Kosher Kontroversy: In Defense of the Va’ad

On this site and around town the past several weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about the Va’ad certification policies, in general and in regards to the Sixth & Rye truck, specifically. What I’ve heard about the truck since the first day it opened, however, has made me glad I never compromised my kashrut standards by patronizing it.

There are several issues with the truck that I’ll take on one by one, in no particular order:

  • The Va’ad were approached only after an opening date was set for the truck. This set them on a time crunch, and also made it clear that the owners of the truck were opening with or without the Va’ad go-ahead. Why should the Va’ad bend over backwards for people who didn’t care anyway?  The Va’ad did their best, but still couldn’t come to an agreement that both sides felt comfortable with.
  • The truck is used for non-Kosher operations the rest of the week. This is hugely problematic from a kashrut perspective. As anyone who has kashered a kitchen knows, it’s a huge undertaking. To expect to do this switch every week with no problems is asking for a lot of trust, something most serious Kosher-keeping Jews don’t lend blindly.
  • The operator of the truck operates both the Kosher side and the non-Kosher side of the business. It’s Friday afternoon. The line is around the block, and, oh crap, you’ve run out of Kosher mustard. The mashgiach is busy on the other side of the truck talking to a customer. One quick move, and we can keep the line moving with mustard from the non-Kosher fridge. Who cares? It’s just mustard. Is this a far fetched scenario? If you know why the DCJCC’s cafe shut down a few years ago, you’d know that it’s not.
  • The owner of the truck doesn’t attempt to keep Kosher himself. Many people believed that this was discriminatory and that it’s not fair to expect an owner to keep Kosher him or herself. With the cost of keeping Kosher, there is no incentive to keep everything strictly on the up-and-up if the social pressure and spiritual cost is non-existent if rules are bent.
  • The owner of the truck doesn’t seem to have much respect for Kosher rules in the first place. At an event in 2008 at 6th & I, Spike Mendelsohn was asked to showcase latke recipes that his family uses during Hanukkah. For one of the chosen recipes, Spike disclosed his secret ingredient: Jello. When someone yelled to the stage that this was not Kosher, Mendelsohn laughed off the complaint and joked that this kind of Jello was Kosher. While some do hold that Jello is Kosher, Mendelsohn’s response indicates a level of disrespect and ignorance for the ins-and-outs of the Kosher market.
  • The certifying rabbi was out of the country on the truck’s inaugural day. No matter how organized and put together anyone is, the first day opening any restaurant, Kosher or not, is a madhouse. The opening of the Sixth & Rye truck was no different. The certifying rabbi, originally from Baltimore, was nowhere to be found on the day of the truck’s launch.
  • Only a few weeks after the truck’s launch, interested parties received an email about the truck opening especially for Shavuot. Normally, the truck is only operational on Fridays. The week of Shavuot (the holiday began on Tuesday night and lasted through Wednesday and Thursday) would not have impeded their operational schedule. The Sixth & Rye team, however, decided to open the truck specially for an event at 6th & I on Tuesday night, which began less than two hours before the holiday started. This holiday is one in which no money can be exchanged or work performed. When the certifying rabbi was contacted about the problem, he seemed unaware of the truck’s special (and incredibly problematic) schedule change that week. Owners need to ask if they are within their kashrut agreement to change anything, not warn the rabbi to respond.

While the Va’ad made every effort to work with the operators and owners of the truck, I believe they made the right move in deciding not to give it their stamp of approval. Making the determination that the truck was strictly Kosher was not one that they could make, given the situation as it stood. When, several weeks later, the Shavuot problem presented itself, I believe the Va’ad were vindicated in their decision.

While it is preferable to have as many Kosher options in the city as possible, Jews have to feel comfortable that the Va’ad are taking every possible precaution to ensure that their Kashrut is of the highest authority. It is not the Va’ad’s job to open more restaurants. Given several debacles that have occurred in recent years with Kosher restaurants and operations in Washington and the surrounding area, the Va’ad is not only justified, but required, to ensure that their certification is trusted by everyone in the Jewish community.

Bethany S. Murphy is a member of and regular at Kesher Israel and a fundraiser for a conservative think tank here in DC.

42 replies
  1. Mark
    Mark says:

    Bethany, I think you raise a lot of reasonable concerns with the truck. I was really upset that the truck wasn’t certified by the Vaad because I thought it was all politics, but its pretty clear that neither Spike nor 6th&I really cared enough about kashrus.

    Reply
  2. Kenny
    Kenny says:

    Bethany, you raise some interesting points I had not considered. However, just because the Vaad wouldn’t certify it, doesn’t mean the food isn’t kosher. Allow me to deconstruct your argument point-by-point:

    The Va’ad were approached only after an opening date was set for the truck.
    – What is the process for getting the Va’ad to certify as kosher? Are their rules well-known, posted, and easily understood? Is there a checklist of if you do X, Y, and Z, we will certify you? What date was the Va’ad approached and when was the opening day set? It seems to me that if the date is set months or even weeks in advance, that should be sufficient time.

