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Meir Rabi on the Sydney Kashrut Imbroglio

October 31, 2013 – 10:03 am66 Comments

By Rabbi Meir Rabi:


The cover of the book, “Is It Kosher?” by Rabbi E. Eidlitz

So you go to a religious friend’s home for dinner, they don’t have a Rabbi or a Mashgiach to verify that the food is Kosher. No worries we will eat.

Same friend makes a party at home for 50 friends, buys foods and drinks, cooks and prepares foods themselves as well; still don’t have a Rabbi or a Mashgiach to verify the food is Kosher. No worries we will eat.

Same friend makes a party at home for 200 friends, hires a chef, kitchen and serving staff. Do they now require a rabbi and a Mashgiach to verify the food is Kosher? Will we eat the food? Probably will eat the food.

Is this all OK because it is prepared as a HOME function? So when the food is PREPARED and SERVED at home, we are secure that those hosting the party are monitoring and are vigilant about the Kashrus standards and protocols. They are in control. However, when the food is prepared and served elsewhere, it is too difficult and onerous to maintain vigilance over protocols and standards. It is one thing to work within one’s own kitchen and maintain control but when the food preparation and serving moves into an alien environment which is also used for non-Kosher, we are entering a danger zone, an arena where common home experience does not provide the confidence and comfort that enables one to securely maintain Kosher protocols and standards. Sure the foods are identical as at home, but there are questions about how various kitchen appliances can be made Kosher if they were used for non-Kosher, how the kitchen and services can be isolated from the non-Kosher to ensure there is no cross contamination. Fridges and pantries will possibly still have non-Kosher foods stored in them and non-Kosher utensils abound throughout the food preparation and serving area. Certainly there is no malicious negligence, there just may be a degree of lack of experience that leads to zones of unawareness.

A competent rabbi will know how to Kosher the equipment, if it can be at all Koshered; his own experience and his experienced Mashgichim will have a practical knowledge of likely “black spots” and have tried and tested strategies for avoiding problems because prevention is better than a cure. And when in spite of all preventative measures, things go wrong, the competent rabbi will be able to decide whether the food may or may not be served as Kosher.

A Kosher caterer in Sydney has recently chosen to abandon using a rabbi to Kosher certify their production. There is no suggestion that they are asking the public to trust them regarding Kosher; for this they have employed a well known religiously orthodox and experienced Mashgiach. They have dedicated Kosher kitchens for preparing foods although the heating and serving may also be in function centres and their associated kitchens that do cook and serve non-Kosher foods.

Now the caterer is taking a risk. I refer not to the risk of challenging the establishment and breaking with small “t” tradition, but the risk that if anything should go wrong, let’s say a non-Kosher utensil is used, there is no rabbi on hand to make a decision that may permit the food. The caterer as we said is taking a calculated risk. The rabbi would be a possible insurance. It is quite possible that the rabbi may rule that the food that has been stirred with a non-Kosher utensil, is Kosher; whereas if there is no rabbi on hand and it is just the Mashgiach, the Mashgiach will say, “I am not a rabbi. I cannot rule on this matter, therefore it may not be used for Kosher.” Then again the caterer or the Mashgiach may have access to a rabbi who will be willing to give a ruling on the issue over the phone.

Would it be ethical for the rabbi to charge for his service?

BTW, has anyone ever heard even as an unsubstantiated story, of a Kosher function that was shut down or had a part of the menu pulled, due to a Kashrus issue?

Were we to ask the Mashgiach of this rabbi-less Kosher function, to document and declare what has been done to ensure this function is Kosher, we can be sure that a declaration would be provided that is absolutely identical had a rabbi been standing in the background providing his seal of approval. The Mashgiach verifies that the meat and fish and other foods are Kosher; that the vegetables are checked for insects the eggs for blood spots, that the cooking is performed with Kosher participation, that adequate strategies were employed to prevent using non-Kosher equipment and foods, that these arrangements were not breached, that if necessary, equipment was Koshered according to various standards, etc.

So the wise son asks, “How is this function different to all other Kosher functions?”

And apparently no one has the answer other than Rabbi Don Yoel Levy of the OK Kosher laboratories who has provided the following in a letter – “… regarding a caterer in Sydney who has employed one of his former Mashgichim to “supervise” kashrut and is purporting to be kosher. This practice is totally unacceptable, and conflicts with the industry standard and would simply not be accepted anywhere in the world. It cannot be considered as kosher certification, and is misleading the public about the kosher status of the establishment.” A copy can be seen on the KAS fb.

And the wise son will ask, “Why is it misleading? The caterer makes it clear that he is not seeking the endorsement of a rabbi for certification.”

The wise son will ask, “What are ‘Industry Standards’? Apparently they are not the same as Halachic standards? How are ‘Industry Standards’ different to Halachic standards? If the standards of Halacha has been compromised please indicate where and how.”

And the wicked son may declare, “I think Rabbi Levy is the one who is misleading the public. How dare he imply that the food of this caterer is not Kosher?”

Is this the reason that there has been a collective silence and sudden invisibility of the Australian rabbis?

There is however an important perspective in all this that must not be overlooked: what is the force that has initiated and that drives this break with our small “t” tradition? I think it is safe to say that the community as a whole much prefers to have rabbinic oversight maintaining the integrity of their Kosher functions. And yet, in this case, in spite of this preference, there are other considerations that are more powerful and more persuasive. What are those other considerations?

I think a great deal of courage is required to explore this because the answer may well not be the answer that has so far been ringing in our rabbinic ears, that we are the fairest of them all.

Editor’s note: to read Sydney KA’s FAQ on this matter, please go to: http://www.ka.org.au/pdf/MythFacts.pdf

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