Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue will use volunteers as kosher supervisors of four local vegan restaurants, the Orthodox synagogue announced Tuesday. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld and Maharat Ruth Friedman will oversee the project.
The restaurants are Everlasting Life in Capitol Heights, Sweet and Natural in Mount Rainier, and Evolve Restaurant and Vegaritos in Takoma Park.
“We view this certification as a service to the broader Jewish community, and we are not accepting any compensation for our services,” according to the synagogue’s website.
In a call for volunteer supervisors, called mashgichim, the website says, “Even though there is no financial benefit it is a great service to the community and we believe that you will receive a spiritual award.”
Restaurants that want to maintain kosher certification typically hire mashgichim. But Herzfeld said volunteer supervisors would provide professional service.
“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. He said it’s hard enough to get paid employees to show up for work, let alone volunteers.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s not doable,” he said. “But f 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.”
Asked if he would eat in a restaurant using volunteer supervisors, Elefant said, “Unless I could understand the structure and the guarantee that those volunteers are taking the jobs seriously, I would have a very serious concern.”
Herzfeld and Friedman both serve on the Beltway Vaad, an Orthodox rabbinical council. Herzfeld is its kashrut administrator. Asked why his synagogue is organizing the project rather than the rabbinical council, Herzfeld said, “This is a project of our synagogue.”
Kosher supervision has usually been the role of men in the Orthodox world. Herzfeld said a maharat overseeing kosher supervision is not unique. Elefant said it was a first as far as he knew. Friedman could not be reached for comment.
“Jewish law very clearly gives a woman the ability to make those decision,” Elefant said. “As I always say, the kosher supervision in most of our homes is done by a woman.”