    The truck is used for non-Kosher operations the rest of the week.
    – Is the food prepared in the truck or simply delivered from the truck? It would seem to me that if the food were prepared elsewhere, sealed, and delivered in the truck, the food would remain kosher.

    The operator of the truck operates both the Kosher side and the non-Kosher side of the business.
    – Is the operator secretly sprinkling in bacon? Intentionally using non-kosher mustard? Isn’t it permissible to own kosher and non-kosher restaurants alike? The lessons of the DCJCC don’t mean that will happen again – in fact – it makes it less likely due to the possibility of such an endeavor receiving bad publicity.

    The owner of the truck doesn’t attempt to keep Kosher himself.
    – I’m not familiar with the kosher law saying that the owner of a kosher joint must keep kosher themselves. In fact, I belong to an Orthodox shul (Ohev Shalom) and on Shabbes there are non-Jews serving the food. Is the food not kosher? Can only a kosher Jew serve kosher food? And, by the way, our rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld certified our kitchen without the Va’ad, and I have never seen any congregant or guest hesitate to eat the food in our shul.

    The owner of the truck doesn’t seem to have much respect for Kosher rules in the first place.
    – This is complete hearsay. If we accept he even said this, making a joke does not mean he’s out to falsely sell kosher food in an elaborate scheme to get kosher-keeping Jews to eat trayf.

    The certifying rabbi was out of the country on the truck’s inaugural day.
    – The rabbi’s reputation is on the line. If he feels it is kosher and doesn’t attend inaugural day, he must be quite confident that it is kosher.

    Only a few weeks after the truck’s launch, interested parties received an email about the truck opening especially for Shavuot.
    – Does this make the food not-kosher?

    I believe we should be doing more as observant Jews to be inclusive. It seems there are several other authorities that are willing and qualified to certify kosher. The Va’ad is going to find itself irrelevant if it insists upon such harsh and extraordinary standards for the DC community that is starving for more kosher options. In the words of Rabbi Herzfeld when speaking of the kosher food truck: “The food is kosher; the politics is not!”

    Reply
  3. Kenny
    Kenny says:

    Reposted from: http://blogs.forward.com/the-jew-and-the-carrot/138334/#ixzz1OVwVh1PP

    June 3, 2011, 11:27am
    Sixth and Rye Food Truck Rolls Over D.C. Kosher Politics
    By Rabbi Jason Miller

    This post first appeared on the Huffington Post Religion page.

    Kosher certification in the nation’s capital has become much like everything else in D.C.: political and divisive. The Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington has long had a monopoly on kosher certification and it doesn’t want to give up its stronghold anytime soon.

    Over the past several decades, reports have surfaced of the Vaad refusing to certify sit-down restaurants as kosher because it will lead to socializing between single Jewish men and women (which could in turn violate strict Jewish law). The Vaad even insists on charging for its own certification on top of already established certifications. As Jay Lehman recently wrote to the editor of the Washington Post, “The Vaad has made it clear that other kosher-certifying authorities are not welcome in the area to supervise these establishments. In addition, all kosher meat and poultry wholesale suppliers who wish to sell to kosher establishments are expected to submit to Vaad supervision, even if they are already certified by another nationally recognized kosher certifier.”

    These tactics, which seem to violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, have come to light as a result of the local D.C. Vaad refusing to grant a kosher certificate to Sixth and Rye, the new food truck run by the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. Last year, the non-denominational congregation offered an iPad as a prize to the individual who came up with the synagogue’s next big idea. The winning submission was a kosher deli restaurant housed in a truck to jump on the country’s trend of food trucks that roll out at certain times as announced via a Twitter feed.

    The main reason the synagogue leaders launched the Sixth and Rye food truck wasn’t because they thought D.C. needed another kosher restaurant (though it does), but rather to increase its out-of-the-building engagement with local Jews in the District. The plan was to run the food truck at lunch each Friday afternoon. Everything seemed to be in place after they found a truck to rent, arranged for it to be made strictly kosher, purchased the signage and contracted with celeb “Top Chef” contestant Spike Mendelsohn. The only thing that kept Sixth and Rye from opening as planned was the local Vaad’s refusal to certify the truck.

    The popular synagogue, which functions more like a Jewish center with no membership, only had the best of intentions. In creating Sixth and Rye, they were planning to reach out to young Jews and provide a delicious, kosher deli lunch to workers in downtown Washington. The Vaad, in refusing to certify the food truck as kosher, missed a great opportunity. Thankfully, along came a rabbi from Baltimore who agreed to give Sixth and Rye his hekhsher (kosher seal of approval).

