.  The opinions expressed in this post belong solely to Stephen.

On Wednesday, I asked why there aren’t more kosher restaurants in DC.  My answer — based on personal experience — was that the gatekeeper organization for the area (TheVaad) has absurd expectations and an unfriendly attitude toward aspiring kosher restraunteers.

The post got a bit of traffic, and many of you were kind enough to email me your personal stories, frustrations, or thoughts about the Vaad and kosher food in DC.

From these messages, I’ve learned a bit, and I figured I’d share it with you.

1) On Sixth & Rye

I asked how Sixth & Rye managed to get kosher certified given that Spike Mendelsohn owns a non-kosher restaurant (which is a no no according to the Vaad — absurd?).

It seems that Sixth & Rye did its due diligence and went to the Vaad first.  But it was rejected (maybe for the above reason?).  They then went to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom and Rabbi Y. Zvi Weiss of Baltimore, and, as shown in this letter, Herzfeld and Weiss certified Sixth & Rye as kosher.

2) On the Vaad rejecting Sixth & Rye

As noted above, I don’t know the reasons behind this, however, Rabbi Freundel (of Kesher) posted this to the Kesher board:

6th and sigh-sadly

Posted by: “Barry Freundel” dialectic@aol.com

Thu May 19, 2011 5:21 am (PDT)

Despite extensive negotiations between the Vaad and 6th and I the structure
necessary for us to grant supervision was unfortunately unattainable
as such the truck is sadly not recommended
I will make this the first question at Carlebach Q&A Friday night and if
requested at Seudah Shlishit
Rabbi Freundel

You can’t do fairer than that… offering to answer any question on it.  I imagine somebody will take up this task?

3) On Maoz

So in the comment section of the last post, we discussed Maoz — the vegetarian restaurant on M Street.   Supposedly it has some sort of kosher certification.  But I don’t know who gave it to them.  I don’t think it has a mashgiach on site, and it’s open on the Sabbath — a major no no in the kosher world.  So I don’t know about its level of kosherness.  I was told recently by one Jewish insider that, “Nobody who seriously eats kosher goes there.”  Is this true?

………

At the end of the day, this all goes to show that there is way too much confusion in the kosher world.  It needs clear guidelines that are public allow certifying agencies to easily enter and allow restauranteerss to know what the standards are.  This would enable a much more dynamic market that would better serve DC’s kosher needs.

 

10 replies
  1. A
    A says:

    I have seen many a Jew at Maoz. People who don’t go there are playing into the politics of the vaad and the orthodox infrastructure around such politics. We are in DC after all…

    Reply
  2. Will G
    Will G says:

    It’s more then just politics.

    I heard Rabbi Yisrael Steinberg of Lememsheret certified Maoz…This is indeed not a trusted heksher. Many restaurants certified by him are not Sabbath observant and do not serve glatt meat etc (people who seriously keep kosher would only eat glatt meat).

    Stephen, the halachos (laws) of kashrus are more involved than I think most people appreciate. The Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) is quite complex…If you are interested you could read something like Laws of Kashrut by Artscroll.

    The vaad is not deliberately trying to be difficult. Kosher is serious and adequate supervision is essential. There are other REPUTABLE kosher certifying agencies around though…I’m not saying that kashrus doesn’t get political though…At certain point it can get political (In Israel this is clearly evident).

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Will. It’s bothersome to met that it’s a smoke-filled room game. Nobody knows exactly how it works, and I don’t like that some certifications say yes to the things that some say no about (per the Sixth & Rye truck). This should make you feel uncomfortable as a kosher eater … because it takes certainty out of the equation.

      Re: the Vaad. I understand it has standards. But that’s no excuse for being unfriendly and unethusiastic when we went to it saying that we had the team; we had the money; and we had some experience. Pretty bad…

      Also, I think the regulation about not owing a non-kosher restaurant is absurd… Can explain logic if you’d like.

      Reply
  3. B
    B says:

    Will: Maoz is a vegan restaurant; there is no meat to talking about glatt is irrelevant. Also yes Maoz is not sabbath observant but I’m sure the factories that produced most of the OU products on your shelf are not sabbath observant either.

    Reply
    • Jon
      Jon says:

      I was under the impression that this only applied to places that were Jewish owned. Also, trader joe, giant and wegmans are all open on saturday, but people still buy hecshered food from it.

      Reply
  4. Avi
    Avi says:

    Stephen,

    If I had to guess (and I do mean guess), a larger problem with Spike’s restaurant was not just that he owned a non-kosher restaurant, but that he himself is Jewish AND the other restaurant was open on Shabbos. As for Maoz, even a vegan place would need supervision in matters like bug checking produce and the like.

    Kosher is complicated, and people have different standards. Having worked with a few different Vaads in my day, I can say that the Vaad tries to cover as many people as they can, which means holding stricter standards than some might expect to ensure that those with higher standards can eat at a place. I know many who work in Vaads and the like that have somewhat more lenient standards at home but stricter standards when they represent the agency.

    It’s a difficult balancing act and you can never really please everyone. At least Rabbi Freundel is willing to answer questions publicly about it, which, as you point out, is about as good as you can hope for.

    Reply
    • Stephen Richer
      Stephen Richer says:

      Agreed that it’s good of Freundel to explain it… sunshine is the best disinfectant. Open dialogue of ideas.

      Reply
  5. Jon
    Jon says:

    I understand the Vaad thing from the standpoint of you should not be allowed to shop for a kashrut certification. However the end result a lot of the time is that it makes keeping kosher a very socially restrictive activity. Its also a self fulfilling problem. Since no one can open a kosher place, less people want to keep kosher and since less people want to keep kosher, there is less demand.

    At some point I think those that keep kosher will need to address the issue of rent costs vs shabbat. Its very hard, almost impossible to run a restaurant when you never be open for one of the two biggest nights of the week, and depending on the time of sundown possibly the whole weekend. When you start to throw in all the other Yomtov’s it really ads up. The people renting out the building will rarely if ever care that you can’t be open.

    Reply

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