August 1st, 2019
RABBI SHMULY YANKLOWITZ
MAY ONE EAT AT A VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT THAT DOES NOT HAVE A KOSHER CERTIFICATION?
EXCLUSIVE Q & A WITH ORTHODOX HALACHIC AUTHORITY RABBI HAIM OVADIA
Q: Can we can have full trust that there are no animal-based ingredients?
A: In the United States it is not worth it for a business owner to provide misleading information. If the restaurant does not serve meat, fish or seafood, there is no reason to assume that such ingredients were used in the preparation of the food.
Q: What if the dishes were previously used for non-kosher ingredients?
A: It is highly unlikely for a restaurant to have previously used dishes, and even if it did, as I explained in length in my article on Kashrut in the Modern Kitchen, the materials used for cookware, silverware, and surfaces are of very high quality and do not absorb any flavor.
Q: What if the owner is Jewish and the place is open on Shabbat?
A: The rabbis forbade food which was cooked on Shabbat and declared the dishes used to cook on Shabbat to be non-kosher. The prohibition of the food is not Halakah-based but a fine meant to deter people from doing it, and that Halakah is observed only if you know with certainty that the food was cooked on Shabbat.
Q: What about dipping dishes (tevilat kelim):
A: The practice of dipping dishes in a mikveh is rabbinic, and the poskim mention several cases in which one can be lenient and use the dishes without being dipped1 . A guest can rely on this approach, and can even assume that the dishes were dipped.
Q: Who checks vegetables and grains for bugs?
A: The main concern regarding vegetables and grains is that they might be infested, but this concern applies only to what can be seen with the naked eye. The prohibition is only against a deliberate consumption of insects, and in most kitchens the regular method of preparation takes care of visible bugs.
Q: Does vinegar need to be kosher?
A: Vinegar was included in the original decree of Mishnaic sages against drinking pagan wine, because it was wine before it became vinegar. This only applied in antiquity because back then good wine would not be wasted, and only when the wine went bad it was used to make vinegar. Today it is very rare for wine to go bad in the wineries, and so vinegar is destined from the beginning of production to be vinegar and not drinking wine. This means that vinegar, including balsamic, does not need supervision.
Q: What about Bishul Akum?
A: The prohibition on Bishul Akum, or food prepared by non-Jews, was meant to prevent intermarriage, which is the result of extreme closeness. This decree only applies to one who prepares and serves food of his own accord because of his love to his Jewish friends. It therefore follows that food served at a restaurant does not fall under the rubric of Bishul akum.
Q: What countries does this apply in?
A: It applies in any developed country with strict regulations in the food industry.
Q: Does your synagogue accept non-hekshered food?
A: The synagogue only accepts certified caterers. The psak is for individuals who are interested in eating there.
Q: Would this teshuva apply to packaged products as well that don’t have hashgacha but are labeled as vegan?
A: It would apply to packaged products, as long as they come from a developed country with tight regulations.
Q: I am particularly curious to know about something like the Beyond Burger which is a plant-based burger that apparently is very similar to real meat and is even sold in the meat section of the store, so would that also be an issue of ma’arit ayin (I have the same question about a vegan cheeseburger in general)?
A: It applies to all veggie-burgers. There is no concern of Marit Ayin beyond what is mentioned by the rabbis. In addition, today everybody knows of meat substitutes so there is no reason for them to judge unfavorably.
Q: While this issue is much less straightforward, are we worried about our money going to Avodah Zarah by supporting these businesses?
A: There is no direct connection between our money and Avodah Zara. Today the market is globalized and intertwined and every transaction you make touches everything. If we were worried about AZ we would have to go off the grid completely. Should we avoid certain days (see Mishnah Avodah Zarah 1:1)? This is also a question about supporting anything owned by a non-Jew, which is pretty much everything. This question is not about whether or not we like these halachot of not interacting, but whether, if we do agree with them, are they a factor in this teshuva? If this is a worry, then you cannot eat in a kosher Chinese restaurant for fear that one of the workers is consecrating the food to a budha dangling from a necklace under his shirt.
Q: Does anyone posken that stainless steel is not bolea lechatchila?
A: Yes – Rabbi Yaakov Peretz of Jerusalem. Head of the Semikha program at Midrash Sefaradi in the Old City”
Q: In the question about the dishes (2), what materials are the ones spoken about (“…are of very high quality and do not absorb any flavor.”)? As far as I know all materials are impregnated in one way or another.
A: As far as we know can be based on two factors, scientific research and our senses. The former proved that absorption is negligible, less than 0.000009 percent. Our senses tell us that after cooking habaneros, washing pot, and cooking bland rice, no flavor is felt. If you feel the flavor – don’t use that dish. Also see my article on koshering the modern kitchen.
Q: In the question that speaks about the owner being Jewish and cooking on shabbat (3), it is stated that the prohibition of eating food from one of this non-kosher dishes is not halachik-based. Can you please bring the source for this statement.
A: It is explained in Friendly Eat Out – it is a financial decree by the rabbis, and was originally not meant to render dishes non-kosher. Even if it were, the same argument about non-absorption applies here.
Q: There is an explicit but vivid statement all over the article, most felt in the questions about vinager and Bishul akum, where the writer let us understand that halachot that were fixed in previous (mishnaic) times and, now he considers outdated, can be abolished to the better fitting of his comfort and desire.
A: It is not to MY comfort and MY desire, but to that of the public. this is clearly built into the original decrees with the rule of: A decree cannot be made if it is too harsh for the public to follow.
Q: This is definitely not the way Orthodox Jews have protected and live through Torah for the las two thousand years. Let’s not change that in our generation.
A: If we consider our current status, in which more than 85% of Jews see themselves as non-orthodox, as a success, then you are totally right. The protection plan has worked, albeit only for a tiny part of the Jewish people.
Q: “What about bugs?”
Q: And what about the oils produced on non-Kosher lines and common vegetable bug infestation?
A: See my article on bugs. Non kosher lines are dedicated and cleaned between changes. Even if there is residue, it is batel in large quantities.
Conclusion: One can eat at a vegan or vegetarian restaurant without supervision, if fish or seafood are not served there (in which case more attention is needed).
Q: Do you have more sources for your arguments?
A: Here are more sources and explanations on four crucial issues: