I Wish I Could Quit You (an Open Letter to the Va’ad of Greater Washington) – UPDATED

UPDATE 3/29: I received a response from the head of the va’ad today, indicating that they support the current approach, although they hope that the signage will be better next year. That’s a tad pareve for my taste, and while it would improve the situation, it does not address the larger issue of what makes this market different than all other markets?.

>>I sent this letter to Va’ad of Greater Washington yesterday (3/21) in the early afternoon, indicating that I would make it open unless their response was such that I should not. I did not receive a response from them. While everyone is busy with the run-up to Pesah, they are still certifying the kashrut of the establishments and I would argue therefore are still obligated to hear and address issues brought to them by members of the public in a timely manner.

Dear esteemed members of the Va’ad,

In prior years, during the run-up to Passover, the kosher markets (Kosher Mart, Shalom’s, and Shaul’s) would all close off and label their non-kosher-for-passover aisles, leaving only their kosher for passover items easily available. This had the effect of making it possible, although difficult, to purchase non-passover items during the time before passover. Anything which was visible but not kosher for passover was segregated and labeled in a highly visible manner “items in this section are not kosher for passover” and the like.

This behavior was cited as a benefit, and was contrasted with other cities when the question “why can’t we have a kosher deli counter in a Safeway, etc” is brought up – one knew, that regardless of the labeling of an individual product, if it was on the shelf, the va’ad stood behind the passover kashrut of that product, and the individual shopper had a position on which he or she could rely. Personally, I liked this a great deal, and have been a great defender of this status quo – I am known as one of the small number of people who will routinely defend the va’ad’s behavior and policies when it comes to promoting kashrut of restaurants, upholding standards, and doing the right thing. The benefit of the policy is extremely high for people who are beginning to observe the mitzvah of kashrut, notably my students – I teach kashrut at Kesher Israel to many people, including conversion students for the regional conversion court, and have been a va’ad mashgiah (supervisor).

However, this year, there has been a change, and I am deeply troubled.

I went to Shalom’s today, the Thursday which is four shopping (non-shabbat) days before Passover, fully expecting to see something similar, that I would have the benefit of being able to know what items were determined to be kosher for passover even though their labeling did not reflect that fact (and there are of course oodles of such items). Imagine my surprise when I began walking down the aisle, and I noticed canned beans and corn! My first thought was “oh – that’s right – there’s a big Sefardic community here, this must be okay for the people who eat kitniyot (legumes, corn and the like).” As I continued down the next aisle, my realization that something was greatly amiss came to fruition when I saw the boxes of whole wheat and white flour pasta. Hm. Well, I’m not aware of any communities which matir (permit) that, so there must be something funny going on.

Then I went over to buy some sodas, and I saw the sign “some items in this aisle are not kosher for passover” – I have seen less helpful signs in my life, but not often. I could have figured that out without a sign at all!

It was only when I asked another shopper that she pointed out that up above the aisles were markers indicating that some aisles were marked “passover” in much the same way that Giant would mark an aisle “Kosher” or “Latino.”

I saw signs all over the store indicating that shoppers needed to check passover labeling because other shoppers would have put non-kosher-for-passover merchandise in with the passover stuff.

I wonder now, whether the meat that I bought without a second thought actually *was* kosher for passover – after all, there’s apparently plenty of stuff in the store which isn’t! Note: I have since called Shalom’s, and their meat line has been kosher for Passover since March 1st: I don’t want to convey a false impression, but my complaint stands.

I am appalled by this change, and I want to know precisely why this would be okay from a “kosher” market (which I would contend is now placing a stumbling block before the blind in behaving more like a Giant than like a real kosher grocery), but the va’ad’s hashgaha would not be allowed to be placed on a deli counter in a Safeway, Giant, Wegman’s, or the like. I’ve been a va’ad mashgiah, and a big va’ad defender (ask all of the people at Shabbat meals), and this is a bridge too far.

I intend to publish this letter on the Internet within the next 24 hours, unless your response conveys a reason to me why that would not be in the best interest of the Washington Jewish community.

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About thegameiam
I'm a network engineer, musician, and Orthodox Jew who opines on things which cross my path.

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