Dear Rabbi Simon
I came across a rabbi on the internet (that famously unregulated territory) who claims that vegan restaurants do not require kosher certification. I have no way to judge the rabbi’s qualifications or credibility, but his position seems excessively permissive and certainly very convenient. Am I missing something here?
A Kosher Traveller
Dear Kosher Traveller
Funny, you’re the second person who has asked me about this. File this in the “too good to be true” category. There are many weaknesses here. Chief among them is the naïve and self-serving notion that governmental oversight can take the place of rabbinic supervision. The writer is also too cavalier in dismissing concerns of Shabbat desecration, bishul nokhri, infestation, and more.
Actually, the credibility of the writer is already suspect in that he is a member of a small local anti-establishment rabbinic fraternity called the Beltway VAAD whose sole raison d’etre is to undermine the authority of the existing communal rabbinic organisation, the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington (RCW), also known as the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Washington (or simply the Washington Vaad). This is unworthy petty local politics with an ideological edge. But one can get a sense of a rabbi’s orientation from the company he keeps.
A closing observation: IMO there is also an ideological agenda implied by the organisation whose website has published the essay to which you refer. This is the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute (tagline: Putting Animal Welfare on the Jewish Agenda). A perusal of their campaigns and literature quickly reveals that they regard veganism as an exalted Jewish value. To conclude that a vegan restaurant supersedes the need for halakhic kosher supervision is an article of principle. I do not share this view (nor does normative Judaism).
(Not that their ethical concerns are without foundation, eg WRT some aspects of kosher food production. But to me, their doctrinaire and supercilious tone is a warning sign.)
Bottom line, for your travels, better Chabad than Vegan.
Rabbi Rashi Simon