    Rabbi Y. Zvi Weiss, the Baltimore kosher certifier, essentially broke the Vaad’s monopoly when he gave the food truck his OK. Hopefully, this will demonstrate to Washington’s kosher observant community that alternative options to the Vaad exist. With more than one kosher certifying agency in our nation’s capital there will be more kosher restaurants and a price decrease on kosher food. The Washington Post article about Sixth and Rye painted a clear picture of the misperceptions in the kosher marketplace. It reported that a young Washington local called the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington and was told that they were not certifying the truck, so he didn’t bother getting in line to order his deli lunch. If the Vaad doesn’t certify it, he was certain it couldn’t be kosher. Alternatively, he could have inquired about the food truck’s certification and then learned from Baltimore’s Rabbi Weiss about his supervision and standards thereby making an informed decision.

    Unfortunately, the local Vaad in D.C. (and in many other communities around the country) has convinced people that only they have the power to pronounce what is kosher. This only leads to ignorance and knee-jerk reactions. When I spoke to Esther Safran Foer, the director of Sixth and I, she told me that another Orthodox rabbi in town sent a letter of support to her. Not only that, but he promoted the kosher food truck on his Facebook page and then bought over a dozen sandwiches for the Torah class he teaches on Capitol Hill.

    Kudos to Sixth and I Historic Synagogue for putting this innovative idea in motion. In addition to the convenience of kosher deli lunches once a week in downtown Washington, perhaps this food truck will jump start a national conversation to curtail the political nature of kosher certification. While these local Orthodox kosher certification agencies may enjoy their monopoly, some competition will be best for the consumers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in the future the only thing Sixth and I had to worry about with their food truck was whether they had enough challah on hand to serve the hundreds in line?

    Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/the-jew-and-the-carrot/138334/#ixzz1PNTHzcrn

    Reply
  4. Anonymous (except to the GTJ admins)
    Anonymous (except to the GTJ admins) says:

    Most of these are valid, but I have one correction and one comment:

    1) If it’s true that the chief certifying rabbi was out of the country at the opening, it shouldn’t matter, as a member of his staff (a very reputable rabbi in his own right) was indeed on site at the opening. It’s not as if there was no mashgiach there.

    2) So what if Spike revealed that he used Jell-O in his latkes 3 years ago? It’s not even clear that he’s the truck’s owner. It’s entirely possible Sixth and I is just using his star power to bring in customers, which is perfectly legitimate. This point has no bearing on the legitimacy of the kashrut today.

    Those being said, the last point is the most problematic, and should be of concern to kosher keeping patrons.

    Reply
  5. David
    David says:

    @Kenny,

    Actually, the restriction regarding owning kosher and non-kosher facilities *is* a major requirement of the va’ad of greater washington. There have been many, many cases, including a highly-publicized incident involving a cruise, where ownership of both kosher and non-kosher facilities directly led to the kosher establishment serving non-kosher food.

    With regard to gentiles serving food on shabbat, I have always been troubled by the concept of the “shabbos goy” – it seems pretty much to directly conflict with the fourth of the aseret hadibrot (ten commandments), which directly states that the gentiles in our midst should not be doing work on our behalf either.

    Finally, with regard to the person keeping kosher himself, this goes to the concern regarding ne’emanut (trustworthyness) – a person who is not shomer shabbat is not acceptable under normal circumstances as a witness; so too, one who is publicly known to not observe kashrut calls into question his or her ne’emanut in this line of work.

    I do not know whether the food in the truck is kosher. However, the concerns that Bethany is raising point, to me, to a need for a *higher* level of supervision of this establishment rather than a lower one.

    Reply
  6. Sarah Brodsky
    Sarah Brodsky says:

    I don’t know much about this particular truck, but I’m not sure I get the objection that the owner doesn’t keep kosher. Lots of kosher restaurants out there are owned or managed by non-Jews. That is part of the point of having kashrut supervision.

    Reply
  7. Allison
    Allison says:

    I think the WaPo article showed one of the most problematic issues with the truck :

    “The synagogue, which plans to operate the truck each Friday, insists it will be run on strict kosher principles. Each Thursday, the truck will be thoroughly scrubbed with hot water, and the stainless steel counters will be covered with butcher paper. The utensils, all of which have been dipped in a mikvah, a purifying bath, will be segregated by use. Ingredients, all kosher, will be stored in locked cabinets and coolers in the synagogue’s kitchen.”

    Generally, a kitchen is thoroughly cleaned then left to sit for 24 hours before kashering. This clearly isn’t being done.

    Also, judging from the ads I received for the Shavuot event made it seem the food would be available into the start of the Chag. To assume the best, I figured the food was prepared in advance in the Sixth & I synagogue and the truck wouldn’t be involved. I guess I was wrong.

    Reply
  8. Salem
    Salem says:

    Wow, was this post poorly named. A “[d]efense of the Va’ad”? How about “Criticism of Sixth & I”?

    And for those of you concerned about the last point, the truck did not actually operate the Tuesday night of Shavuot.

    I think that kosher-keeping Jews (which I consider myself) should definitely only eat what they feel comfortable eating. But I don’t understand slavish adherence to one authority.

    Reply
  9. Lazar
    Lazar says:

    Thanks for this article, Bethany.

