Dear Reader,

During the past year, a heated debate took place regarding the kosher certification of restaurants and hotels that are open to the public (not private parties). What are the responsibilities of the certifying agency? How far does the hechsher go? Is the kashrus agency only responsible for the kashrus of the food, or is it the agency’s responsibility to ensure a kosher atmosphere as well?

Some say the hechsher is there to make sure the food is kosher and that’s all. It should be of no concern to the certifying agency what other activities go on in the restaurant—for example, what kind of background music is played, or how the employees dress. The rabbi is not the monarch of the establishment; he should do what he was commissioned to do and nothing more. As the saying goes, “Live and let live.”

However it is the position of the OK that it is the agency’s responsibility to ensure a “kosher-friendly” environment as well. In fact, at the OK we believe that is exactly what we have been commissioned for.

The main reason a food establishment gets kosher certification is to draw as many kosher consumers as possible. The OK maintains that many kosher consumers would not enter a restaurant that was not “kosher-friendly” even if the food was kosher. For a very drastic example, just to prove a point, if the restaurant was geared to a very immodest atmosphere, most kosher consumers would not go there even if the food was kosher.

Here is another example—every Pesach, many families go to a Kosher for Passover hotel. The OK feels a responsibility to ensure a kosher atmosphere in the entire hotel—from the pool deck to the pool table. Others say, “No! Supervise the kitchen and dining room and that’s it.”

But, you can just imagine the turmoil and complaints we would get if the mashgichim said it was not their place to make sure that there was a proper eruv at the hotel and people were stuck in their rooms on Shabbos with their infants and no food! Did you know that when the OK certifies a hotel for Shabbos or Pesach, prior to granting certification, in addition to all the obvious investigations and arrangements that we do, we need to ensure a way that the guests can enter and leave their rooms even with the electric locks on the doors (either by disabling them or by arranging a hotel staff member on every floor to open the door when needed)? We even have to check the lavatories to make sure that they can be used on Shabbos and Yom Tov (many of the fancier hotels use electronic eyes to control those devices and they should not be used on Shabbos). Some hotels even have electronic monitoring devices in every room sending a signal to housekeeping to alert them when you have vacated your room in order to enable someone to clean your room.

That’s why the OK knows that not just the food, but the entire establishment, needs monitoring. A place that has a hechsher should be a place where the majority of kosher consumers feel comfortable. The OK believes that there must be kosher without compromise on the ingredients and preparation of the food and on a “kosher-friendly” environment, and that’s the best way to service the kosher consumer.

Now you see that OK certification goes a lot deeper than just supervising the meat and potatoes (and as usual there will be plenty of potatoes) on your plate this Pesach.

Wishing you all a kosher and “kosher-friendly” Pesach.
Rabbi Chaim Fogelman