Stranger in a Familiar Land
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
An American's Guide to Kashrus in Israel
Visiting Eretz Yisroel? Headed off to study in yeshiva or seminary? Do you know what you should or shouldn’t be eating? For many, the answer to this question is, “No. Not really.”
ZNT Kashrus, led by Rabbi Shmuel Weiner and Rabbi Moshe Farkash, has undertaken to inform, educate and guide English-speaking “chutznikim” through the world of kashrus in Eretz Yisroel. In this conversation with Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger, they describe the purpose and goals of their innovative organization and provide some insight for those attempting to navigate the often-complicated Israeli kashrus scene.
ZNT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 058-567-4375
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: Thank you Rabbi Farkas and Rabbi Weiner for joining us. It is an honor to have you here from Eretz Yisroel. It’s interesting to see two Americans running a Vaad Hakashrus in Israel. Before we get into practical issues people from the Diaspora face while in Eretz Yisroel, please tell us a little about how you founded this Vaad Hakashrus and what your goals are.
Rabbi Shmuel Weiner: First of all, thank you for giving us this opportunity to “Talk Kashrus.”
When I became a Rov in Ramat Eshkol, I saw that many members of the Anglo community were lost when it came to kashrus. They would come to me for help in navigating the world of kashrus in Eretz Yisroel and asked for help figuring out what was good and what wasn’t. I got pushed into it and now here I am, trying to put together information with the help of Rabbi Farkas and others who helped along the way to get this organization off the ground.
We now service American bochurim and seminary girls who come to study in Eretz Yisroel, as well as yungerleit who live here and guests who are visiting and trying to figure out which hechsherim have the standards of the American hechsherim that they are used to eating, which restaurants they can go to and which products to buy.
Rabbi Hisiger: What does this mean on a practical level? What role do you play? Are you actually providing supervision or just advising people from chutz la’aretz who come to Eretz Yisroel?
Rabbi Moshe Farkash: We do certify a few restaurants but most of what we do is in the field of service. What I mean by that is that people come to Eretz Yisroel and want to eat in certain hotels. We create a relationship with the Mashgiach in the hotel and obtain real-time information about what goes on behind the scenes. Similarly, people have shailos about eateries and products.
This year, Shemitah is a big deal. For people from chutz la’aretz this is really a complicated topic. We go into the hotel or store and review the protocols and products they use.
Rabbi Hisiger: If you are happy with them, what do you do next?
Rabbi Weiner: We have an approved list of places to eat around the country – not only in Yerushalayim, but also in cities like Herziliya, Netanya, etc. Anyone can contact us through the ZNT website to receive a copy of the list. We are working on upgrading restaurants around the country so that our people can eat there when they visit during bein hazmanim and other times.
Rabbi Hisiger: What do you do if you go into an establishment and it’s not up to your standards?
Rabbi Farkash: It depends on what the problem is.
There are two parts to kashrus – the ingredients and the processing. We try to offer a service to the community, not a disservice, meaning we try to find places where people can eat. If someone wants to go to a particular restaurant, we may be able to tell him to stick to certain products and avoid others.
I know that this is quite different than how it is in America. In America, if someone is going to a small city, he’ll call up his Rov, who will put him in contact with the local Vaad Hakashrus in that city. In Eretz Yisroel, you don’t really have that. We’ve created what can be described as a local Vaad Hakashrus for people coming from chutz la’aretz. We want to service them. We don’t want to tell them that they can’t eat anything – especially because people are coming for vacation and need places to eat. So, we try to “hit the happy medium”, as they say.
Rabbi Hisiger: What would you say is the primary difference between Eretz Yisroel and chutz la’aretz when it comes to kashrus?
Rabbi Weiner: The implementation of protocols is far different. In Eretz Yisroel, just keeping to the rules is, for some reason, a difficult task. This is especially true because Israelis -both frum and non-frum – often think they know everything about kashrus. If someone has been involved in running a restaurant for years, and now you all of a sudden tell him that he needs a Mashgiach Temidi and he needs someone turning on the fires, he’ll respond with: “What do you mean? I’ve been doing it this way for years!”
If someone has his ideas of what kosher is, complying to new rules is hard. Some people have been kashering with a hose for years, and to tell them that they need to do more is very difficult. I’m not saying that every place is like this. There are some very good places. But that’s what we’re often up against.
