Politics, Religion

How Kosher is it?

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.

5 thoughts on “How Kosher is it?

  1. On this note – we should note that in Israel,all mashgichim are employed (and bribed) by the restaurants they supervise, and many times the people whose name appears on the certificate publicly claim they wouldn’t eat there.
    The whole kashrut industry needs a good shaking-up: will anyone raise the gauntlet?

  2. The mashgiakh is the paid employee of the establishment he is supposed to supervise and potentially censure ? … excuse my cupidity, but isn’t that the dictionary definition of “conflict of interest”?

  3. Hi everyone,
    The email that we have all been receiving about the unkosher activities occurring at Le Marais is pretty descriptive and disturbing in its allegations.
    In addressing my own concerns I have contacted the OU and Le Marais to find out what is really going on.
    Here is the story:
    The evening mashgiach and the chef had a big falling out. When the owner would not fire the chef, the mashgiach resigned and started a smear campaign against the restaurant. The OU is still giving certification to the restaurant and has investigated the issues and found NO HALACHIC VIOLATIONS.
    1) Shellfish- The rabbi alleges that the chef ordered shellfish and used it in the restaurant. In reality a new food delivery company for a restaurant next door made a mistake and dropped off the wrong package on a day Le Marais was closed to patrons, but open for construction. The box containing the shell fish was never even brought into the restaurant but left at the door. The delivery company admitted the error and has the invoice to prove it.
    2) Unkosher Margarine- The chef of Le Marais ran out of margarine and went to a supermarket up to get some more. Upon his return the mashgiach saw that the chef had purchased OU-Dairy margarine. The dairy margarine was brought right back and NEVER came near ant food. The chef realized the mistake and since then has been even more careful, and relies on the mashgiach’s advice for everything purchased in an emergency situation.
    3) Strawberries- The claims that strawberries that had not been properly checked were used. This is just not true as the morning mashgiach, Rabbi Avrohom Keller, had cleaned and checked all the strawberries.
    4) Turning on the flame- the daytime mashgiach, Rabbi Avrohom Keller, has never ever seen this in his experiences with the chef.
    5) Beetles in the lettuce- The rabbi claims that the chef intentionally placed bugs in the salad. It is the mashgiach’s responsibility to check the lettuce for bugs before it is served; yet, the chef he directs his anger wasn’t even at the restaurant the night he claims it happened.
    Again the OU has investigated and found these to either be slander or misunderstandings. The OU is still giving their certification.
    I hope that you will trust the OU here as we do on so many of our products and trust the integrity of the owners of le Marais, who have been slandered for no reason other than the anger of a disgruntled mashgiach. What the allegations amount to is a bizarre reversal of the old Jewish “blood Libel” canard, as the chef and the owner of Le Marais are not Jewish, and are being accused of intentionally feeding Jews treif to satisfy some perversion.
    After speaking with the owner of Le Marais and meeting Rabbi Avrohom Keller, a good man and trustworthy mashgiach, I hold them in much esteem for being so thorough in their investigation to get to the bottom of this. The daytime mashgiach stated very clearly that the evening mashgiach was warned repeatedly by the OU to stop making up his own rules about kashrut and stop the rumors and gossip he was creating, and to stick to the kashrut guidelines of the OU.
    Rabbi Yakkov Luban and Rabbi Dov Schreier at the OU, prepared a defense of Le Marais and disgust over the slander. I have enclosed it with this email.

  4. The above posting made by “keats” is the OU’s lame excuse for a PR campaign that everyone knows is built on protecting itslef not our kashrut observance. Instead of focusing their energies on fixing the problems, the OU chooses (foolishly) to treat us like idiots, unable to discern the truth.
    This same posting above has been posted in almost every blog that is talking about this event. Furthermore, the details provided, as well as the way it is written, should not fool anyone, exept those who rather dig their heads in the sand.
    Have a KOSHER Passover.

  5. 1. you are not allowed to leave meat alone with a goy – if you do, it is treif.
    2. The OU hired Rabbi Bitton and I am sure that if they were so careful in everything like they claim to be, they would have noticed if his hashkafa was crazy. How long did he work for the OU? Why would they let a crazy rabbi go represent them in the first place? Sounds to me like they are just making it up in order to cover their tracks.
    3. If bugs are in food, it is treif!
    The restaurant is owned by goyim, who have a treif restaurant across the street. Is there no shortage of Jewish- owned restaurants to eat at, that we need goyim to open up a restaurant and we trust them with our meat, over a rabbi who the OU thought well enough of to hire in the first place, who has quit his job (I heard he has twelve kids) in order to do what he is commanded by halacha to do – protect people from eating treif!!!!!!!!
    Why would they sue him for 10 million dollars if he was a nobody wacko?
    Who are you trusting over meat? An honest, decent rabbi who was originally hired by the OU, who must have done extensive research into his background before hiring him, over a goy, when Eisav sonei Yaakov?
    I am sure there is a lot of money involved in this for the OU and that there are people involved here afraid to lose their jobs.
    My family knows this family for the past forty years. There is no way Rabbi Bitton is just making this stuff up. He is a kind person with twelve children and he doesn’t have some sick perversion like you would want to make him have. —keats, how much is the OU paying you to go to each website that this issue appears on to post the same stuff?
    You don’t know Rabbi Bitton. He has a sterling reputation. He has the backing of many people in the Brooklyn community. Including myself. I don’t think anyone would stand up for the integrity of the OU the way people are going to stand up for Rabbi Bitton when the time comes, no money involved, just out of knowing what good people he and his family are.
    You people are trying to make this into a personal vendetta when it was only the fact that this non-Jewish chef was making people who thought they were eating kosher, eat treif that caused this whole thing. Rabbi Bitton upheld the halacha of not standing by his brother’s blood. It was his job to make sure the people ate kosher and he did it even when it meant he would have to quit his job.

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