Op-Ed: I Ate In a Kosher Restaurant, But Is It a ‘Jewish’ Establishment?

A reader writes, It began with the change to non-Jewish music. Soon, the benchers and washing station were tucked away, hidden in hard-to-see places. Ask the waiter if the bread is Hamotzi or Mezonos and you are met with a blank stare and a mumbled "I'll check with the manager". What comes next and how do we fix it?

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It began with the change of music. Soon, the benchers and washing station were tucked away, hidden in hard-to-see places. Ask the waiter if the bread is Hamotzi or Mezonos and you are met with a blank stare and a mumbled “I’ll check with the manager”. Of course, the manager was none the wiser as they only learned of Kosher and Pas Yisroel the other day. The change crept up on us slowly but soon completely altered the Kosher dining experience.

As Frum Yidden, we still only eat at restaurants with the best Hechsherim in the world, which employ professional Mashgichim who observe the gleaming kitchens and confirm that every lettuce leaf was carefully checked. Our meat comes from the shochtim who are Yirei Shamayim with the strictest chumros. Our bread are baked with Yoshon wheat and the tape on our delivery bags with the Hashgocha symbol on it is the strongest yet. Everything is very Kosher, but hardly Jewish.

Eating out in luxury has its place and is perfectly compatible with our frum life. It is just important to remember that we are eating out as frum yidden. There is something that makes our kosher restaurants different from the treif’e steakhouse down the street. The big sign with many signatures denoting the top-notch hashgacha alongside the A+ health rating sign, along with many awards and positive reviews, only tells a small part of the story. Is this a Jewish restaurant? Will this be a Jewish environment where the things necessary for a frum Jew to enjoy their meal come as easily and naturally as the waiter refilling the glass of water?

For hundreds of years, the marketplaces and Kretchme’s in the Shtetlach of Europe and Russia, the bustling Mellah’s were run by bubby’s, zaidy’s, and innkeepers who all wore their Yiddishkeit on their sleeve. You could not walk into their shop without immediately being enveloped in a world that screamed unapologetically we are Torah Yidden.

This is something that has significantly changed in the past years. That feeling when you walk into a restaurant and you know immediately that you are in a Jewish space is slowly disappearing. No matter how up-scale or exclusive a restaurant, there used to always be the tell-tale signs that you were in a place made for frum Yidden. Now, however, it seems that feeling is slipping away. It is often unintentional on the owner’s part. They are running a high-stakes, stressful business and barely have enough time to walk inside their actual store to see what it looks like as a visitor. They are overworked and can barely concentrate on the bills stacking up and their payroll, let alone check if their waiters are knowledgeable in the specific details and Halachos of frum life.

One way to mitigate this is hiring frum managers. This has the advantage of firstly giving a frum Yid a good parnasah, and secondly having someone on-site who is intimately familiar with the needs of frum Yidden and our unique sensitivities. They are constantly aware of the ambiance of the restaurant and can take steps to make it a more comfortable experience for frum clientele. They will be aware when the playlist plays music that does not belong and can step in when matters need the attention of someone who knows the neighborhood well.

We have also all heard of far too many stories in recent years where, despite restaurants having frum owners, non-kosher food was still brought in and served to unwitting customers. This has led to deep mistrust on the customers’ part that even a store with a good hashgacha can’t prevent such things from happening when all the backroom staff will never be able to really understand why this matter is so important to us. Having a full-time frum store manager, at the bare minimum, will provide an extra set of eyes on the process. Hiring someone well-regarded will give regular customers confidence again that kashrus is something this kosher restaurant takes seriously.

There are only benefits to such an arrangement and providing community members with good paying jobs whilst also raising the standards of our restaurants kashrus is a win win for all.


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1 Comment

  • Kashrus 03/26/2024 | ט"ז אדר ב' התשפ"ד

    Spot on! Everyone has been saying this for the longest time.
    I just shared this article on a Kosher Restaurant WhatsApp Group that i am on.

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