Going out to eat will be a lot easier for Conservative Jews who keep kosher — and their synagogues — thanks to a recent ruling from the movement’s committee on kashrut rules.
The committee, headed by Washington Rabbi Aaron Alexander, recently gave Jews who keep kosher permission to eat at any vegan or vegetarian restaurant, regardless of whether it has been certified as kosher or not.
The ruling, titled “The Meatless Menu” and written by committee member Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner, marks a change in the movement’s view on restaurants. Previously, Conservative authorities said kosher-observant Jews should only eat at restaurants that had been certified as kosher, and that follow the rules of kashrut in their kitchens.
The recent change eases up on those restrictions, with the ruling stating that the absence of meat in vegan and vegetarian restaurants means there is no risk of dishes coming into contact with pork or mixing meat and dairy.
“The food industry is complicated enough that there’s no quick answer that can be given based on what’s happening with the production of food in relationship with the complex laws of keeping kosher,” said Alexander, of Adas Israel Congregation in the District.
The kashrut committee is the movement’s authority on kosher observance, and one of the four subcommittees in the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards that rulings pass through before being approved. Alexander added that the ruling took about a year to be approved, and that 20 of the 25 committee members voted on its passing, with the vast majority voting in favor of it.
“The arguments that Rabbi Reisner made are certainly compelling. They are grounded in classical Jewish law,” Alexander noted. “They explain some difficult concepts in a way I don’t think they have been explained before, such as when there are multiple doubts surrounding a piece of food. It was a really well-written, well-researched piece of scholarship that is also applicable to a lot of different areas of Jewish law. I think there wasn’t very much for people to vote against.”
Reisner’s ruling argued that many kosher-observant Jews have already judged vegan and vegetarian restaurants as being safe to eat at, with the ruling only reinforcing what people already believe. It’s a judgment that Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg agrees with.
“It’s simply codifying what most people do anyway,” he said. “In terms of people’s actual behavior, I don’t know if it’s going to have that much of an influence one way or another. I think most Jews who keep kosher already eat in vegan and vegetarian restaurants.”
A bigger beneficiary could be Conservative synagogues and other institutions.
“My previous pulpit was in Norwich, Conn., and a vegan Chinese restaurant opened there,” Arian said. “The Conservative rabbi from New London [Conn.] and I met with the owners, and we decided to certify it as kosher. The main reason we did it was not because it changed the behavior of any of our congregants, but it meant we could get food from there for synagogue events, which was important because there were no kosher restaurants or caterers around.”
The ruling opens up more possibilities to people concerned with Conservative Jewish law. Alexander noted that it may give kosher-keeping Jews more freedom to go out with non-Jewish friends while still observing Jewish dietary laws.
“Keeping kosher is one of the mitzvot that many Conservative Jewish people prioritize,” he said. “Now, people have a lot more options for how they can eat at restaurants, especially now that vegan and vegetarian restaurants are more common. It allows them to be a part of their social circle and get together with others in a way that still satisfies their cultural requirements. I think the committee understood that this ruling will be helpful for a
lot of people.”