Because of the special problems that can arise in restaurants, it is not sufficient to have a supervisor who comes in on a hit-or-miss basis. Restaurants, caterers, and takeout stores-particularly establishments that prepare or serve meat products-have special kosher concerns that can be met only by a full-time supervisor who controls access to the cooking area, the meat, and the dishes.
According to the guidelines established by my father, Rabbi Berel Levy, ob’m, a pioneer in the realm of kosher supervision, the kosher supervisor cannot be the owner of the facility or one of his family members.
Why is having a full-time, independent kosher supervisor so important? It adds extra expense and hardship for the restaurant, and causes problems if the supervisor is late or absent (in which case the agency must send an immediate replacement). Random spot checks by roving supervisors are more convenient and simpler to manage.
One day I happened to enter a restaurant that did not have a full-time supervisor. What did I find? The establishment was open on Shabbos. (This was permissible; the customers ordered their meals and paid for them before Shabbos.) However, as soon as the kosher supervisor left, the cook would start preparing for the next day.
The non-Jewish cook would frequently purchase small ingredients, not necessarily kosher, for use while the supervisor was out. He even purchased kosher ingredients, such as butter, for use in the meat restaurant, feeling that this would enhance the taste of the food.
In establishments without a full-time supervisor, there is often no supervision at a Friday night event and a non-Jewish staff serves the food. What is to stop the workers from warming up food on Shabbos? Even if the Rabbi comes to visit for a spot check, he will probably come only after praying, and the staff is quick to pick up on this.
Another problem that can arise without a full-time supervisor regards “meat that was obscured from the eye.” According to Jewish law, meat is unacceptable for use if it was unsealed and not under direct supervision of an observant Jew at all times. This problem can result if the only supervisor is the owner himself, and he steps out for a moment. There are legal leniencies that can be employed in such situations, but isn’t it better to aim for the higher standard whenever possible?
Even something as simple as serving wine can turn ugly in the absence of appropriate supervision. The generally accepted rule in the US is to serve only Mevushal (cooked) wine in restaurants and at catered affairs. This is due to the fact that the waiters are generally not Jewish. I recall hearing with horror of one incident where, due to inadequate supervision, a caterer had to remove half full bottles of wine from all the tables in the middle of a Bar Mitzvah when it was discovered that the wine was not Mevushal.
Perhaps the strongest argument for a full-time supervisor is that even the most staunchly observant Jew faces a difficult test when large sums of money are involved. If you make a kosher mistake in your own kitchen and have to throw out a pot of soup, it is an inconvenience but not a catastrophe. What happens when a mistake leads to a loss of hundreds of dollars?
Some years ago, I was certifying a company (not a restaurant) owned by two well-known Hasidic Jews. While discussing our kosher procedures, one of them started pressing me to be lenient on certain issues. Amazed, I asked him how he, a Hasidic Jew, could be so lax. He answered: “Now I am talking as an owner.” It is human nature to try to find loopholes if we are personally affected.
Recently, a butcher store in Flatbush, N.Y., owned by a well-known religious Jew, was found to be selling non-Glatt meat. The local supervising agency had followed the lenient policy of supervising only with random spot checks. No one was closely monitoring every piece of meat that came in, and the owner was able to bring in whatever he wanted.
Well-known experts in the field of kosher unequivocally agree that any establishment serving meat must have a full-time, independent supervisor. Most kosher agencies have already undertaken this policy, and we call on all agencies that have not done so to seriously reconsider their policy and adopt this one.