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Eating Out: How Kosher is that Restaurant?


There's a story some restaurants will tell you here if you ask if they're kosher.
It's a long, long story.  If you don't speak Hebrew, it can be daunting to understand the gist of what they're saying.
They'll take a long time telling it.
They'll pull out all kinds of documentation.
They'll explain some more.
They'll point all around the place.
They may even raise their voice, which is scary for a nice Canadian like me.

You may even buy food there, just to shut them up.  After all, they sure wave around a lot and pull out letters that look like they're from rabbis.

See, the problem is that Israelis know about kashrus.  I remember the first time I was shooed out of a non-kosher restaurant because I was obviously religious, but it has happened a few times since. 

Even coffee, which I might have no qualms about buying in a non-kosher place in Canada, whereas here, they might practically refuse to serve me, which I see as a kind of respect for my practice - even if it's different from their practice - and I like it very much, except the one time, very early on, I had to pretty much beg a server for coffee and then decided it wasn't worth it and left.

In Toronto, if I stuck my head into a typical restaurant and asked if it was kosher, they'd probably say something like...
"Ummm, I dunno..."
"We do have vegetarian items..."
"Let me check with the chef..."
"I think so..."

One of the ways that you can tell, outside of Israel, if a place is kosher is to look at the clientele.  If people with kippahs are eating there, it's a pretty good sign.  In Israel, that doesn't always fly.  A totally-kosher mehadrin place may be full of people who look completely non-religious, and there may just be a few kippahs in the crowd at that local non-kosher McDonald's branch.

The other thing about Israelis is that they know how to talk.  Think the Irish have the gift of the gab?  Well, they may, but Israelis are super-good at pretending it’s theirs.

Here, we've also learned early on that you don't ask if a place is kosher.  You ask if there's a certificate, the teudah.  The teudah means everything, almost always.

If you ask if it's kosher, they may say yes.
Ahhh.... but if you ask to see the teudah, that's when you get the long, long story…

They'll tell you it is kosher.  (pointing all around the place)
They'll tell you their meat is from a kosher supplier.  (showing you a receipt from their meat supplier)
They'll tell you they are pious, God-fearing people.  (nodding towards a kippah perched on the cook's head)

They will tell you it's just a technicality that they don't have the certificate.  Usually the "technicality" in question is that the place is open on Shabbos, but sometimes it's some bureaucratic thing that they desperately want to explain to you.

Some people say it's just a matter of politics.  McDonald's is a good example.  Since all the food comes frozen from a central location, folks argue, the non-kosher Mickey D's is pretty much just as kosher as the one proudly displaying the teudah.  After all, they have matzah meal buns during Pesach, even at the non-kosher locations.

Other people (sometimes restaurant owners) claim it's a matter of principle.  Everybody knows their kashrus is good, why bother getting rabbis involved?  Also, fees for rabbinic supervision are usurious, just for a piece of paper.  I might ask them why they'd bother getting married or attending university?  Those things, too, involved spending tons of money for what are basically just pieces of paper.  Yet people do pay for those things, because this is how we put our money where your values are. 

We feel the same way about the teudah, both inside and outside of Israel.

Whatever the case may be, and my Hebrew isn't always good enough that I even understand, when I hear restaurant people starting to launch into a story, that's when I start shaking my head. 

Kashrus here isn't simple and it's certainly not black and white (for instance, we'll trust the teudah of some organizations and eat in places that others we know will not), but the complete absence of any teudah tells me that the owners have not gone out of their way to take care of me, as a kosher consumer, and respect my principles.

If they'd rather try to sell me their point of view than sell me a meal, I guess that's their prerogative.  Either way, I'm not buying.

Are you???

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. I go with the official certificates. But my son who had owned a kosher restaurant once said that if the owner wants to cheat, it's too easy.
    Nowadays so many of the restaurants are chains, so it makes it harder to know the owner.

    1. I've heard that it's easy to cheat. And there's a place near here where a friend insists that the owner does cheat, and she won't shop there. She's very vocal about telling other people not to buy there. But to me, this is entirely based on rumours (she hasn't been behind the counter there), and if they still have the teudah, it's got to be worth something.
      It's a fine line.
      For what it's worth, I was not entirely honest, either. There is a small hole-in-the-wall falafel place on the other side of our neighbourhood that sells delicious falafel with no teudah. The owner is a religious woman who lives in the neighbourhood, and you can tell it's a shoestring operation. The cost of hashgacha would bankrupt her, I'm sure. There is nothing in the tiny kitchen but vegetables, pickles, tehina, falafel mixture and frozen french fries. I don't think the place could be trayfe even if she tried. And I know it's delicious because we eat there, though some won't.

  2. Would you eat from her kitchen?
    Blog carnivals are still alive, and this post is included in Shiloh Musings: Havel Havelim Jewish Blog Carnival


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