    It’s quite a leap to argue, as some do, that the Vaad is primarily concerned about retaining its monopoly. If this was the problem, and not any substantive Kashrut issue, why would they not just give a hechsher in the first place? These rabbis would like there to be more Kosher options as much as anyone else, as it would make it easier to keep Kosher, and would add to the local Jewish community.

    I would patronize Sixth and Rye every week if they would only get a Vaad hashgacha. If enough people in town express this to the owners, they might be willing to swallow their pride and sit down with the Vaad again for purely financial reasons. But until then, I’m not lowering my standards, as tempting as it might be.

    Reply
  10. Will
    Will says:

    Great article, Bethany. I think this article carefully examined the issues involved. Of course it is to be expected that most people will allow emotions and temptation make their decision for them, but anyone who is serious about their kashrus should now be easily able to see that there are many problems with the food truck.

    Reply
  11. dc
    dc says:

    First, any additions to kosher options in the DC area should be applauded. If a rabbi of an orthodox shul or a conservative shul in the DC area is satisifed it is kosher, it is kosher enough for me. There should be a variety of kashrut authorities and not just one that has a monopoly.

    At the end of the day, it seems that everyone needs to make a determination for themseleves about whether they are satisfied with the level of kashrut. What is unacceptable is that there is only one authority that believes it has the power to determine whether something it is kosher. Such monopoly leads to high prices and unfair competition.

    Reply
  12. Will
    Will says:

    Obviously there is no monopoly as the food truck was able to get certified by someone else. Don’t kvetch and moan that some agency decided not to certify something. They r under no obligation to do so.

    Reply
  13. H
    H says:

    Salem, the truck only didn’t open AFTER someone called the rabbi to complain that it was going to be open. That is when Sixth and I sent out an e-mail saying that their plans had changed and that the truck would not be open on shavuous. An accouncment made at an event at Sixth and I earlier in the week made it abundantly clear that the plan was to have the truck open on the holiday. There were no two ways about that.

    Sarah Brodsky, the point is that if the truck is owned by someone who does not keep kosher they need to be willing to comply with the strictures of the Vaad to supervise them. In this case the Vaad’s argument is that they were given a very short window in which to come up with a set of rules that would work for this unique circumstance (a truck that is traif the rest of the week) and that the owners and workers assocaited with the truck were not at all willing to cooperate with them.

    Also the truck is not owned and managed by non-jews, that would be better. Non-jews don’t have to keep kosher, so they are not showing their own disrespect toward kashrus by not keeping kosher. The whole problem in this case, according to the Vaad, is that based on their investigations the owner of the truck is in fact Jewish and doesn’t keep kosher.

    Allison, at a 6th and I event earlier in the week a representative of Sixth and I said in no uncertian terms that the truck would be open on Shavuous. Now that could possibly of have been a mistake on their part. BUT it seems very telling that a member of the community called the Rabbi giving the truck a hechser and to ask about this event and the Rabbi didn’t know the facts. And then the event was cancled within a few hours of that phone call.

    The Vadd does not appear to be playing politics here. It is merely people who have a poltical ax to grind agaisnt the Vaad trying to attack them. If you don’t like the Vaad and aren’t going to listen to it anyway, why do you also need to slime and defame them? They have no power over you. This truck is open and is serving food, if you think its kosher or don’t care about kashurs the Vaad cannot stop you from eating there. It seems like some sort of deep rooted hatred that I cannot find a reasonable way to explain.

    Reply
  14. Bob
    Bob says:

    The VAAD has always been a symbol of curruption and greed. They have changed there rules so many times because they do not wish the business to go to any outside kashrus organization. They tried to undermine anyone who used to STAR K which is one of the best standards in the country.
    Let us not forget the immaturity of Rabbi freundel who is still angry at OHEV Shalom for taking the national syanagogue name as he tried to undermine any one who Rabbi Herzfeld stands behind.
    Perhaps Rabbi Freundel can explain why OHEV Shalom is not listed on the Kesher Israel website as a synagogue in the area,

    Reply
    • Scott
      Scott says:

      *Sigh*

      “The VAAD has always been a symbol of curruption and greed.”
      – There is no evidence to support this incredible statement.

      “They have changed there rules so many times because they do not wish the business to go to any outside kashrus organization.”
      – Which rules have changed? This also sounds made up. You are also unfairly assigning a motive, again, for which there is no evidence.

      “They tried to undermine anyone who used to STAR K which is one of the best standards in the country.
      – There is no evidence to support this incredible statement (the undermining part, not the Star K being reputable part).

      “Let us not forget the immaturity of Rabbi freundel who is still angry at OHEV Shalom for taking the national syanagogue name as he tried to undermine any one who Rabbi Herzfeld stands behind.”
      – This is unsubstantiated slander.

      “Perhaps Rabbi Freundel can explain why OHEV Shalom is not listed on the Kesher Israel website as a synagogue in the area, ”
      – Because Ohev (or if you prefer, OHEV) is suburban. Kesher’s website says it’s the only orthodox synagogue in the *downtown* area (although Chabad is also downtown).

