This is perhaps a preamble to what may become my next obsession, but since I am not certain how things will develop, and if time will permit me to probe this in depth as quickly as I would like, or more correctly, as the situation demands, I feel a need to advise readers – to wave a warning flag as it were.
Over the past year, while attending smachot (weddings or bar mitzvahs for example) and in some cases, just crashing [not to eat but to enter the kitchen, posing as a guest, asking a number of questions of the mashgiach], I have learned that in some (many?) cases, frum people, G-d fearing and Sabbath-observant people are eating in halls that simply do not have a hechsher, or the hechsher is a regular one when the guests and host alike believe they are eating food under the supervision of one of the pristine Badatz mehadrin agencies.
Permit me to explain briefly. If one books one of the popular halls, established halls with steady hechsher, one may get what one seeks, as is the case with Gutnick (Badatz Eida Chareidit), Beit Yisrael (Eida Chareidit), Moshav Ora (Rabbanut mehadrin). The examples given are random, and chosen because the names come to mind, nothing else. These are halls however in which the caterer is exclusive and the affairs are always under the same kosher certifying agency, simplifying matters significantly. The kitchen is constant and the standard is never permitted to go below the minimum of the certifying agency, so one has a baseline to determine it the hall meets one’s needs.
Anyway, what is also happening in a growing number of cases is one arranges a wedding through one of the agencies promising discounts, especially those serving the chareidi or dati leumi communities, permitting the families to get a bargain. This is fine indeed. We all prefer to save money when and where possible. The example I am about to give is also applicable in many cases when one books a hall directly, bypassing the discounting agencies.
The proud parents check out a hall and decide this is the place. They now begin contacting caterers and it should become evident the hall is not ‘exclusive’, which means various caterers are using the facility, at times, caterers maintaining regular supervision, while others may have high end supervisions, and some, NO supervision.
One hires caterer “X” who is legitimate, and that caterer maintains a mehadrin supervision from a reputable kosher agency that meets the needs of the family and guests alike. What the host in many cases does not realize is that if I use the caterer but do not hire the kashrut agency, the second the food leaves the kitchen/commissary, there is no longer any supervision on the food that will be served to hundreds of guests. In some cases, food is driven from another city, from a caterer’s commissary, at times with a non-Jewish driver and the boxes are not double or single sealed to maintain the kashrus integrity of that agency, since the agency finished its job when the boxes left the commissary.
No one hired the mashgichim to accompany the food, double seal meats and take whatever steps halacha required to ensure the food leaving the commissary is the only food entering the kitchen of the catering hall.
This does not begin to address the incidents in which something spilled, was spoiled, lacking in quantity, and whatever, and replacements are sought out a the last minute, unsupervised, with hired kitchen hands instructed to run to the supermarket and buy lettuce, vegetables, or who knows what. (I worked in catering so please, don’t tell me it does not happen for it occurs, and I dare say even frequently!)
Remember, the ‘caterer’ you hired in not cooking anything, only reheating and dishing out the food. In actuality, the person might be correctly called the facilitator. Using the word ‘caterer’ is what leads to so much confusion. The ‘caterer’ may be a competent banquet manager but perhaps knows nothing about cooking, not to mention kashrus. It really is not relevant I guess, because even if he is a master chef, he is still a chef without a hechsher!
In one recent case, I asked what hechsher a prominent Jerusalem hall had, and learned it didn’t, not rabbanut or any agency. This by the way is not a violation of the law unless the hall advertises as “kosher”.
When I asked if the mashgiach was in, I was told he is not but “don’t worry, all the food is Badatz” and “we are just reheating here. It was all cooked already”. I asked “are you using the kitchen” and was assured “no of course not. It was not koshered. I am using my heating boxes and trays”.
That would be great if he had a hechsher, but since he does not, and perhaps does not always serve a ‘badatz’ affair, it was of little solace to hear he was not using the kitchen but his own equipment.
“What Badatz” I asked, told “Eida Chareidis” and even giving me the name of the caterer which is indeed under supervision, in another city. He then showed me a certificate, which was a photocopy of the caterer’s supervision from the premier agency, but 1) it was a photocopy so it is meaningless, 2) for a different city 3) covering the commissary only. In essence, he assured me that any food cooked in that facility, eaten on site or leaving the premises under supervision is fine, but this case was just not so.
In essence, the food served at this event was without any hechsher from any kashrut certifying agency! It was a real ‘yeshivish’ wedding to say the least, and the rabbis, family and guests were all partaking in food believing it was under a certain supervision, when in actuality, it was a matter of trusting the man reheating and serving the meals, nothing more. I do not believe the roshei yeshiva partaking in the wedding feast were eating based on trusting my facilitator, but they believed the wedding was under the supervision of a prominent agency.
Salads (humos, tehina, red cabbage, vegetables), burekas, rolls, herring, pickles, olives, deli meats and the like were in unmarked plastic tubs, the chickens all without any trace of a schita tag, and ditto for everything else.
When I asked about the greens I was told “don’t worry, it’s all Gush Katif) so I asked “What brand Gush Katif” and of course, told again, “don’t worry. Can’t you see I am wearing a kippa”, which he was.
My point, it all may have been fine, but halacha does demand certain precautions regarding transport of food, especially if a non-Jews is at the wheel, without a Jewish accompaniment. Religious Jews in Yerushalayim are regularly attending weddings and bar mitzvahs and they believe the event is supervised when that is not the case. That is the point, simply a matter of fact. If you are okay with this, then ignore the article.
I frequently investigate affairs for callers who receive invitations to assist subscribers, as they wish to know the hechsher of the event, some fearing they do not know what to ask, others uncomfortable in Hebrew.
I call and am told the name of a certain agency. In the overwhelming number of cases, the food was prepared by that agency but the agency was not hired to oversee the affair and the supervision ceased when the food left the commissary. Another event without a hechsher!
I remind you here too that I did not even address a kitchen in a hall with a regular hechsher when one believes one is have a Badatz such and such an affair. The kitchen is not kashered and there are more than minor concerns to be addressed regarding such an event, one that is attended regularly by many who are simply clueless to what is taking place.
More to follow at some point.
(Yechiel Spira – Jerusalem Kosher News – www.jerusalemkoshernews.com)