We applaud the recently announced effort by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld and Maharat Ruth Friedman of Ohev Sholom — The National Synagogue to begin certifying and overseeing four area vegan restaurants as kosher. We see it as a step forward in giving kosher consumers in the Washington area choices that enrich their lives and strengthen friendships, families and communities.
An increasing number of certified kosher restaurants — like the ever-growing number of kosher-certified products on supermarket shelves — strengthens our community by giving kosher-observant Jews more access to the world at large and less concern about religious dietary restrictions in business and social setting interactions.
Vegan food is neither milk, meat nor fish. As such it doesn’t implicate many of the boundary issues that Jewish dietary law enforces and promotes. But is certifying the kosher status of vegan restaurants worth the time and effort of Herzfeld and Friedman? We think so. That said, the exercise is not without its own complications: For example, one restaurant had to change its wine menu to only serve kosher-certified wines. And kosher laws demand a closer inspection for bugs in produce than many typical restaurants are used to.
Herzfeld and Friedman are also employing a novel approach to their supervisory efforts: They have enlisted the help of volunteers as mashgichim, or kosher supervisors. Traditionally, kashrut supervision is a paid, professional position. Asked about that by WJW, Herzfeld said volunteers could do the job adequately. “We view this as something that is a privilege to do for the community, and since we’re operating on a small scale, we’re able to utilize volunteers at this point,” he said. “My job is to provide kosher supervision in a way that I feel is first rate and is super, super kosher.”
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut division, said he is unfamiliar with such an arrangement operating anywhere else. “It doesn’t mean that it’s not doable,” he pointed out. “But if I have an employee that gets paid and knows that if he doesn’t show up and do what he’s supposed to do, he’s going to lose his job, he’s more likely to do what he’s supposed to do.”
The other major critique of the effort came from Rabbi Yosef Wikler, publisher of the monthly Kashrus Magazine, which covers kosher food and cooking practices. Wikler objected to Friedman, a woman, being in charge of kosher certification. But the Orthodox Union’s Elefant said a particular gender is not mandatory for being able to determine whether something is kosher or not.
We commend Herzfeld and Friedman for helping to open new kosher dining alternatives in our community, and are anxious to see how successful the venture is — including results for the restaurants and how other local kosher certifying bodies respond to the expanded opportunities. In the end, the marketplace will determine the success of this venture. We urge unified community support.