Monday, October 27, 2008

The Five Towns Vaad, Bagel Boss and messing with the fressin'

This weekend reinvigorated a major debate/fight that took place in the Five Towns over the last few years (which included the now SuperStore Gourmet Glatt). To quickly review, Bagel Boss Cafe in Hewlett is currently not under the supervision of the Five Towns Vaad. Almost unanimously, all Orthodox Synagogues in the area have advised their congregants to not RELY on any Hashgachah for anyone outside the Vaad. Very simply, if you want to come into the area as a food establishment and you want the endorsement of the local Orthodox Rabbi's, use the Vaad. In other world, don't go to Bagle Boss.
In a perfect world (or even the imperfect world we live in) this means, no matter how Chassidish, Mizrachi, Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, etc you are (or pretend to be), you can trust the food anywhere. For anyone who lives in areas where this isn't the case, knows this is an incredible Chiddush. People who live in per say Brooklyn need a GPS to navigate through which of the butchers, restaurants, food stores, etc where they can shop.
Now, recently Rabbi Billet, Head Rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere, the largest YI in the world sent out the following email:
Dear Members

There are several stores (Bagel Boss and Dunkin Donuts near the Hewlett Station) that display Kashrut certificates from a Rabbi Asher Schechter. The only stores in our neighborhood that serve baked or cooked items made in house or by a company like Dunkin Donuts (which is a mostly non kosher chain) whose Kashrut standards are recommended are stores under the Vaad HaKashrut of the Five Towns.
Local non Vaad supermarkets who bake in house (like Costco) can be relied upon if their products carry a recognized national hechsher like the OU, KOF K, OK, STAR K etc.
This created an uproar amongst the various factions (those pro the Vaad and those anti). Those pro use the solid arguments of not going against the klal and listening to you're Rav as their basis. Plus, the Vaad is a respected organization and respected by ALL sides of the Orthodox spectrum. The sides against use the basic argument of free enterprise and competition and keeping checks and balances in the system. They also use the argument of cost and how small establishments should be able to use other reliable and cheaper option. In the case of Bagel Boss, since they have many stores and they use the same certification on all (which from all I've heard is extremely reliable) why pay a double tax.
Either way, I have heard extremely valid arguments on both sides of the fence. I am not here to argue either side. I'm just a simple yid who doesn't qualify to argue on extremely sensitive and important halachac issues. I trust my Rav enough to do this for me and make these judgments. If i didn't, I would go someplace where I could.
What I'm here to do is expose the underlying issue here:. It's what people are failing to notice; it is also at the core of the major problem in Orthodox Jewry today. The problem isnt whether or not people care about some poor guy who cant afford a Hashgachah (although there are some altruistic people that do, in general most couldn't care less). It's not about whether or not they really could give a rats toochas if the Vaad had a check and balance. Believe me, if Bagle Boss weren't that good we wouldn't have heard a peep (for the record I have eaten at many Bagel Boss's but never at the one in Hewlett and wont until it is approved by my Rav). It's simply about someone telling someone else, what he can and can not do when it comes to his Taaivadick (new word perhaps), narcissistic, gluttonous lifestyle. For G-d's sake, no one is going to tell Mr. Schwartz where he can or cant eat a bagel. No sir. When these guys are discussing the Vaad and the controls of their local Orthodox Rabbi's at some fancy (treif) sushi bar in the city or some local Italian Restaurant treif- but they only eat the pasta, or even the local diner over eggs and coffee, it has nothing to do with the poor guys ability to pay the Vaad. It's about his narcissistic urges being fulfilled. You see that is what this is about and that is the root of many if not all our problems.
Sure, it's great to have a friendly Rabbi who will say a nice speech at little Tyler's Bar Mitzvah or Kimberly's Shalom Bat, or even give you a Gut Shabbos (or Shabbat Shalom) after you strolled in during Mussaf, but heaven forbid he should give you religious advise or direction (unless of course it's to help poor Tyler with his drug problem in 10th grade and trying to figure out which Yeshiva will still take the poor soul).
The problem is we live in a "me first" society and that includes G-d. Sure, I'll pray to G-d during the times that I choose to and when I need him (you know, like so I can have more money to fill my selfish life). That means, Shacharis starts when I show up. It means davening 3 times a day is optional and only if doesn't interfere with real things-like work or kiddush club. It means, if I want to talk in shul, the nagging Gabbai/ Shammash- who is trying so hard to keep the Bais Medrash a Makom Kedushah- should mind his own business. It means if the restaurant I want to go is the "in place", I'll go and eat (only of course if it's Sushi or Dairy, I would never eat meat out, heaven forbid).
It also means why we have so many kids these days who are apathetic to Yiddishkeit. In my day, the kids that were apathetic were the kids smoking weed, drinking and engaging in other various forms of questionable halachic activities. The "good" kids were frum. Today, not so. Why? Very simply, when you get picked up for Yeshiva at 7:30 AM and don't come home until two-three hours after your the kid next door who goes to the local #6 school, and all you learn about is how important learning, davening, middos (or Midot) and Avodos Hashem is, and then as soon as you go home and ask your dad why he only wears a kippah while eating and going to shul (if that much) and why it takes him 6 minutes to daven in the morning (it at all) and that includes putting on and off his tallis and tefilin, and why when he went to Moishe's house he found out that there actually is Shacharis on Shabbos and not just Mussaf, etc. etc.
Kids are extremely smart and perceptive. If they see the whole thing as some hypocritical game, they treat it as such. They understand their parents pray to G-d when they need things, like a new Lexus or an additional floor to our house. But they don't really need to serve G-d. That's old fashioned.

