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Monday, May 15, 2006

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:

Dear Shifra,

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.


At 7:38 PM, Blogger Scraps said...

Option #2 is pretty much what goes on in my shul. It's a darn sight cheaper than having a full-time (or even part-time) caterer, and it's fun because it makes a kiddush so much more customizeable. :-D

At 10:03 PM, Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

A shul really shouldn't ever let something like this happen. Such a rule might be necessary to enforce a level of kashrus that the entire membership (and Rav) can trust, but I would imagine that any shul that would make such a restriction would also be sensitive to those who can't afford to take part. A shul should tell such people that they can sponsor a kiddush and pay as much as they can. The shul should pay the difference. This all needs to be done privately of course.

Our shul has a similar policy for membership fees.

At 2:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The problem with your suggestion is that it forces people to have a "private" discussion about the fact that they don't have enough money to pay for a kiddush . . . personally, I'd probably just opt never to sponsor a kiddush.

FYI- In one of the yishuvim where my friends live, their shule made the kitchen ENTIRELY stainless steel: the sinks, counters, shelves, EVERYTHING. The deal is, if you want to use the social hall, you can do whatever you want in the kitchen . . . but afterward, it all has to be kashered.

This wouldn't work for an event open to the whole synagogue, I suppose . . . for which I think the solution of unopened packages of kosher food, cut fruit and veggies, etc is the best solution.

At 5:17 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Good answers...

Personally, I'm a fan of #1. With #2, you still run into the situations where people think to themselves, "Well, it's no big deal to just add..." With #1, whatever the mashgiach says it what goes - period. I know that my brother (who does small catering jobs) prefers such arrangements, as he doesn't run into difficulties later on with the place or the people. I would imagine that would be even more true for synagogue members - set standards monitored by someone else is just less of a headache.

At 5:17 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

it = is

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

skip the kiddush. who needs it?

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my shul, in order to even sponsor the cheapest kiddush consisting of packaged foods that the shul buys costs significantly more than the raw materials. I think they are using it as a money maker.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Scraps said...

A lot of shuls don't make a secret of the fact that sponsored kiddushim are actually fundraisers for the shul.

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in a small town where the members were allowed to prepare the food in the shul kitchen, providing that the Rabbi checked all of the ingredients before they made it into the kitchen. Everything had to be in a new sealed package and I believe that the kitchen was all meat so there was no question of mixing utensils.
We have lived in our new community for 5 years and I have yet to make a kiddush because the "cheapest" option is over $900.

At 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A must look up...


Check it out!

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Shifra: I think both of your suggestions could work depending on the situation. Another approach that would be especially appropriate for yahrzeit kiddushim, is to share the kiddush among multiple people who have yahrzeits that month. In fact this is something the shul should help facilitate.

Just a querying note on OtF's original submission: Challah? At a kiddush? That's a new one on me. I've seen just about every food imaginable at shul kiddushim, except bread.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

At congregation "B'nei CA" our policy is to serve fresh fruit/veggies and packaged goods with a reliable hehksher. The food isn't served up in the packages, the sponsors have the task of putting the stuff in appropriate serving dishes and laying the table.

Maybe we're naive, but we operate on trust, so we don't bother with having a mashgiach. And anyaway, this is all done in the open, so that our kosher konsultants are always able to go back and see what's being served up.

Besides, when you're serving some hummus, crackers, cookies, chips and salsa, and maybe if you're being really extravagent, herring or gefilte fish, how can things go wrong?

At 8:16 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said...

One of the arguments I read in favour of a constant and on site mashgiach was that in commercial situations there may a conflict of interest between adherence to strict kashrus and the necessity at times to throw out an entire batch of something - no restaurateur would happily see a thousand dollars worth of expensive food go on the heap, whereas a mashgiach who has no ownership in the business would concentrate on the halachic aspect only.

In a shul-kitchen, the monetary aspect will not necessarily be in the foreground. But neither is it inconsequential.

The main problem is that food served under the auspices of a shul has to be absolutely 'safe', and may in no way cast doubt on food served at later events.

That pretty much means that option number two is preferable - along with perhaps avoiding fleishediks entirely; there is a much greater chance of meat being of a questionable level of kashrus, and dairy being so much more affordable and available (always excepting cholov Israel in San Francisco, of course - haven't seen it yet).

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I just love the idea of an independent, on-site mashgiach. An independent mashgiach is in a better position to "break the bad news" to congregants than people who know one another are, and an independent mashgiach is not worried about a caterer's "bottom line," either. They're answerable only to a Higher Power, as they used to say in a commercial.

Shifra, I created a new post and linked to this one. Elie, you'll find your "challah question" answered here.

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a relevant issue! My shul has fantastic kiddushes that serve as community lunches- salads, soup, cheese, fruit, good cake, sometimes even more.

We have volunteer "kiddush committee" members who do the shopping and the preparations under the supervision of a shul-approved volunteer mashgiach. Even so, the kiddushes cost $200 and up, and yes, that does include some profit for the shul.

The pluses are that we have a large regular attendance (we're a Conservative shul with a significant percentage of the congregation that's shomer mitzvot, Ortho-shul- burnout) and people tend to stay and shmooze and sing zmirot into the afternoon.

On many occasions, families team up to co-sponsor, and that reduces costs significantly. In addition, since we have a very strong community, there's an informal custom of people anonymously sponsoring kiddushes in conjunction with members who couldn't afford to do so themselves.

The situation is workable- if you want it to be.


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