May 30, 2012

Can Non-Mevushal Wine Make it in the US?

It wasn’t too long ago that I was invited by a group of Israeli businessmen to have dinner at an upscale Tel Aviv mehadrin restaurant. Everything was as advertised, from the ambience to the quality of the foods, but increasingly, upscale restaurants are very much associated with the highest quality (and pricey) wines. So when it was time for the wines, the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) offered me two non-mevushal wines, one red and one white. Non-mevushal wines are wines that are not boiled or cooked and according to Jewish law must be handled by a Shabbos observing Jew at all times. In Paris, several years ago, the “bartender” was none other than the owner. In the US, there are no glatt kosher restaurants that I can think of that serve the non- mevushal wines, precisely because kashrus agencies find it hard to police and certainly do not wish to transform mashgichim into bartenders amongst other reasons too complicated  to get into in a short article.

So it was no wonder that when Rabbi Aaron Mehlman of National Kosher Supervision sought to introduce non-mevushal in a soon to open upscale Jezebel (now there’s a name that raises eyebrows, but then again everything in this restaurant from the ambience to the quality of the food is also supposed to raise eyebrows) in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, that it made the front page of the New York section of the Wall Street Journal. Rabbi Mehlman called it a “pilot project” where he had planned the service down to the training of Orthodox Jewish bartenders. In my conversation with the WSJ reporter, I informed her that there were no glatt kosher restaurants in the US that served the non mevushal. When she asked me whether some people might not eat there, I told her that no rabbi enjoyed total acceptance. There were always people who did not “trust” a hashgacha but I also said that I believed that Rabbi Mehlman had a following that would eat at Jezebel (not the first time that I was misquoted). In the end, it appears that Rabbi Mehlman will never get to test his “pilot” project and the restaurant will open with the traditional great tasting mevuhsal wines. For kashrus agencies, this change is a relief as it was destined to open a new can of worms that they were certainly not anxious to confront.