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Keeping Kosher in Kosherland

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Topic: Kosher, Religious but no Certificate/Hechsher

David Waxman wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I was on Malchei Yisrael street in Jerusalem last Friday shopping for kugel and salads for Shabbos. I found two non-fleishig deli-type places that had what I wanted. Neither of these places had a certificate of kashrut. In one place, the clerk told me that all of the ingredients had the b'datz hechsher [kosher certification of the Rabbinical court]. Both of these places were filled with customers who looked quite observant. Thus, it seems that people are relying on strength of reputation for the kashrut of these establishments. Put another way, "everyone eats there." Is that enough? Does it make a difference how "frum" and religious the neighborhood is? Does it matter if you are a local resident and know the proprietors?

Dear David Waxman,

Certainly if you know the proprietor personally as a knowledgeable, G-d-fearing Jew, you may eat there. Furthermore, if you don't know the owner personally, but the owner has a reputation of reliability among knowledgeable, observant Jews, then you may rely on that (provided you have no evidence to the contrary).

The simple fact that a store is in a religious neighborhood, however, is not an indication that it's kashrut can be relied upon.

Which reminds me of a story: A woman once entered a deli and asked to see the kashrut certificate.

"Don't worry about it!" said the man behind the counter.

"But how do I know if it's kosher?" she asked.

The man pointed to a black-and-white photo hanging on the wall. "You see that?" he said, gesturing to the angelic face of an old man engrossed in Talmud study. "That was my father!"

"Look," said the woman, "If it was the other way around - if he was behind the counter and your picture was on the wall - I wouldn't ask for the kashrut certificate."

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