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Beth Din backtracks on squeezing kosher-style caterers




Following the Stan & Pete shake-up of the Johannesburg kosher catering industry, the Beth Din has been tightening up its rules and regulations. This is to the detriment of kosher-style (kosher but not certified by the Beth Din) caterers who will potentially have fewer functions to cater.

It appears that an old ruling which applied to venues that were deemed Beth Din-approved kosher in the past is now being enforced. This ruling stated that kosher-approved venues were not allowed to host kosher-style catering events.

The Beth Din this week, however, assured all caterers that this ruling was “being reviewed” following concerns raised by caterers about their livelihood.

The kosher food space is a small one with only a handful of caterers registered and certified kosher under the Beth Din. There is likewise only a handful of kosher-style caterers not registered and certified under the Beth Din, but this group is mushrooming around Johannesburg in the wake of rising kosher food prices, and the hefty costs of hiring a kosher caterer.

These small-to-medium-sized caterers, often women and family breadwinners, are able to keep their costs down, they say, because they do not have to pay for the full-time services of a mashgiach or the certification costs.

Many of these caterers are shomer Shabbat themselves, and some cook from kosher kitchens that are separate from their homes. Some are simply event co-ordinators at shuls who order kosher food and plate and display it. Some say they are too small to fit into a certain VAT bracket, let alone afford the Beth Din certification fees.

These uncertified caterers, who are occupying a new and lucrative space in the market place, have opted to not join the Beth Din for a number of reasons. One of these is the ability to keep prices as affordable as possible for the already cash-strapped consumer. Part of the reason they can keep costs down is because they don’t pay the certification fees.

In researching this story, people were nervous to speak out for fear of treading on someone’s toes, or losing much-needed business. Though they were walking on eggshells, most still believed that the story was important enough to contribute to it.

The Beth Din policy – enforced years ago – was apparently meant to prevent “confusion” amongst patrons attending Jewish functions, the Beth Din said this week.

Now, in order to protect the business interests of kosher-certified caterers, the Beth Din has requested that certain venues refrain from using kosher-style caterers in future.

The Beth Din sent out a letter to some venues in Johannesburg, which have had resident kosher caterers in the past, saying that they must adhere to a list of conditions, including:

  • There will be no simultaneous non-kosher function during the kosher function;
  • The venue is not to provide facilities for any caterer who advertises themselves as kosher but does not have the certification of the Beth Din of Johannesburg (Union of Orthodox Synagogues);
  • Any alterations to the venue have to be communicated to the Beth Din’s Kashrut Department; and
  • The bar provided must be under the control of the caterer and their kosher supervisor for the duration of the function, and contain only beverages authorised by the kosher supervisor.

Venues are now caught between a rock and a hard place, having been told to turn away kosher-style caterers over Beth Din-certified caterers.

However, the Beth Din this week assured caterers that the policy was “under review”. The Head of the Kashrut Department, Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, told the SA Jewish Report, “An old policy of the Beth Din says a venue that can be catered kosher may not be allowed to host kosher-style catering events.

“It is an old ruling. In our effort to modernise and innovate the Kosher Department, this policy is now under review. Some caterers have approached us, and that is why we are looking into it,” he said.

Goldstein also said the Beth Din was considering an idea that might result in event co-ordinators being registered under the Beth Din.

“A Beth-Din supervised event co-ordinator could revolutionise the industry. Until now, there has never been anything like a certified kosher co-ordinator, this is also under review,” he said

One kosher-style caterer and events co-ordinator, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she was told she could not co-ordinate an upcoming Barmitzvah at a shul because she was not a certified kosher co-ordinator.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing,” she said, pointing out that all she was hired to do was co-ordinate the brocha by laying out the kosher food which was being ordered. The Barmitzvah boy’s mother was disappointed when she was told her event co-ordinator was prevented from doing her simcha at a synagogue because she was not a certified kosher caterer.

“It becomes completely unaffordable to have a brocha for the whole community, followed by a kosher function, on top of venue hire, photographer, outfits – the costs mount. I was using this person to help co-ordinate my brocha because she was reasonable, kosher, and was not making any of the food.”

One caterer who serves kosher-style food said he was not affected at all as he did not do functions at Orthodox shuls, and stayed away from venues known to have resident kosher caterers. “I mainly go to people’s homes or small venues that are not kosher to begin with. In this way, I do not advertise myself as kosher, and I do not fall under the Beth Din’s rules and regulations. It works well.”

Another kosher-style caterer said she was extra cautious, and went above and beyond to make sure her functions were 100% kosher, even hiring a private, Beth Din-trained mashgiach for the day. “Because I’m not under the Beth Din, I’m even more strict with food preparation. The level of trust my clients have for my catering is crucial for my business.”

Goldstein said the vision of the Kashrut Department was to “see more people eating more kosher more often and for less cost”. He said his department was committed to “making sure the community gets the best value, while maintaining the highest standards of kashrut”.

The department, he said, would do everything to make sure that all relevant stakeholders in the kosher food space would be assisted going forward.

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  1. Aharon Rose

    Aug 23, 2018 at 11:08 am

    ‘The article states: One caterer who serves kosher-style food said … “I mainly go to people’s homes or small venues that are not kosher to begin with.”

    If kosher-style means ‘kosher, but not under the Beth DIn’, how is this even ‘kosher-style’? If he kashers the homes before cooking there, the article should say so.

    As it stands, it is misleading.’

  2. Meyer Lange

    Aug 24, 2018 at 4:43 am

    ‘This is another case of the beth din forcing more and more young people/couples from keeping kosher. The outcome of the Stan and Pete problem should have the same outcome as a bankrupt business. The entire leaders of the beth din and their employees should have been fired and replaced by competent people. We can no longer trust their hechshers. Who knows how long the S&P problem was going on. The responsible people have come out "clean". Amazing how the bosses have been ignored. They have no validity nor can we trust them. But they still have their full salaries and not even been slapped on their corrupt hands.I will never trust them again. Do not publish this because it would not be "jewishly" correct. It is amazing how they are protected. The same as the top Nazis said they were only following orders. It is no wonder that moshiach has not been received. I put the beth din with no  capitals as they do not deserve any recognition. ‘

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