A non-kosher wedding or Bar Mitzvah? It seems like starting a Jewish life out on the wrong foot. But many congregational rabbis in the UK were concerned that the price of kosher catering was driving congregants to seek other options for catering their celebrations, which is where the European Masorti Bet Din comes in to the picture.
Their unique “one-day license” makes it possible for any caterer to prepare a strictly kosher meal, planned, cooked and served under rabbinical supervision at a fraction of the cost of a kosher caterer.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner, head of the European Masorti Bet Din and Director of Masorti Europe, pioneered this program nearly a decade ago, and it has been growing steadily ever since. While the service can be used for any catered event, the bulk are weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.
Obtaining a “one-day license” actually requires several days of careful preparation and behind-the-scenes coordination on the part of the rabbi, the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and the caterer. Once a couple decides on a caterer and sets a menu, Rabbi Weiner meets with the chefs to review the menu and discuss each ingredient that will be used in the meal to ensure that kosher brands are used and that any problematic ingredients are substituted or the recipes are altered. A day before the event, the mashgiach kashers the entire kitchen prior to the cooking, which he supervises, and during the event he is present to deal with any issues that may arise.
Additionally, the Bet Din rents out kosher dishes (either meat or dairy) which are brought in by truck and then brought back to be washed in the kosher industrial dishwashers at the New North London Synagogue. “The dishes are by far the hardest part of the operation” says Rabbi Weiner, “we offer service for 200. It was a huge investment back when we started, and we don’t make any money on the rental—we’re lucky if we even break even on the dishes”. The entire supervision is also provided more or less at-cost. “We don’t run this as a business. This is a service we provide and our goal is to break even. We do this in order to raise the profile of Kashrut and to get our members into the mindset of keeping kosher. It’s also an educational message. The first act of a Bar Mitzvah can’t be hosting a non-kosher meal, and what message does it send about starting a Jewish life together to host a non-Kosher wedding reception?”.
In its early days, the rabbis had to decide on a standard of kashrut to apply to caterers. They decided to hold a strict standard which complied with the kashrut needs of the normative mainstream standard in the UK. While nearly all families who use their services are Masorti, many of the guests at the functions are Orthodox, so the kashrut standards held are the same as would be held by an Orthodox rabbi. While the Orthodox London Bet Din does not recognize the competing Masorti Hashgacha, the majority of Orthodox guests at these functions have no problem. For the most part, ingredients are only allowed if they are on the approved lists, though occasionally some sleuthing work is required to investigate the origins of rare product. While supervising factories is not the focus of the European Masorti Bet Din, Rabbi Weiner does enjoy getting to go behind the scenes of industrial food production and see how things are made and examining sources and production methods.
In recent years the Bet Din has supervised around fifteen events per year, but there have been several events already in the first two months of 2018 and it promises to be their busiest year yet. While there is one mashgiach who typically works at the venues, there are four others in the UK who have received training. All caterers that they supervise today are in the UK, though they previously worked with a company in Paris and intend to do an event at a chateau in the south of France later this year, and are willing to work anywhere in Europe.
Working with caterers has, for the most part, been extremely smooth. The majority of caterers are very professional and are keen to please the customers and eager to learn about Kashrut. After catering a kosher event they realize that it’s not too difficult and they often advertise that they can cater Masorti kosher events.
Click here to learn more about the European Masorti Bet Din’s “one-day license” for kosher catered events or to hire them to supervise your family’s next Bar Mitzvah or wedding.