By: Rabbi David Condiotti



            “Can I speak to the mashgiach?”

By asking to speak with the mashgiach, you are showing the establishment, or at least its employees, that his job is important, that he is fulfilling a crucial role in the operation of the restaurant or catering service, even if it appears that he is not working as much as other staff members. You are also conveying to the mashgiachhimself that he must be knowledgeable enough to answer to a concerned consumer, and that he cannot have an attitude of, “Nobody cares anyway.”



           “Are all grain products here yashan?”

Yashan” literally means “old,” and the term is used in reference to grain – barley, rye, oats, wheat, or spelt – which had taken root before Pesach. The Torah commands in Vayikra (23:14) that grain products may not be eaten until the second day of Pesach (the 16thof Nissan). This means that on the 16thof Nissan, all grains that had sprouted before that day become permissible, whereas grain that sprouts on or after this day is forbidden for consumption until the next Pesach. The termyashanrefers to products madefrom grain that had sprouted before the previous Pesach, which are permissible for consumption, whereas the term hadash(literally, “new”) refers to products made from grain that had sprouted since the previous Pesach, which are forbidden.

All grain products made in Israel may be presumed to be yashan, because it is forbidden to import hadashgrain into Israel. One must remember, however, that grain products that are imported into Israel may not be yashan, since they were produced outside Israel.

Accordingto the vast majority of halachic authorities, ensuring to eat yashanconstitutes a Torah requirement both in Israel and elsewhere. Long ago, some Ashkenazic authorities preferred not to publicize the prohibition of hadashbecause people had nothing else to eat and drink, and they would not have been able to observe this law (see Shulhan Aruch, Y.D. 293). This reality resulted from the long winters in Europe, which sometimes delayed the planting of crops until after Pesach. In Sephardic regions, however, this was not a concern, and therefore no Sephardic rabbis permitted eating hadash. As such, it is important to ensure that one eats only yashanproducts.



           “Is everything pat Yisrael?”

Many people ask about the burger, but they forget about the bun. The Shulhan Aruch(Y.D. 112:2) rules that one may use bread baked by a non-Jew only if there is no Jewish baker available, which is clearly not the case in the vast majority of established Jewish communities. Ashkenazim, based on the ruling of the Rama, permitthe use of bread produced commercially by a non-Jew even if Jewishly-baked bread is readily available. Sepharadim, however, do not accept this leniency. Therefore, one must ensure that all baked goods are pat Yisrael. This applies to biscotti, bread crumbs (panko and standard), cookies, crackers, croutons, fig bars, flour tortillas, pretzels (soft and hard), wraps, and so on.



           “Is all the meat Bet Yosef?”

Very often, the fresh meat in an establishment is advertised as being Bet Yosef, but the hot dogsand cold cuts are not Bet Yosef. One should never assume that everything is Bet Yosef before speaking with the mashgiachto ascertain that this is, in fact, the case. Even chicken or turkey franks are sometimes a blend of poultry and beef fat, in which case they, too, must meet the standards of Bet Yosef.

It is important to note that veal and lamb do not need to be certified Bet Yosef, because the Ashkenazic leniencies only applied to grown, mature animals such as cows, and not to smaller animals such aslamb, kid goats, and calves, which are the source of veal. Therefore, all lamb chops, veal, and other meat from young animals are, by definition, Bet Yosef (see Shulhan Aruchand Rama, Y.D. 39:13).



           “Does the certificate in the window
           mean that the entire store is
           under supervision?”

Too often, business owners put up a certificate in the window which does not actually belong to the store. Consumers must read the certificate carefully to see what it says. It is very easy to download from the interneta kosher certificate which covers only a particular item in the store, but not the other products or the preparation process. For example, the OU certifies certain closed bottles of flavored syrup. An ice cream store using this syrup with its Italian icesmight try advertising itself as kosher, even though the facility is not under supervision, as indeed happened in one recent case.



           “Which tuna fish is used?”

