Kashrut and Kiddush (not necessarily in that order)
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Shira Salamone from On the Fringe--Al Tzitzit
sent over this situation for the "ask Shifra" treatment:
Over a decade, ago, we heard that the cost of sponsoring a kiddush (at an area synagogue of which we were not members) consisting of nothing but (if memory serves me correctly) wine, grape juice, soda, challah, and cake was $200. Those strapped for cash couldn't even put out a few boxes of packaged kosher cake from the supermarket in honor of their father's yahrzeit, because everything had to be done by the synagogues's resident kosher caterer.
Here's the dilemma: A synagogue wishes to be more inclusive, concerned that, if the only meals permitted are those provided by a kosher caterer, many of the less-well-off congregants will be excluded. Those who would like to sponsor a kiddush or attend synagogue dinners (especially those with several children) will be unable to afford to do so. So the synagogue allows members to cook in its kitchen and/or bring in food prepared in their home kitchens, provided that they follow a list of kashrut rules. In either case, there is no rabbinical supervision, and, therefore, no real guarantee that kashrut will be maintained. Question: Is there a way to guarantee kashrut without excluding people with limited budgets?
Well, that is a dilemma isn't it!
How does a shul keep their kitchen kosher and still keep things affordable for their membership?
I personally know of several cases in which friends of mine with very limited funds were forced to pay more for rabbinic supervision of their simcha than the cost of the food itself which is not right. Still, a shul needs to decide on and adhere to a standard of kashrut, and while it's very nice to "trust" your membership to do the right thing the margin for error can be very high.
I've thought it over and I have two possible solutions.
Neither one is perfect but both are workable.
1) Use an onsite mashgiach instead of a caterer.
While it's true that kosher supervision is not free, the hourly rate charged by a competant mashgiach (as determined by the shul) may not be as overwhelming as what a caterer might charge. As long as the food is cooked in the shul kitchen under the watchful eye of the mashgiach everything should be just fine. Anyone cooking in that kitchen, however, will need to be informed of the shul's standards of kashrut and must agree to comply 100% with whatever the mashgiach requests.
Being a mashgiach is not alway the easy a gig it sounds like. I had a few stints as one in my youth and people can be VERY touchy when you try to tell them something is not kosher when they believe it is. "But it's a BAGEL! How can a BAGEL not be kosher!!?" Ahem...
2) Serve packaged foods in their packages.
Ok I know that sounds SUPER tacky but it's cheap and it works - certainly for a kiddush if nothing else. I don't think anyone can say anything bad about boxes of coffee cake and donuts, served with plastic knives and containers of orange juice.
Want to take it up a notch?
How about a bowls of fresh fruit, uncut or even sliced with a shul knife in the shul kitchen? Same for vegetables... I think we can trust everyone to cut up a pepper without treifing up the place.
Lox can served in it's packaging, bagels in the marked bags they came in etc..
Dinner would be a lot harder I agree I'd have to really think about that one. Clearly kosher takeout from an acceptably kosher restaurant could be an option but that may be pricey too depending on what is available in your area.