Our reporter Toby Tabachnick reported this week about the lack of Vaad certification at two Jewish institutions in the city, Hillel JUC and Riverview Towers. The story quotes an e-mail the Vaad sent out to the community concerning the issue. Here is the e-mail in full:
It has come to our attention that there has been a conversation in parts of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community regarding the Vaad that was based on misinformation and incorrectly characterizes the Vaad’s position especially with respect to the kitchen at Hillel Jewish University Center. Indeed, those involved in the conversation and email exchanges made no attempt to contact the Vaad for any type of clarification and to understand the facts of the situation. The Jewish Chronicle contacted the Vaad for comment for a story being prepared for publication in this week's edition. Therefore, the Kashrus Committee of the Vaad is releasing this statement to clarify the situation.
The Vaad recently released an email to its member Rabbis indicating that the Riverview Towers and the Hillel Jewish University Center is not certified by the Vaad and to our knowledge does not carry any Rabbinical kashrus supervision and certification. That statement is simply a fact. After Riverview Towers recently changed management of its kitchen facility the Vaad had been attempting to arrange supervision for the new kitchen situation Riverview Towers (which previously had maintained a superversion) and had been working with them, including providing mashgichim (site supervisors) and oversight for a period of about 10 weeks at no additional cost to Riverview Towers for Vaad fees. This was well know in the community. Riverview Towers decided not to be certified and it is the Vaad's right and responsibility to let its members and the community know that there was no longer any supervision at the facility.
At different times over the past many, many months the Vaad has been in conversation with Hillel JUC to explore the possibility of certifying the kitchen at their facility. Hillel JUC has chosen not to be certified by the Vaad and, to our knowledge, is not certified or supervised by any Rabbi or Rabbinic organization that takes personal responsibility for the kashrus of the food service. Yet over and over again for quite some time, we have been approached by students, parents and others in the community who either were led to believe, or who chose to believe or who simply assumed that Hillel JUC was supervised by the Vaad or was in some other way properly supervised. The Vaad, therefore, has the right and the responsibility to make sure that our community and those concerned about the kashrus at the facility are aware of the reality of the situation.
As anyone who follows the laws of Kashrus knows, being kosher involves not only the ingredients and the food but also the facility, the system , the workers and the procedures. As anyone involved in Kashrus supervision of facilities such as Hillel JUC knows, without responsible, constant kashrus supervision and oversight by a competent Rabbinic authority the kashrus system, even if it were in place at the outset, is guaranteed to break down very quickly.
To claim to be a kosher facility without proper Rabbinic supervision and certification, where a Rabbi takes personal responsibility for the Kashrus system, is disingenuous at best. If a manufacturer claims to be "organic" we do not rely on the company’s saying so, it must be properly certified. If the claim is "pure", it must be certified as such. If the claim is kosher, it must be certified as such. Hillel JUC makes the claim, actively or tacitly, with no supervision and certification.
There are different standards of Kosher supervision. In our community the Vaad is very sensitive to community cohesiveness. Therefore, it is the policy of the Vaad that any facility that primarily serves the Jewish community or that is primarily identified with the Jewish community must serve the entire community. Therefore we will only certify such a facility as kosher if it is at a standard that will allow all segments of our community to be comfortable and will allow the entire community to come together and eat together. We will not participate in a segment of the community being left out by a facility that primarily serves the Jewish community or is primarily identified with the Jewish community. We call this the “Community Standard”. It is true that we certify Rita's Water Ices on Forbes Avenue and we are in conversation with the new Dunkin Donuts opening at the corner of Forbes and Shady Avenue. These facilities do not primarily serve the Jewish community and are not primarily identified with the Jewish community.
The Rabbis of the Vaad invest copious amounts of personal time in Kashrus supervision on behalf of the community. This investment of personal time includes inspections at all hours of day and night, traveling to facilities and even, when necessary, personally helping to clean and kasher facilities. They do not receive any payment for these services on behalf of the community (only the mashgichim, the site supervisors, and a Vaad office secretary are paid a proper wage for their time). When Kashrus certification is granted these Rabbis affix their signatures to the certificate, shouldering the burden of personally being responsible to the community for the Kashrus of the facility. This is no small task or responsibility. If those involved in the conversation mentioned at the beginning of this statement wish to take personal responsibility for the Kosher certification of Hillel JUC they certainly do not need the Vaad's permission to do so. Indeed, it would solve the problem of ambiguity and misrepresentation. The certification would then stand on its own merits to be judged by the students, the parents and the community. Until such time, Hillel JUC, or any other facility, that operates without Rabbinic kosher supervision and certification and has no right to claim to be a kosher facility.We wish everyone Kesiva Vachasima Tova. May you be inscribed and sealed for a healthy and happy, sweet new year.The Kashrus Committee of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh