Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kosher and Open on Shabbos

There was a recent item on the website of The New York Times about whether a kosher certified restaurant can be open on Shabbos (link). The answer is actually complicated because there are a number of issues. Here are the issues that I can think of right now, although there may be others:Click here to read more

  1. Ownership

    A Jew is not allowed to have his business conduct business on Shabbos. If the restaurant is owned by a Gentile then this is not an issue, but if the restaurant is owned by a Jew then there is a problem. Some authorities allow a Jewish owner to sell his business to a Gentile for Shabbos based on the permission given in the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 244:6) to sell one's tax collection rights for Shabbos to a Gentile (see the long list in Sha'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah 73:12-13, which even directs readers to the text of such a contract in the halakhic work Da'as Torah). Others, however, do not allow such a transaction (e.g. R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik as quoted by R. Hershel Schachter in Nefesh Ha-Rav p. 168). According to this latter opinion, a Jewish-owned restaurant may not be open on Shabbos and only Gentile-owned restaurants may be open. The only exception is if the restaurant accepts payment only in advance, so it technically does not do business on Shabbos. This used to be fairly common in New York.

  2. Cooking on Shabbos

    Jews may not eat food that is cooked on Shabbos and even after Shabbos must wait enough time to cook the food before eating it (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 318:1). This is if the food was not cooked specifically for him. But if it was cooked for him, then he may not eat it ever (ibid.). There is a debate whether or not restaurants and hotels cook for their customers in general, and therefore any food is prohibited to any customer ever (cf. Piskei Teshuvos 318:3).

    Therefore, a restaurant must make sure that it does not sell food cooked on Shabbos even after Shabbos, or at least wait sufficient time before selling it. If the restaurant only serves pre-cooked food on Shabbos, like kosher hotels, then the process of warming up the food needs to be done properly.

  3. Supervision

    A kosher supervisor must be able to check on the restaurant on Shabbos to ensure that proper kosher standards are followed. This is not always a problem, particularly when the restaurant is adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

  4. Jewish Cooking

    There is a requirement that at least one part of the cooking process be done by a Jew (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 113). If the stoves and ovens operate with a pilot light, then as long as a Jew kindles the pilot light the requirement is fulfilled. However, pilot lights sometimes extinguish unexpectedly and if that happens on Shabbos, there is little that can be done (light the pilot light from another flame that had been lit by a Jew?). Certain standard foods that are not "fit for a king's table", like donuts, do not fall under this prohibition.
In general, it is difficult to supervise a restaurant that wishes to operate normally on Shabbos. Some authorities will certify such a restaurant if it is owned by a Gentile or sold to a Gentile for Shabbos. Other authorities will neither allow such a sale nor discriminate against Jewish owners by certifying only Gentile-owned restaurants.

In other cases, though, when a restaurant tries to adjust for Shabbos, it is fairly common for it to be certified. There are kosher restaurants and hotels that operate on Shabbos.

(As always, ask a competent rabbi and do not rely on the internet for your halakhic rulings.

As to the picture above, I did a Google search on "Shabbos" and "restaurant" [link] and for some reason the first picture to appear was the famous restaurant from Seinfeld, which is neither kosher nor closed on Shabbos.)

UPDATE: Note that the Rabbinical Council of America has a resolution from 1990 opposing the kosher certification of restaurants and hotels that fail to observe Shabbos: link

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