      Reply
      • Bob
        Bob says:

        Actually Kesher lists all Silver Spring synagogues on its website. Rabbi Freundel deliberately omits Ohev Shalom. There is even a rumor that he was trying to get the State of Israel not to recognize the conversions of Rabbi Herzfeld.
        The VAAD at first did not want to certify the Soupergirl until they thought it would be done by another kashrus organization.

        Reply
        • Scott
          Scott says:

          “Actually Kesher lists all Silver Spring synagogues on its website. Rabbi Freundel deliberately omits Ohev Shalom.”
          – Indeed there is, I was incorrect. However, the absence of Ohev proves absolutely nothing about anyone’s motives. In fact, it’s missing other area shuls, as well. The simplest explanation is that the page hasn’t been updated in a while.

          “There is even a rumor that he was trying to get the State of Israel not to recognize the conversions of Rabbi Herzfeld.”
          – You call it a rumor yourself! Again, this is unsubstantiated slander.

          “The VAAD at first did not want to certify the Soupergirl until they thought it would be done by another kashrus organization.”
          – And the Vaad still doesn’t certify Soupergirl (which I had to Google).

          Are you on the Vaad? Can you personally attest to any of the rabbis’ motivations?

          Reply
  15. H
    H says:

    Rabbi Fruendel has no reason “undermine” anything that Rabbi Hertzfled works on, and there is no evidence that he has ever attempted to do so. As far as I can tell the two have almost nothing to do with one another as they serve very different constituencies. The shuls are not within walking distance of one another and are not directly competing for members. Not only do they serve different geographic locations they also are ideologically and theologically diverse enough that there is not a tremendous danger that they are pulling from the same small group of people. It seems that there might be more theological overlap between Ohev and Rosh Pinah but that doesn’t affect Kesher one way or the other.

    The one recent instance where the two Rabbis did clash was over the lawsuit against D.C. regarding the recent city council elections. You can make up your own mind about that law suit (in its many stages) but I for one am glad that the Jewish community was not monolithic in its litigiousness over this issue.

    Reply
  16. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    “First, any additions to kosher options in the DC area should be applauded. If a rabbi of an orthodox shul or a conservative shul in the DC area is satisifed it is kosher, it is kosher enough for me. There should be a variety of kashrut authorities and not just one that has a monopoly.”

    This is exactly the stance of most Jews in this city, and it’s why we don’t have any more Kosher options in this town – people only care about “Kosher enough” and are perfectly satisfied eating out dairy or vegetarian.

    The Va’ad isn’t stopping anyone, clearly, from certifying less than perfect Kosher operations – they didn’t even try with the Sixth & Rye truck. For those more serious about Kashrut, however, the Va’ad has to be counted on to be of the highest and most strict authority. They’ve held up their promise by not lowering their standards to be “Kosher enough.”

    Reply
    • dc
      dc says:

      First, the point I made was that if it is kosher for an orthodox rabbi, it is certainly kosher enough for me.

      My grandfather was, years ago, a wholesale kosher butcher in London. He won a contract to supply Cunard Lines but the local rabbi wanted payment in order not to declare the goods treif, even though the goods were strictly kosher and certified by the London Beth Din. Unforutnately, it is too easy to hold businesses hostage and that is why competition among kosher certifying authorities is good. Everyone has to decide for themselves if it is kosher enough for them.

      I am sorry that you find the sixth and rye kosher truck not kosher enough for you – personally, their product was the best I have tasted in a long time and I applaud 6th and I and 6th and Rye for bringing more choice to the Jewish community in DC. If it is kosher enough for Rabbi Herzfeld it is good enough for me.

      Reply
    • Kenny
      Kenny says:

      It very healthy that we as Jews are having this debate. The Va’ad is not the only authority able to certify kosher food. In the end, it all comes down to trust. As a congregant of Ohev Shalom, I trust Rabbi Herzfeld’s judgment. To me, the food is kosher, the politics is not.

      Reply
  17. H
    H says:

    DC, I beleive your orriginal comment stated “First, any additions to kosher options in the DC area should be applauded. If a rabbi of an orthodox shul or a conservative shul in the DC area is satisifed it is kosher, it is kosher enough for me”

    That is that Bethany was righly responding to.

    Reply
    • dc
      dc says:

      Thanks H 🙂

      I forgot to add “a conservative rabbi” as well as “an orthodox rabbi.” 🙂 Seriously, I think it is fine if the Vaad does not want to approve this truck. That in the end is their choice. The point I was trying to make is it is good to have more than one certifying kashrut authority in the community – that allows more options, and allows the consumer to choose depending on their own level of tolerance. Sounds like the free market to me 🙂

      For me, Rabbi Hertzfeld’s acceptence of the kashrut standard is enough for me to say I will eat there.

      Reply
  18. Allison
    Allison says:

    I’d like to give a brief history of Vaad.