The culture in general is to say: “We can do whatever you ask. Just bring us the Americans and we’ll take care of it.” We have to tell them: “No. First you have to set yourself up properly and then we’ll send you the customers.”
This is true even in non-kashrus matters. If we tell a restaurant owner that he’ll get American customers if he brings in a professional chef, he might respond: “What do you mean? I’m a professional chef!”
That mindset plays out in kashrus, which makes it harder for Americans to navigate the system.
Another point is that Eretz Yisroel has a lot of politics, which creates a lot of non-transparency. In America, the kashrus organizations are very transparent. In Eretz Yisroel, everyone is worried about the others. They’re worried about giving away too much and what the others will do with that information. It’s much more competitive amongst the agencies, which makes things a lot harder.
Rabbi Farkash: I agree that lack of transparency is a big issue. Additionally, the culture in Eretz Yisroel is very relaxed. In America, I worked for the Vaad Hakashrus of 5 Towns and for Rabbi Fishbane in the CRC. The protocols were adhered to very strictly. We had checklists of every product in the storage room. If products got delivered by mistake that had to go back, they were listed and kept track of. In Eretz Yisroel, I went into a restaurant and saw a bunch of not approved products sitting around. They just told me that the chef knows what to use and what not to use.
In America, you won’t find a fleishig restaurant without a Mashgiach Temidi. In Eretz Yisroel, you’d be surprised to find a fleishig restaurant with a Mashgiach Temidi. The mindset is that they have a system in place where everyone is Jewish and everyone knows halacha. That is a detriment, not a benefit. You cannot make assumptions based on the fact that the workers are Jewish.
Rabbi Hisiger: I would add that when people come to Eretz Yisroel, especially if they are not knowledgeable, they may see signs with Hebrew letters and think that means the product is acceptable. They may see words like “Rabbanut” and Badatz”, but they don’t know that there are different levels of Rabbanut, and that “Badatz” is a generic term that doesn’t really mean anything.
Rabbi Weiner: One of the most common lines they say in Eretz Yisroel is “yesh lanu kol habadatzim.” We have every Badatz. Americans don’t realize that any three people can be a Badatz. Us three here are already a Badatz!
Another line you hear is: “We have Rav Rubin and the Eidah Hachareidis.” You won’t find any restaurant that has both of those hechsherim. What they mean is that their meat has Rav Rubin and the Eidah. But what about the rest of the ingredients? They’re not telling you about that.
So, a lot of Americans might be asking the right questions, but they don’t realize that the answers they’re getting are in a different language.
Rabbi Hisiger: Let’s talk about mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz. Most people from chutz la’aretz are not familiar with those halachos. Does your organization play a role in educating them?
Rabbi Weiner: Yes. The issues of terumos and maasros apply every year. Buying produce in certain places could be questionable. If someone has to be in certain cities that have no hechsherim for a simcha or to visit someone, we’ll give him advice regarding how to separate terumos and maasros on his own or about what is more of a problem and what is less of a problem.
This year, there is a question of Shemitah, which could be more complicated because you don’t have the option of separating things on your own. If it’s assur, it’s assur. When people contact us, we’ll offer information and give classes to groups of yeshiva bochurim, seminary girls or avreichim to give them the knowledge of what to be aware of, which fruit stores to stay away from, etc. If people need help in situations where they have to be at a simcha or by a relative, we’ll try to guide them.
Orlah is not usually a major issue.
Hafrashas challah is more stringent in Eretz Yisroel, so we will sometimes tell someone to do it on their own if it is not clear that a Mashgiach did it in a pizza store or somewhere else.
Rabbi Hisiger: Can you leave us with a Let’s Talk Kashrus takeaway?
Rabbi Weiner: If someone is coming to Eretz Yisroel, whether it’s a bochur or a seminary girl or someone coming on a trip for the summer or for yom tov, he should be in contact with us to find out which places have better hechsherim and which hechsherim he should stay away from, as well as for advice about what to do in a shaas hadchak situation.
Rabbi Hisiger: I want to thank both of you for all that you are doing. You are really providing a tremendous service for many people who go to Eretz Yisroel and otherwise wouldn’t know who to call or where to turn. You have become a very valuable resource. Many people watching this will now have a place to call before they go to Eretz Yisroel to find out where they can eat. Thank you for your avodas hakodesh and continued hatzlacha.