Faced with the prospect of weeks of grueling Passover cleaning, shopping, and cooking, many Jewish families opt to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors in Egypt and make a run for it. With a plethora of Kosher for Passover hotels advertising a holiday of luxury and convenience, many choose to spare themselves the rigors of Passover preparations.
But before you pick up the phone and make your reservations, you should consider both your physical and spiritual needs. Passover is a time when Jewish families are traditionally more meticulous in their kosher observance. If staying in a hotel will result in your being more lenient, the whole experience may not be worth it.
To help you evaluate hotels, I will outline the issues that the OK Kosher Certification uses in determining whether a hotel can be made acceptable. “Acceptable” is a more appropriate word than “kosher,” because preparing a hotel for Shabbat and Yom Tov use involves more than just food!
Let’s look at two potential problem areas: Shabbat and Kosher issues.
If the hotel you are visiting is being used exclusively for Passover guests, there should be no blatant desecration of Shabbat or Yom Tov. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, check-in and check-out should not be allowed, hotel shops should be closed, and music should not play in the lobby.
Electronic signals, like electrical switches, must not be triggered on Shabbat. Thus, the modern technology that solves many security and housekeeping problems for hotels, presents serious problems for the Shabbat-observant guest. Electronic keys are one example. These are plastic key-cards that are programmed for each individual guest. This is fine for weekdays, but electronic keys cannot be used on Shabbat or Yom Tov.
In some hotels, housekeeping receives an electronic signal when the room is empty, at which time the staff knows to come and straighten the room. By leaving the room, the guest automatically triggers the electronic monitor.
Many hotels have doors which open via an electronic eye. Even when the doors are kept open (for example, by someone who has just walked through them), the electronic eye may flash as each person walks by.
Of course, the laws of Shabbat must also be observed in the kitchen. Cooking is forbidden on Shabbat. Cholent, a stew comprised of meat, beans, and potatoes, is a staple in the Jewish home for Shabbat lunch because it is placed on the stove or in the oven before Shabbat and kept warm until Shabbat afternoon. Some hotels are convinced that they must supply their customers with a hot meal other than the traditional Cholent on Shabbat afternoon. They sometimes reach very far to find leniencies to justify heating foods on Shabbat.
Koshering a hotel is very complicated and time consuming. The process must be performed with scrutiny, patience, and responsibility.
First, all non-kosher or non-Passover food must be removed before the cleansing of equipment can begin. Once the koshering process begins, the entire kitchen is off limits for non-Passover food production.
Depending on the size of the hotel kitchen, it can take from two days up to a week to kosher properly. Many hotels seek to delay the koshering process until the last possible moment-as close to Passover as possible. The OK insists on koshering a Passover hotel kitchen a full week prior to the holiday.
Many Passover hotels are not kosher year-round. Before the OK even considers koshering a hotel, we evaluate if it is generally fit to be kosher. As the OK insists on complete separation of meat and dairy, several concerns arise.
Storage. In most cases, members of the hotel kitchen staff are not accustomed to keeping meat and dairy separate. Unless there are separate storage areas for meat and dairy, it’s easy for the foods to be mixed accidentally.
Cooking areas. Due to the high volume of cooking, spillage and splattering is frequent. Thus, complete segregation of all areas, including the area where the food is set out on plates, is necessary to preclude the unintentional mixing of meat and milk. The OK requires separate stoves, ovens, dish warmers, sinks, steam kettles, broilers, griddles, etc.
Steam kettles. The use of a common steam line for kosher and non-kosher cooking is not acceptable. This is a method in which steam is used in place of fire for cooking. When steam is returned to the boiler after having been used to cook non-kosher food and is then used to cook kosher food, the latter becomes not kosher. The same holds true for dairy and meat foods. Another problem arises with consecutive use of steam. This is when steam first heats a dairy kettle and then a meat kettle. Afterwards the steam, which now contains meat and dairy elements, might be directly injected into a pressure cooker to steam vegetables!
As you can see, there are many issues involved in preparing a hotel for Passover use. Please use this information to question the various tour providers. By booking your retreat responsibly, you will assure your family a truly redeeming Passover experience.