Jewish food is a big deal in New York; when one thinks about food here one generally thinks about delis and pizza, and while I don’t believe we can claim any Jewish contribution towards the development of New York style pizza, we have been at the forefront of the deli experience. Salt beef sandwiches, matzah ball soup, pickles, knishes, and various other ‘Jewish’ foods are available at delis across the city in both kosher and non-kosher establishments.
And with so many Jews around the area there is obviously a bigger selection of kosher restaurants than one can find almost anywhere in the world other than Israel. While I still like my salt beef or pastrami sandwiches, I have become quite fond of the brisket sandwich at our local kosher deli.
Coming from London I have been impressed by the breadth of choice in terms of kosher restaurants both in New York city and the surrounding areas. I have also been surprised to discover that assumptions I made about kosher establishments are not always true on this side of the pond.
Near to where we live there is a relatively well known kosher bakery (of course not quite as famous as some of those in Northwest London, Carmelli, Daniels, Mr Baker, The Hendon Bagel Bakery, but you get the idea). Everything in this bakery is kosher, the cakes, the pastries, and of course the challot. The only thing which is not kosher is the deli which is linked to the bakery. This deli probably wouldn’t even qualify for the American designation of “kosher style” as it includes various meats (of the treif variety), which are never kosher, no matter how the animal may have been slaughtered. I was a little bit surprised to discover that the bakery could hold a hechsher (kashrut seal), while the restaurant serves forbidden meats. I imagine that the bakery and restaurant present themselves as two separate entities for the authorities, despite having the same name, premises and owner.
What I have found even stranger is the fact that a number of kosher restaurants, proudly displaying their kashrut seal as you enter, are open on Shabbat. This means that kosher food is available for purchase seven days a week, with no interruption of service for our day of rest. I can imagine several groups benefiting from this situation: those people who keep kosher, but still want to go out on a Friday night have a place to go, people who fancy a Jewish meal, but can’t prepare it for themselves have somewhere to visit and of course it means that non-Jewish New Yorkers don’t have to miss out on their deli sandwich because we are celebrating our day of rest.
Those people who celebrate an Orthodox Shabbat will of course be unable to partake of this novel offering, but I am led to believe that on a Friday night these places are just as crowded as the rest of the week.
However, I was left wondering as to how the kashrut authorities could permit this situation, so I did a little research. In an article from The Jewish Daily Forward, the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) of one such deli, Rabbi Israel Steinberg, explained that the legal provision of shtar mechira was used. This means that for Shabbat the Jewish owned deli is technically sold to a non-Jew, who owns it for the day, and then sells it back to the Jew (a similar practice is employed with leavened products during Passover).
He suggested that by supervising the restaurant it helps to encourage people to eat kosher food rather than frequenting non-kosher establishments. I also wonder if it might serve as a way of lowering prices, as the businesses can also therefore run seven days a week.
While I don’t know how many, if any, people are looking for a good kosher restaurant in England during the 25 hours of Shabbat, there is obviously a significant demand here in New York. Of course a return flight to New York just to experience a kosher deli on Shabbat is a bit excessive, but for those foodies among you a trip to explore the vast array of kosher food establishments of the city, whether open 6 days a week, or even 7, could be well worth it.