    Before the Vaad became involved in kashrut, there were many different “rabbis” giving hechsherim in the DC area with varying degrees of reliability. In order to establish a community standard of kashrut, the Vaad, which already maintained the Beit Din, established a kashrut arm. The rabbis who run the Vaad do not receive a salary; it is a volunteer organization. Any claim that the Vaad is “greedy” is categorically false. The only people who are paid by the Vaad are the mashgichim (food supervisors at the kosher establishments). In other words, the more Kosher restaurants the DC area has, the more jobs the Vaad can support. This could only be positive in the Vaad’s opinion.

    As the case in point shows, the Vaad appears to be correct in not recommending other hechsherim in the area. Their standards tend to be laxer than the standards to which the DC kosher community has been accustomed and what is held within many people’s homes within the community. If the establishment wanted to maintain the high level of kashrut expected within this community, then the Vaad would be certifying it right now.

    For questions regarding why the Vaad doesn’t even allow the Star-K to cater by itself in Washington, here’s the answer: the two agencies handle meat differently. I forget exactly what is different, but the Vaad holds more stringently than the Star-K when it comes to meat.

    As for claims that “any Orthodox rabbi’s” opinion is fine, I would strongly disagree. The gemara says that dairy loaves of bread aren’t permitted, although there are hechshers given by Orthodox rabbis to dairy bread (including by one Orthodox rabbi in the DC area unaffiliated with the Vaad). Most Orthodox Jews in the DC area did not trust the hechsher of this rabbi, including many in his own congregation and thus did not eat food certified by him. There are other examples of hechsherim around the US with less stringent kashrut standards.

    Reply
    • Bob
      Bob says:

      I know of one particular incident where the VAAD had a policy of not having an interest in a non kosher establishment and when the proprieter threatened to go to the STAR K (gold standard) the VAAD changed there policy. It does not take much for them to sell out I guess.

      Reply
  19. David
    David says:

    •The Va’ad were approached only after an opening date was set for the truck.

    The Va’ad should be more user-friendly, and find ways to make these things work.

    •The truck is used for non-Kosher operations the rest of the week.

    Because it’s rented. The truck serves two (prepared) sandwiches (and neither requires cooking), and is kashered by the mashgiach before being used. This is not an issue.

    •The owner of the truck doesn’t seem to have much respect for Kosher rules in the first place.

    Right. That’s why there’s a mashgiach, who does care. The owner isn’t in charge of kashrut.

    •Only a few weeks after the truck’s launch, interested parties received an email about the truck opening especially for Shavuot.

    Silliness– the truck was not open on Shavuot, nor could the mashgiach have worked on Shavuot.

    The bottom line is that these arguments go nowhere. There is a reliable certification, and a mashgiach on full-time duty. It’s all well and good to attack the owner for his supposed impiety, or 6th and I for not conforming to your particular standards, but, in the end, this amounts to an attack on R’ Weiss, who provided the certification. If you’re going to write articles like this, you should have gone so far as to check with him before dishing on an operation that he certifies.

    Reply
  20. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Ms. Murphy undermines her own argument in raising the example of the former DCJCC restaurant. This restaurant was overseen by the Va’ad Harabanim of Greater Washington, yet the operators were corrupt enough to replace Kosher meat with non-Kosher meat. I’m unclear how this supports the notion that Va’ad certification is the only way to ensure proper Kashrut.
    Also, there are several factual errors. One example: according to several articles, including those referenced in the beginning of Ms. Murphy’s piece, the truck is not owned by Spike Mendelsohn, but by one Jeff Kelly. A second example: I received the Sixth&I e-mail about Shavuot, which stated that “food from the Sixth & Rye food truck” would be served at Shavuot. This did not necessarily mean that the truck would be there; it serves several items — like Dr. Brown’s soda and cookies from Sunflower Bakery — that are Kosher under separate hechsher. This raises the question of whether Ms. Murphy even contacted Sixth & I to confirm her “facts.” I suspect not. Rather than gathering the Jews, she seems to want to throw some of them under the truck.

    Reply
    • Allison
      Allison says:

      dc,

      The owners of the restaurant did not knowingly serve nonkosher meat. In fact, the owners were very much hurt financially when nonkosher meat was brought in.

      Here’s what happened: The restaurant was running out of meat one evening, so the manager (not the owner) instructed some employees to buy meat and smuggle it in. They were then instructed to not let the mashgiach know what they were doing. They returned with meat, hidden in bags or backpacks, and proceeded to open the packages of meat. They tried prevent the masgiach from observing what they were doing, but the mashgiach found nonkosher meat wrappers in the trash. When these were found, the mashgiach immediately shut down the restaurant and all patrons were required to leave immediately. The Vaad immediately revoked the hechsher.

      That is exactly what a mashgiach and the Vaad are supposed to do. The issue was found almost immediately, and proper action was taken.

      Please don’t make accusations against owners who were stripped of their livelihoods by terrible employees.

