Halachic Community Standards: Standards for Maintaining a 100% Kosher Kitchen in the Ahavat Achim community

Purpose and Goals

Prohibitions regarding cooking or heating food on Shabbat are based on the Torah prohibitions of not cooking and not using fire on Shabbat and the rabbinic extensions of these laws. Observing them is a personal decision for each individual and family to contemplate on their own. As a community, we do not judge anyone for how or whether they implement these laws in their homes. People have a right to grow religiously and move towards observance at a pace appropriate for them. However, it is important for people to know what the community's halachic standards are.

When you invite people to your home, which I would hope becomes or already is a regular activity, you take upon yourself a responsibility to feed those guests food that they are halachically allowed to eat. That means keeping to community standards. In addition to making sure the food you serve is itself kosher according to community standards of kashrut, there are Shabbat community standards which you need to observe regarding that food.

Food that is cooked on Shabbat, or even heated incorrectly on Shabbat, is prohibited to be eaten, by anyone, including guests, for the duration of Shabbat. I am confident that these community standards for Shabbat re-heating will help unify our community because they will allow everyone to feel comfortable hosting and being hosted on Shabbat, in any home in the community. I have also included several other areas of halachic communal standards that may impact on the Kashrut of the food served in someone’s home. If anyone has any concerns please feel free to reach out to me at rabbishestack@gmail.com. Most (but not all) of these topics were covered in the 3 – Part Elul Matters Series on Kashrut that Chana and I gave this past Elul, so feel free to listen to the series on the shul website.

Topic #1: Reheating Food on Shabbat


Do not: Put any uncooked food or beverage on a hot burner, in a heated oven, in a crock pot that is on or in a heated urn on Shabbat itself. Moreover, there are many rules that apply even to fully cooked foods, such as:

Do Not: Heat any liquids on Shabbat. Water or even fully cooked soup or stew - anything that can be poured out - needs to be put on the heat (in an urn, crock-pot, or on the stove) and left there, BEFORE Shabbat. If there’s a little bit of sauce on chicken or meatballs, that’s ok, but anything with a liquid base, or with a significant amount of liquid cannot be reheated on Shabbat. For specific borderline cases, contact the Rabbi.

Do not: Reheat even solid food that has cooled down (from the refrigerator, for example) either by putting it right on the stove or in the oven. This will render it prohibited to be eaten on Shabbat (for you and your guests).

You can reheat cold, solid, pre-cooked food by adhering to any one of the following procedures:

1. Put it on a warming tray ("plata" in Hebrew) which cannot be adjusted (tape the knob if there is one) and is not designed to cook (just to warm).

2. Put it on a "k'deira blech" or a "non-blech" which is a pan of water covered by another pan (not just a plain sheet of metal which is called a "blech”).

3. Put it in a warming drawer or cupboard, which is designed just to warm, not to cook.


"So, what does the blech (metal sheet over the stove) that I grew up with allow me to do?"

A simple blech only allows you to return hot food (solid or liquid) which you removed from the stove (and had in mind to return to the stove) back to the stove - while the food remains hot. A blech does not allow you to reheat food once it has cooled down. Without a blech, once you remove food from a stove (even a glass covered stove) you cannot even return it to the stove. A "k'deira blech" — meaning a pan of water covered by another blech (the equivalent of a double boiler) allows you to return cold solid pre-cooked food to the stove.

Do: Ask the rabbi if you have any questions about these procedures for re-heating. Food on the k'deira/non-blech can be covered with a towel, and it will reheat evenly. REMEMBER: Only solid food which has already been cooked can be reheated. Liquids or uncooked food cannot.

Do: Eat hot food on Shabbat, if you can. It is a misguided Kara'ite custom to eat only cold food (unless that is what you like). So how is it possible with all of the Do Nots listed above?

Do: Keep food in a crock pot or on the stove or in the oven overnight, but…

Do: Make sure that any food you serve is at least one-half cooked before Shabbat starts (18 minutes after candle lighting). For example, if you are making cholent, make sure you put it in with enough hours to make it minimally edible (hard, chewy, but edible) before Shabbat. If cholent takes five hours to be ready to be served (even if normally it is served after 12 hours…), the rabbis estimated one half of that would allow it to be minimally edible, meaning that you have to give it 2 ½ hours to cook before Shabbat starts. HOWEVER, if you cover your crockpot with a layer of tin foil, and preferably the knob as well, you can put your cholent in the crockpot any time before Shabbos. (see “Part 3 of Elul Matters” for reasoning behind this law)

Stirring Cooked Food

Do Not: Stir food in the crock pot or on a heated stove once Shabbat comes in, at the very least until it is fully cooked. Once it is cooked the dish must be removed from the heat source before stirring. Remember to keep your hand on the dish if you intend to return it to the flame, or at least have in mind that you will return it and keep it on the counter. To add water to the cholent, one may take the cholent off the heat source, hold it under the urn and pour the water directly into the crockpot

For serving: It is preferable to remove the ceramic insert of the crock pot before transferring the contents to a serving dish.

