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How Kosher Is Your Simchah?

Dovid Sussman

Are you eating the main course at that chasunah simply because all the other religious-looking guests are eating it too? Kashrus experts expose some alarming trends in catered affairs that might make you think twice before taking that next bite

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

waiter with mealWhen kashrus troubleshooter Yechiel Spira arrived at a wedding allegedly under the supervision of one of Eretz Yisrael’s foremost kashrus organizations, he already knew what to expect. He even commented to his wife, “This simchah is not being supervised by the people everyone expects to be overseeing it.”

“Why do you say that?” Mrs. Spira asked.
By way of response, her husband indicated the wine station that was visible from where they stood. “Look at that,” he told her. “There are open bottles of wine being poured by irreligious people. The kashrus organization wouldn’t allow that. It’s happening because they’re not here, because there’s no mashgiach here. But no one, including the baal simchah, realizes that.”
The problem isn’t limited to the Middle East. How far does a kashrus agency’s supervision actually extend, and what does that mean for unwitting guests who assume they can eat to their hearts’ content?
“There are two types of affairs that are generally held,” says Rabbi Sholem Fishbane of the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc). “The full-service catered affair and the drop-off. A full-service affair is under supervision throughout the affair, whereas a drop-off is an affair to which the caterer comes, leaves the food, and then leaves. He is not present during the affair, and the hashgachah ends the moment he leaves the order at the hall and walks out. The kashrus of the food really depends on whoever takes over once it arrives, whoever is running the kitchen and handling the serving during the affair.”
When the supervisory agency is not present for the actual simchah, a host of questions arises: Who is reheating the food, and with what equipment? If the simchah is taking place on Shabbos, does the person in charge have an adequate grasp of the relevant halachos? What is the kashrus status of other items such as baked goods that don’t come from the caterer?

Who’s Minding the Dishes?
Rabbi Mordechai Kuber, the rav of Congregation Nachlas Tzvi Ohel Avraham in Telz Stone and a veteran kashrus official who spent many years working for the OU, paints a startling, and somewhat dismal, picture of the situation at catered affairs in Eretz Yisrael, where food is often transferred to the hall from a different kitchen.
Still, if the food was prepared in a kitchen that is under an appropriate hashgachah, what could possibly go wrong? Rabbi Kuber asserts that there are plenty of pitfalls.
“You have no guarantee about the integrity of the food being served,” he points out. “Who is to say that additional ingredients were not added? You also have no way of knowing about the conditions under which the food is prepared and served in the hall. The keilim, the ovens, the warming equipment, and all the other kitchen equipment and tableware may have been used at other affairs that relied on inferior standards of kashrus, and the guests at this simchah might not willingly rely on those standards. Moreover, caterers often have to rent plates, silverware, and other items of which they do not have a sufficient supply for this affair, and there is no way to know where these items were even the day before and what types of food they were used for. Who is minding these dishes and making sure that they are up to the standards of the guests?”
In addition, some food preparation naturally takes place at the very last minute. There may be cooking and frying taking place either at or immediately before the affair. Vegetables may be brought in, wine may be served, and yet with all the potential halachic pitfalls that these things entail, shockingly, often no supervision is present.”
“Rabbanim who have investigated the situation know that catered affairs are the single worst aspect of the kashrus scene in Eretz Yisrael today,” asserts Yechiel Spira.
The most obvious way to be certain that the prepared food maintains its kashrus status during and after transportation is one that is surprisingly uncommon: extending the kashrus supervision of the caterer to cover the simchah itself. “It would be nice if affairs were under the same hashgachah as the kitchen,” Rabbi Kuber says, “but at least in Eretz Yisrael, that is not the norm. One of the major kashrus organizations actually prints a disclaimer twice a year to inform people that it doesn’t commit to supervise the actual affairs. People are simply unwilling to pay the extra money it costs to have a mashgiach present at an affair.”
Anyone still in the mood to sample the main course?

 

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