Raising the Bar
Spirits at your Simcha Part 1 At simchas and events, a well-stocked bar is often a prime attraction. Are there any kashrus concerns with the beverages served in such venues? In this installment of Let’s Talk Kashrus, Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger is joined by Rabbi Tzvi Haber, Director of Community Kashrus at the COR Kashrus Council of Canada, to discuss this fascinating topic.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: Thank you, Rabbi Haber, for joining us.
Rabbi Tzvi Haber: It’s a great pleasure.
Rabbi Hisiger: I’m very excited to discuss today’s topic with you: “Raising the Bar” by adhering to higher standards at our simchas. Specifically, we will be discussing bars at simchas and events. Can you start with a story from the trenches that displays the potential pitfalls related to bars?
Rabbi Haber: Let me tell you a story that happened recently.
There is a beautiful banquet hall in Toronto that doesn’t directly have certification from the COR but a lot of caterers love using this hall. Unfortunately, at one recent event there was some mistreatment of a Mashgiach by the banquet hall owner’s staff. We decided as a kashrus agency that even though the owner of the hall is not a direct client of ours, we have to call him into the office and talk with him to find out if this could reoccur, which would mean that we would not continue to allow our caterers to make events at this hall.
We arranged the meeting, introduced ourselves got him talking a little bit. We were going to discuss how to treat a Mashgiach and what we expect from his staff but during the conversation it was discovered that the owner is actually Jewish. He has an Italian surname, so we assumed that he isn’t Jewish, but he explained that his father is Italian, while his mother is a Jew.
This created a whole new dynamic to the conversation. I realized that we have other problems that we have to deal with, such as tevilas keilim and chometz she’var alav hapesach.
I’m not sure if people are aware of this, but when kashrus agencies oversee an event at a hotel or banquet hall, they allow them to use the glasses from the venue. Some may find it hard to believe that we permit the use of the non-kosher hall’s glasses at a kosher event but the truth is that Shulchan Aruch rules that glass does not have bliyus and does not absorb anything non-kosher. Therefore, you can use these glasses for anything. The Rema in Hilchos Pesach is stringent and rules that glasses do absorb but our Poskim feel that the minhag is to be lenient. I believe that all kashrus agencies across the board have the policy that it is permitted to use these glasses for cold drinks.
Accordingly, if the owner would not be Jewish, we could use the glasses at the banquet hall and there’s no issue of tevilas keilim because non-Jews do not have to be tovel their vessels. If he’s Jewish, however, there is an obligation to be tovel the glasses before using them.
Rabbi Hisiger: Would a caterer like that allow you to pick up the glasses, take them to a mikvah, tovel them and bring them back?
Rabbi Haber: There is zero possibility of that. He doesn’t even know what tevilas keilim is and he’s never heard of a mikvah before in his life. So that would not be possible.
There are solutions. There is a halacha that when someone is in a “shaas hadchak” (pressing circumstance), such as if he lives in a city where there is no mikvah, he can sell or rent his vessel to a non-Jew and thereby avoid the obligation to be tovel it. That, however, is a very short-term solution, as even if the owner would sell his glasses to a non-Jew before one event, it is very likely that he will buy new glasses before the next one, which would necessitate the entire sale to be made over and over again. Therefore, this solution would be very difficult to implement. If it can’t be done, the caterer would have to bring his own glasses to the events, which would be a real challenge.
Rabbi Hisiger: When we discussed the idea of speaking about bars, I honestly didn’t expect to discuss tevilas keilim. But now that you mentioned it, what if someone goes to hotel lobby on a date or for any other reason? Does he have to be concerned about the issue of tevilah?
Rabbi Haber: 100%. If he knows that the hotel is owned by a Jewish person, there is an obligation of tevilah and one is not supposed to drink from glasses that are not toveled.
I don’t know how common it is for hotels or lounges to be owned by Jews. It happens to be that in Toronto, one hotel is owned by a Jewish person but that’s probably not the norm. According to halacha, you probably don’t have to suspect that a hotel is owned by a Jew unless you otherwise know that. But this is something for people to be aware of. You can’t drink from a glass that is not toveled.
Rabbi Hisiger: You mentioned that there are solutions for tevilas keilim. What about the other problem of chometz that was owned by a Jew on Pesach? What can be done about that?
Rabbi Haber: Since many alcoholic beverages are chometz, this is problem after Pesach if the owner of the hall is a Jew.
Those who have made a simcha might know that the caterer doesn’t supply the drinks at the bar. Rather, the bar is part of the package provided by the banquet hall. Thus, the owner of the hall owns the drinks. If he had them in storage over Pesach and he is Jewish, that would present a problem.
In the particular story that I mentioned, it didn’t end up being a problem because the owner’s business model was that he doesn’t stock the bar in advance. For each specific event, the client places an order for whatever drinks he wants and the hall buys them from a store. So, we just needed to make sure he was using new bottles that were bought after Pesach, which the Mashgiach confirmed by asking for invoices that stated when the drinks were purchased.