Steven I. Weiss has been covering an interesting story about the OU’s restaurant kashrut program. A mashgiach, Yitzchak Bitton at Le Marais, a kosher steakhouse in NY, claims that on his watch there were major kashrut violations, and that despite his best attempts at solving them, the OU repeatedly turned a blind eye, and tried to cover up the problems that were there, rather then possibly losing a client and taking a hard line approach. The OU has since denied that there any major problems, and that minor infractions have been dealt with, and now Le Marais is suing Mr. Bitton.
While I have no knowledge of this actual case, it sounds entirely possible. About ten years ago, when I was a teenager living in NY, I got a job as an OU mashgiach at pizzeria on the Upper West Side. While this is an entirely different caliber of job from what Mr. Bitton had (there’s not much that can go wrong in a pizzeria) I feel a similar somewhat cavalier attitude. Back then, I was employed not by the OU, but by the pizza place. That meant, of course, that if I saw any problem, I couldn’t exactly walk out. If I had insisted here was a problem, then someone else would have taken my job, and I wouldn’t have been able to eat.
I should make it clear, there weren’t any big problems, but there were little issues. For example, kitchen workers would often snack on non-kosher foods behind the counter, and they would often not inform me when they made dough, causing me to take challah in a very b’dieved way after the dough was already separated into loaves.
The problem was not the violations per se, but that I was in no position to deal with them. The OU had given me virtually no training or guidance, and while I relied on certain leniencies, these were mostly the product of my own mind or that of the eatery’s manager. Further, I was never even given a contact number at the OU to call in case I really didn’t know how to react.
It is important to note that I was not the “Rav HaMachshir.” As it was a restaurant owned and managed by Jews, constant supervision was not necessary, and periodically a professional form the OU would drop by. I was there only as a measure of stringency. Even still, it made me question at the time what the real meaning of OU supervision was, when minor violations could go on repeatedly without a meaningful check.