Tea and Coffee

Do: Feel free to offer your guests tea or coffee; however, since brewing tea or coffee may be considered cooking, please follow the following special Shabbat procedures (these can be ignored on Yom Tov):

You may use instant coffee or tea or essence that is made before Shabbat by putting several tea bags in a cup of hot water, or you may make tea (or coffee) by the most common technique:

  • "K'li sh'lishi" (tertiary vessel) tea: Make sure that the tea bag only is immersed into a cup of water that has been twice transferred from the urn or kettle. For example, hot water is poured from the urn (primary vessel) into a teapot or carafe (secondary vessel) and from there to each person's cup (tertiary vessel). Once it is in their cup, they can then put in the tea bag without any fear of cooking (the water is still piping hot, just a little cooler than it was in the urn).
  • Coffee can be made in a conical pour over (“Melitta”). One should pour from a “kli sheini” into the coffee ground when using this method. (see Part 3 of Elul Matters recording for reasoning)

Do Not: Be scared or intimidated! These laws are meant to be doable, and if you make a mistake, that is exactly what the rules were designed for: to protect the basic Torah laws of not cooking and not using fire on Shabbat. Please speak to the rabbi if you have any questions, doubts or issues regarding any of these standards. They are meant to enhance your Shabbat, not to diminish it. May the performance of these mitzvot bring both merit and unity to your homes and our community.

 

Topic #2: Kashrut Supervision

The CRC (Chicago Rabbinic Council) has done the American Jewish Community a great service by delving into kashrut agencies around the world and creating a list of reliable kashrut supervision agencies around the country. All certifications on this list are reliable: http://www.crcweb.org/agency_list.php

This list is not exhaustive, there are certain hashgachot that are reliable, sometimes for specific locations, that are not on the list. (E.g. the KOA is a reliable hashgacha for the Rita’s in Fair Lawn.)



Topic #3: Specific Foods

Cheese and dairy products

Cheese requires a hashgacha from one of the above reliable certifications.

Grape products

Wine, grape juice and any product with grape juice or grape flavoring, including unspecified "fruit juices", need to be reliably certified as kosher. Fresh whole grapes are kosher. Even if a wine is certified kosher, it may not be appropriate for your dinner table. That is because, since our community is so open and diverse, frequently we will have around our shabbat tables beloved people who are gentile or who have not yet fully converted to Judaism or who may have converted with non-halachic conversions. In such a case, only wine that is MEVUSHAL (flash heated or pasteurized) may be served.

Almost all American kosher wine is Mevushal (Kedem, Baron Herzog, Weinstock - except when noted), but many of the Israeli wines (especially Galil, Golan and Yarden) are not. In order to make your table as inclusive and comfortable as possible for all people, please look for the word MEVUSHAL on the back label of the kosher wine you buy (sometimes it is in Hebrew).


Liquor:

While unflavored beers, and hard alcohols are kosher without certification. The increased popularity of flavored alcohols makes the following list extremely helpful. http://www.crcweb.org/LiquorList.pdf Please review this list before purchasing any flavored alcoholic beers or liquors.

Fresh fish:

It is acceptable to buy the fish from a regular store as long as the following conditions are met:

1. Make sure the fish is a kosher fish.

2. Make sure you can identify this fish 100% as kosher either by seeing its scales or because it is red or pink in color.

3. Ask that the fish be cut on a new piece of paper.

4. If you cannot have them use a knife that you bring, try to have them wash off their knife before they cut your fish. In any case, make sure you wash the fish thoroughly when you get home. Since nothing hot touched the fish, washing them off will clean off anything treif that might have touched them.

  1. If possible, when you return home, you should gently scrape the cut part of the fish with a knife.

Onions:

Onions can be a major issue if mistakes are made between milk and meat utensils. For your own sake, please use a parve knife and cutting board every time you cut an onion. This only applies to sharp foods like raw onions, hot peppers, etc.

Fruits and Vegetables:

While fruits and vegetables are inherently kosher, there is a Torah prohibition to eat bugs, and since it is the “whole creature”, the bug is not nullified, batel b’shishim, the way other non-kosher foods are. As such checking for bugs is a necessary endeavor in maintaining a kosher kitchen, especially as the FDA limits the use of pesticides, making bugs more and more common in the fruits and vegetables that we eat. That being said, this too is not generally an arduous process, though there are a few fruits and vegetables that are quite difficult to check, in that regard it does take some getting used to. This list from the star-K provides a very reasonable framework for checking fruits and vegetables. https://www.star-k.org/checking

One leniency: When the star-K requires a lightbox to check soapy water for bugs, it is sufficient to check the soapy water by blowing the suds out of the way. A light box is not necessary to check the water.

Topic #4: Toveling (Immersing) Dishes:

While serving food on dishes that have not been immersed in a mikvah does not make the food non-kosher, it is a Torah obligation to immerse dishes in the mikvah. It only needs to be done one time and it is a fun and educational Sunday activity for the family. Here’s an easy to follow list of what and what does not need immersion from the star-k. https://www.star-k.org/articles/kosher-lists/1170/tevilas-keilim-guidelines/

 

These standards are designed to unite our community — to enable us to feel comfortable in any house we go to. The detailed laws of kashrut are meant to be a celebration of the holiness inherent in our meals. If we all work together to keep to these standards, everyone will feel comfortable in our community, and no one will be judging anyone else's standards because we will all be equal in that regard. We sing, when we put the Torah away,"d'racheha darchei no'am" — Torah takes us in the most pleasant way. Let us together continue to create a community whose standards reflect the pleasantness we each have within us and which the Torah wants us to bring to our tables and homes.

My thanks to Rabbi Barry Gelman for providing me with the template for this message and my Rebbe Rav Assaf Bednarsh for reviewing the content. May we all take great joy in fulfilling the commandments of our Creator on a communal level.

 

Rabbi Ely Shestack

Sun, December 17 2017 29 Kislev 5778