Some kashrut agencies require bishul Yisraeltuna, while others do not. The lenient opinion is based on several factors, including the fact that tuna is frequently eaten raw, as sushi, and food which is eaten raw may be eaten even if it is cooked by a non-Jew. Many halachic authorities, however, dispute this ruling, and maintain that even with the growing popularity of sushi, tuna cannot be described as a food which is commonly eaten raw.

Another factor is the view taken by some halachic authorities that steaming does not qualify as “cooking” with respect to the requirement of bishul Yisrael, and thus the steam-cooking process performed in tuna factories does not have to be performed by a Jew for the product to be permissible. Others, however, maintain that steaming is no different from other kinds of cooking in this regard. Additionally, the requirement of bishul Yisraelapplies only to foods that are deemed suitable to be served to kings, and some poskim maintain that canned tuna fish is too simple and not fancy enough to meet this definition. Others disagree, arguing that since the species of fish is one which would be served to kings, tuna is subject to the laws of bishul Yisrael, and thus requires a mashgiachactively engaged in the cooking process.

Hacham Yitzchak Yosef writes in Yalkut Yosefthat his father, Hacham Ovadia Yosef, required constant supervision during the preparation of tuna for a separate reason. The OU certifies several tuna packing plants with no mashgiachon premises if these factories produce exclusively tuna fish, and nothing else. Once every month or two, the mashgiachvisits the plant to ensure that they are indeed not processing any other fish but tuna. Hacham Ovadia maintained that this level of supervision is not sufficient to prevent against the introduction of non-kosherfish into the canning process. Rabbi Moshe Heineman of the Star-K testified before Hacham Ovadia that his agency has a trained staff of mashgichimon the receiving end of the factory, who inspect the fish before it is accepted into the plant and ensure that the cooking meets the criteria of bishul Yisrael. Hacham Ovadia thereupon endorsed the Star-K’s supervision of tuna fish.
(See Yalkut Yosef, vol. 9. P. 311.)




           “Is everything halav Yisrael?”

Sometimes everything is halav Yisraelexcept for a number of products, and so this must be determined before assuming that an establishment’s dairy products are all acceptable.



           “How is the bishul Yisrael done?”

Many kinds of foods, even if they are inherently kosher, may not be eaten if they have been cooked by a non-Jew. Ashkenazic custom permits eating food cooked by a non-Jew if a Jew had kindled the fire on the stove or turned on the oven at the beginning of the day. Sephardic practice, however, following the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch(Y.D. 113:7), does not accept this leniency, and requires that the Jew must actually place the food on the fire. Therefore, Sephardic kosher supervision requires a far more active mashgiachthan Ashkenazic supervision.

An advantage of the Sephardic custom is that a more involved mashigiachhelps ensure a higher level of supervision, as he exerts more control and influence on the entire process, and is more likely to prevent mistakes from being made.




           “How were the vegetables checked?”

Vegetable salads can potentially involve more halachic prohibitions than non-kosher meat. Eating a single insect found in a salad violates as many as six Torah prohibitions, and at least four (depending on the kind of insect). Vegetables must therefore be thoroughly checked. Due to the importance of this requirement, some kosher agencies do not allow the mashgiachto check any vegetables on the establishment’s premises, fearing that the pressures of a commercial kitchen would not allow for a proper, thorough inspection. These agencies require the establishments under their supervision to use only vegetables that were inspected before entering the premises. Other agencies are more lenient and allow a mashgiachto thoroughly wash vegetables and inspect them with a lightbox on the premises. When this is done, the mashgiachmust have the temperament and experience needed to withstand the pressures of the establishment’s kitchen and to take the time to properly inspect produce and discard produce that is infested.




            “Are the French fries
            and salad really parve?”

What might be naturally parve, such as French fries or falafel, may very well have been fried in the same oil as the mozzarella sticks. This would also be a question regarding the fresh salads. The salads all come from a common preparation area or a salad bar, and it is very common to find a crumb of cheese in an otherwise parve salad. The same is true for a meat restaurant. The deep fryers used for fish are usually separate, but the potatoes and onion rings are generally fried in the same oil as the meat, and they must therefore be halachically treated as meat.