      Reply
        • H
          H says:

          To add to Allisons point at the JCC the Mashgiach was in a position to catch the violation and respond accordingly. The specific fear was that becuase Sitx and Rye’s inability or refusal to meet the VAAD requests a Masgiach working there would be a worse situation than the a maschigach at the JCC and he would not be able to catch such a violation.

          More than one person here has posted that the owner of the truck, cook, manager, (whoever) doesn’t matter becuase it is the Mashgiach’s job to supervise them. But if the circumstances are such that it would be very easy for the Mashgiach to miss either an honest mistake or a deliberate attempt to cheat, the Masgiach could have a very hard time doing his job in a satisfactory manner.

          The JCC is an instructive story becuase the workers had some sucsess at “getting away with it” even under the best of circumstances. It could be significantly worse under these less than ideal circumstances.

          Reply
          • masortiman
            masortiman says:

            Corruption or deception are possible at all kinds of levels, as we have unfortunately seen, and not only in regard to kashrut. The question is not how do we make 100% sure there is no failure, but what level of effort, what level of fences around the law, is incumbent on someone. The people engaged in kashrut, from those who are just struggling to establish their own kosher kitchens at home, to those eat treif out, to those who eat vegetarian out, to those who will trust any C or O rabbi, or only any O rabbi, to those with a range of particular standards fior rabbinic organizations, will differ.

            On the one hand if standards are overly strict, or there are too few choices of certification,there will be fewer certified establishments, those that exist will be more costly, and many less committed to kashrut will give up on some aspect of keeping kashrut out. OTOH if signficant numbers of more lenient certifications are given out, this will make it harder for those with stricter standards to find places to eat. Its not immediately obvious what the optimal solution is.

  21. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    You know, I think both sides are right. The Vaad is right to not lower their standards of kashrut, and some people in the community require that high level. Others just want the basics: kosher ingredients (especially kosher meat), no dairy, not open on Shabbat, not cooked in a treif oven, and kosher supervision. So it’s good that there is an alternative to the Vaad, but it’s also perfectly fine for the Vaad to say it’s not up to their standards.

    But it’s also really unfortunate that there is some friction between Rabbi Herzfeld and Rabbi Freundel. Anyone who knows them, knows this is true. They are both good rabbis who give their blood, sweat, and tears to serve the Jewish community. The second temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, and the third one probably won’t come until we come together, despite our disagreements. Hopefully their disputes can evolve into a Hillel / Shammai type of relationship, arguing respectfully for the sake of heaven.

    Reply
    • Bob
      Bob says:

      Rabbi Herzfeld welcomes every jew. Unfortunately Rabbi Freundel needs to accept the fact that there is another synagogue in DC.

      Reply
      • H
        H says:

        Wow ad hominem maybe? It appears to me that theres some bad blood out there but it doesn’t seem to be on Rabbi Frundel’s side.

        pot, meet kettle.

        Reply
  22. Stephen Richer
    Stephen Richer says:

    Hi Friends,

    Sorry I’m a bit late to the debate. But can I play catch up?

    Before I start, I thought I’d share that this article has now received 1200 views. Yay!

    I venture that the majority of commenters on this post are observant Jews who keep kosher. And yet, there is much disagreement about what is and is not kosher. This the nature of kashrut — ambiguous, unclear, uncertain. If two institutions as learned as the Vaad and Ohev Sholom cannot precisely understand what Kosher is (at least one of them is at least somewhat wrong given that they disagree), then how are the lay folk supposed to understand?

    For the past week, I have worked on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The conclusion my institution has come to: The Act is bad because it is vague — companies have so little understanding of it that they sometimes unknowingly violate it.

    And I guess I say the same thing about kashrut. It’s a bad law. If the creator of the law wanted to encourage adherence to the law, he would have made it clear to the common man.

    At work, we’re suggesting that the law be returned to Congress for clarification. Since we can’t send the Torah back to God, I at least suggest that the varying agencies — Vaad, Circle K, whomever — clearly and uncompromisingly post their rules on their websites and then enforce them accordingly. People can then choose which set of rules is consistent with how they understand kashrut as explained by the torah.

    Now a couple specific responses:

    @ Nearly everyone — Shavuot

    Regarding Shavuot: Even the best of us make mistakes. But the important thing is that they caught themselves before committing the mistake. You can’t be punished for thinking you were going to drive 95 on the interstate, but then only going 75 when you got on the road and realized the speed limited was 75.

    @ Kenny and others — Owning a kosher restaurant and non-kosher place.

    According to Vaad, this cannot be done. Period. This was made clear in my first article on this subject. I do find it bizarre that owners of kosher restaurants can violate other principles of the Torah with impunity

    @ A bunch — There are rabbis at Sixth & Rye.

    Do you really think that Rabbis like Rabbi Berkman would work at Sixth & Rye if the truck flagrantly violated kashrut?

    @ A bunch, but mostly Bethany — The mustard bottle.