The bottom line is when we argue to eat in these places and argue against our Rabbincal leaders (by the way, I believe 100% that if you do have an issue with a ruling or Psak you should talk to your Rav. But do it in a nice, discreet, private fashion that allows for the kavod of the situation and the Rav. Don't just blab it to your friends while during mussaf) are we doing eat because we just want to fill our own gluttonous needs or not?


Anonymous said...

The Whoo'as are very bad when it comes to eating kosher. However, the Whoo'as are enlightened and not the type of person (as many cynical friends do) to disparage those who do answer to a higher authority.

However, the Orthodox Kashrut establishment is corrupt. This is an area that private businesses ( OU, OK, V etc) should not control. Too much mischief and the community is not being served. If some poor schmuck selling coffee out of his car wants to sell to kosher people he should get a certification from the community not have to shell out 15K.

If the Rabinet's job is to create a Geder around the torah, and the torah prohibits breaking this geder, what good is it? You get the same punishment for breaking the geder based on the torah prohibition making you follow the Rabbi's. It's just making life tuffer.

1) It's still better to break one commandment over & over (violating a rabanan) rather then violating shabbat & kosher & eruv which are different commanments. IE Violating the Shabbat Rabanan is a violation of thou shalt listen to your rabbis and not a violation of shabbat.

2) When you die you get off the hook for rabunans. (Would be awesome)

Cassell is the worst QB ever. TPC had no idea what he was talking about.

Obama smokes two packs a day, he is statistically more likely to die in office then McCain

Anonymous said...

The real reason I think Rabbi Billet is causing such a strong community reaction has nothing to do with a Rabbi telling us that the best kosher bagels in town are not really kosher. The real issue to many is that, within the orthodox community, we have one Rabbi openly calling into question the credability of another orthodox Rabbi. Who should we trust? Should we decide who is really motivated by halacha and who is corrupt? In actuality, it is the VAAD who has been experiencing eroding credability- maybe not in terms of kashrut- but certainly in terms of buisiness ethics.

ThePeoplesChamp said...


I understand your position and many share the same thought.
My post however, was geared more towards the public's reaction to Rabbi Billet (who in my personal opinion acted for the betterment of the Kahal) and the Vaad and why they reacted that way. I am not qualified nor know enough of the "inside" to make those judgements.
I do know my neighborhood and their motives and I think the main reason for the uproar was because of what I wrote (the general selfish feedings of the 2000 American Jew's Taivah's ).
I think there wouldnt be a peep if were a different, less popular bagel store.

Anonymous said...

Here's a communication directly from rabbi Schechter about the level of his supervision

Dear Rabbi Schechter,

>>>I am a resident of the Five Towns and am aware that you give hashgacha to Bagel Boss in Hewlett. Many of my neighbors have started eating there, but before I do I need to know a few things about the way the store is run.

First, it is not our intention to compete with the Vaad establishments. I recomend that if all things are equal that you that you patronize them. Quite frankly, their Kashrus standards are higher than ours.

>>>I understand that the Rosner family is Jewish, yet they are operating on Shabbat. I have heard that there is a Shtar Mechira in place but I have also heard that the contract is between one of the owners and his non-Jewish wife. Could you please supply more information on this point?

There are a few nonjewish partners in the operation including the wife of one of the investor couples. The Rosner family does not own and operate the store for Shabbos & Yom Tov and they are not permitted to even show their faces on those days.

>>>Also, I would like to know if challah is taken from the dough for the bagels or batter from the muffins. Who is responsible for this and is the person taking the challah shomer shabbat?

My Assistant Rabbi Yaakov Miller (a Rebbe at South Shore) takes Challah. We use the Star-K system (once per shipment).

>>>Are vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, scallions and such being checked for bugs?

We get quality produce (which is rarely infested) and we wash them carefully. My Assistant and I spot check them to make sure. We do not have a Mashgiach washing them or a light box, etc. I tell people who have a higher standard to avoid eating these vegetables at Bagel Boss.

>>>Is there a Jewish person on premises to check eggs and to insure that the fires are being lit by a Jew?

All the cooking fires have pilots and my Assistant and I relight them each visit. The eggs are either frozen liquid eggs O-U or opened in the store by the workers who are trained to look for and discard those with blood spots. We spot check their adherence.

>>>In your letter of Kashruth you maintain that the bagels, breads, rolls and other similar items can be considered pareve. Who insures that the pans for the rolls and bread are being kept separate from the pans for dairy pastries? Is there a pareve sink for these utensils? Is there a separate oven for the baking of dairy pastries and muffins?

We have a seperate Dairy oven for Dairy Pastries, etc. Most of the bread products are baked directly on the Parve oven floor. Those that need pans (Challahs and Challah Rolls) are baked on Dairy Pans that are completely covered with a thick Aluminum Foil. The Challahs remain Parve because they do not come in contact with the Dairy Pans. The Kaiser Rolls are purchased from an O-U Parve wholesale bakery. There is no need for a Parve Sink.

>>>How often does one of your staff make an inspection of the operation?

About once every day or two. (end)

So Rabbi Schechter admits that the supervision at Bagel Boss is not as stringent as the Vaad, not that it matters to those who shop there, obviously any Rabbi will do for some, but it's very interesting.

ThePeoplesChamp said...


That was a great post! Thanks.
About time someone went right to the source. i'm curious what his stance is on giving a Hechsher in defiance of the Vadd.

The Don said...

Wow.That's a really eye-opening post. Just goes to show that not all hashgachas are created equal. I'm impressed by Rabbi Shechter's frankness.