US rabbi says women cannot issue kosher certificates
A female member of a Washington DC Modern Orthodox congregation – Maharat Ruth Friedman – has been handing out certificates, along with Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld – to a growing number of kosher restaurants in the District, and in doing so has profoundly annoyed Rabbi Yosef Wikler, above.
Wikler, publisher of the monthly Kashrus Magazine, which covers kosher food and cooking practices, objects to Friedman being in charge of kosher certification.
According to this report, unless she steps down, Wikler plans to remove Herzfeld and Friedman’s local rabbinic organisation, the Beltway Vaad, from his annual list of kosher-certifying agencies.
A kashrus agency has to abide by traditional Orthodox procedures. In the Orthodox world, until today, the only people who certify traditional kosher certification are men rabbis ordained as rabbis, and no one else.
Being in charge of a kosher organization, you have to make Jewish legal decisions which only a rabbi is entitled to make.
The clergy at Ohev Shalom-The National Synagogue have given kosher certification to three vegan restaurants in the District (along with two others in the suburbs).
We have never seen such a positive response to anything we’ve done in our life. People are clamoring for more opportunities and ways to eat kosher. Basically, the job of the religious leaders of synagogues is to help our congregants keep Jewish law, so we felt this is something we could do for the community.
For more than a decade, DC had only one kosher restaurant. Eli’s, a meat deli that opened in 2003, shut its doors a decade later. The same owner opened Char Bar, also with a meat-centric menu, at the beginning of the following year.
But now, the number of kosher restaurants in the District has tripled.
This is Friedman’s first time heading a kosher certification operation. Beyond the expanded kosher options, she appreciates the new offerings as a longtime vegetarian.
Said Friedman, who was ordained at Yeshivat Maharat, the first institution to ordain Orthodox women as clergy:
I think it’s a really interesting process. I’ve been a vegetarian for 23 years, and it’s very important to me personally that were making food that is healthy and that doesn’t mistreat animals more available to me.
Vegan restaurants are a natural fit for kosher certification because they don’t serve – and therefore don’t mix – meat and dairy products. They also do not serve non-kosher dishes like pork and shellfish, or meat and chicken that wasn’t slaughtered under kosher supervision.
But Herzfeld said there are still plenty of ways for a vegan restaurant not to be kosher. One called Evolve had to change its wine menu to only serve kosher-certified wines. Some vegan restaurants also use unkosher varieties of wine or vinegar while cooking.
Jewish law also prohibits some foods cooked by a non-Jew – a restriction restaurants can circumvent, for example, by having a Jewish person light the pilot light on a stove.
Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officier of the kosher certification department at the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certifier in the country, said there’s no problem with a woman running a kosher certification operation.
The one that takes care of the kashrut in the kitchen is my wife as well
Elefant added that he questioned the sustainability of using volunteer, unpaid kosher supervisors – which Friedman and Herzfeld are doing – but stressed that he was not commenting on the kosher certification itself.
Friedman and her colleagues have already had to contend with challenges to their qualifications: The Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America, two large umbrella Orthodox groups, both issued bans on Orthodox women clergy in recent years. But she doesn’t focus on the criticism.
She and Herzfeld both emphasized that they are doing this as a service to their congregants and local community. If someone doesn’t want to eat at the restaurants, they said, they don’t have to.
These are not the types of things that bother me. Ultimately, folks are going to choose whether they want to rely on it.