    I don’t think these people are any more inclined to cheat… As a principled libertarian, I don’t believe strongly in taxes, but I still pay them because it’s the law. Similarly, I would never use non-Kosher ingredients at a Kosher food store even though I don’t keep kosher or believe in it. I do not believe in general honesty and following the law.

    @ Salem — Bad title.

    You’re 100% right. As editor, that’s my fault.

    @ Bethany / David — Should the Vaad try harder?

    Given that the Vaad exists largely for community benefit (is it in fact a c(3)?), I think it should try to encourage kosher restaurant openings if at all possible and consistent with its rules. This was my principle complaint against them in my original article — that they seemed very unwilling to help. However, after a couple conversations with representative, I would soften my position more than a degree.

    @ Lazar — “I’m not lowering my standards.”
    Please spare us the sanctimony. Your “higher standards”… say, “your different standards” rather. You’re welcome to eat only Vaad certified stuff, but don’t act like you’re holier than those of us who have “lowered our standards.”

    @ Bethany — Good article. Fun stuff.

    @ Kenny — Good response.

    @ Scott — thanks, as always, for your level-headedness and moderation.

    @ Allison — Thanks for your history of the Vaad and the DC JCC shutdown.

    @ David — Bonus point for being the only one to use our name in your reply, “Rather than gathering the Jews, she seems…”

    Reply
  23. H
    H says:

    Stephen the issue is not how clear the rules of Kashrus are, the issue is a pragamatic one. The question is, whether or not we can be assured that those rules will be followed in this case.

    The question is not whehter or not a certian animal is kosher or how an animal has to be slaughtered, the question is over how well the procedures on the ground can verify that those rules are being followed.

    Reply
  24. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    “If two institutions as learned as the Vaad and Ohev Sholom cannot precisely understand what Kosher is (at least one of them is at least somewhat wrong given that they disagree), then how are the lay folk supposed to understand?”

    The lay folk perhaps need to be educated in the nature and history of halachic pluralism? “these and those are the words of the Living G-d”

    Reply
  25. masortiman
    masortiman says:

    “Rabbi Herzfeld welcomes every jew. Unfortunately Rabbi Freundel needs to accept the fact that there is another synagogue in DC. ”

    I’m sure R’Freundel knows about Adas 😉

    Reply
  26. jacob
    jacob says:

    @Stephen. It seems to me that you are thinking about an important topic with your first paragraph. I grew up keeping kosher so there are a lot of aspects of Kosher law that i just happen to know; as such i can only respond from that perspective. Now, I’ve also seen you at multiple Jewish locations and I’ve seen how much work you put into GTJ so I can also say that i know you care deeply about Judaism and have several excellent Jewish connections in DC.

    @Everyone:
    With that said I would be happy to help anyone reading this find an qualified teacher on anything related to Kashrut. The laws are complicated.

    Regarding semantics. The existence of a disagreement does not prove one side is wrong. In the words of Rabbi Freundel on the matter “the truck is sadly not recommended” (email to the community 5/19). Not being able to sign off in approval of something is different than saying the truck is wrong.

    Regarding the Jewish People in general. There seems to be a popular feeling that people in the Jewish world want everyone to be similar in terms of religions practice. This is admirable and helps build community; although I’m not sure this feeling is based on a situation that exists. Sadly, the majority opinion in the Jewish world (my estimation) is probably apathy towards other people. But if people freely choose to have different levels of observance this in and of itself is not a problem either. The biggest fights I’ve seen in the Jewish world are when one group of people perceives a different group is attempting to impose their will on them.

    It doesn’t concern me at all that there is a sizable group of Jews who consider all “strictly vegetarian” food to be kosher. There is a sound theoretical basis that all “strictly vegetarian “food would be kosher. However there is no real definition for what this term mean and even if this definition did exist the only way to know for sure that food was fully kosher would require a study of the entire food growth, processing and distribution, supervision and ownership system. You may think of this as a wild analogy but from my perspective the only difference here is that the Vaad and The certification agency (I dont know it’s actual name) of 6th and Rye have slightly different definitions of how they verify kosher rules are being followed for a distribution, supervision and ownership stream. They may even have exceptionally similar rules. There is a lot of hearsay in the responses above so i dont know the full set of rules.

    You may even call me a hypocrite for following the Vaad when i dont know every single one of their rules. However i would challenge you to show me a better system.

    The basis of certification agencies is that someone can know the name of the agency means a full analysis of everything that went into the food. Feel free to disagree with the need to have agencies or with the practices of a certain agency, but that will not prove/disprove the accuracy of a certification agency.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Kosher Kontroversy: In Defense of the Va’ad – Bethany Murphy […]

  2. […] Backing the DC Va’ad in the Kosher Controversy with 6th & Rye [Opinion] June 16th, 2011 Posted in DC, Home, News We thank GatherTheJews.com for allowing us to share this article by @BethanyShondark, a contributor to YeahThatsKosher as well. Her insights into the Kosher debate in DC are great. Thank You. Original article was posted here. […]

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