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Is it kosher? Uh, it’s not recommended

kosher_foodI found myself faced with an incredible challenge yesterday, it was a lull at work and the chef offered to pay for starbucks if I’d drive. I wish she would have said “lets get something at starbucks” and not offered to pay, because starbucks is gross. However, in order to stay true to my cheap, penny pinching, hook nosed heeb – mesorah I had to oblige and figure out what I could get at Starbucks that wasn’t water, even their water tastes over roasted (burnt, for all of you folks who don’t know taste guava, honeysuckle, leather, and citrus when you drink coffee) So I went on to the kosher starbucks website to see what’s actually kosher at starbucks, because I find most people will keep strict kosher, but when it comes to actually making sure something is kosher in a starbucks or bar, they suddenly become too pussy to figure it out. In reality all of the tea at Starbucks should be kosher, but I recently found out that most of the tea at Starbucks is just sugar powder with chemicals and loads of sweeteners, I didn’t want to uphold my penny pinching minhagim only to be over an isser of treif.

The Kosher Starbucks website reminds me of asking if something was kosher when I was in high school, the rabbi would never say it was treife, they would just say that “we don’t hold of it”. Unfortunately, the kosher starbucks website does the same thing, instead of telling me that my caramel coated coffee style drink isn’t kosher, they inform the reader that “it’s not recommended” which leads me to believe that it’s technically kosher, but not according to their standards. My theory is that it’s either kosher or not.

I know that you modernishe folks who eat vegetarian out and have a kosher home would love to believe about the varying levels of kasharus, but in the end a product is either kosher or treife, whether you know it or not. Unless, you really want to get into the dangerous practice of asking your neighbors (who are rarely experts) if certian products are kosher. I have a feeling that people are scared to ask their local orthodox Rabbi about Amy’s products because they know the answer will be “don’t eat it”, in fact I know of only one person in my entire existence who actually called up the Staten Island based rabbi and asked him point blank about Amy’s, this family now eats Amy’s. Of course, we cannot derive a proof from this one family, because the wife wears pants and the husband doesn’t wear a black hat ever and so their values are obviously degraded.

Still, if you can’t get a straight answer from your rabbi as to what’s kosher or not, why not call up the certifying agency and find out for yourself? I guess, it comes down to us being too pussy to just step up and figure out kasharus for ourselves. I also assume that once you call up the rabbi who certifies your favorite sort of kosher cheese, you aren’t sure what to ask him. Just because he’s got smicha from Rav Mosher and knows your cousin from Torah Vodath, doesn’t mean he’s frum or knows chullin and yoreh deah like all Rav Hamachshir’s should.

It seems like every community deals with this “it’s not recommended” thing, when I lived in Rochester, the yeshiva community didn’t hold by a bunch of things that the modern orthodox rabbi certified, yet we could eat at the Rabbis house and his son went to yeshiva. Of course, I do recall certian kids making fun of the son that his family drove to shul on shabbos, but no one ever said the donut shop or bakery was treife. I guess it’s kind of like not holding by an eruv, if you say it’s treife, you’re implying that every single person who holds of the eruv is mechalel shabbos mefarhesya (only if there are at least 2 people who don’t hold of said eruv that are in town on shabbos to witness the mechalel shabbos) I guess the same applies to labeling something that you don’t hold of as treife.

I got a call before pesach from a very frum cousin of mine back east, he asked me what I knew of the K-ORC, the bane of bay area kasharus. A classic example of something that no one knows or does anything about, a local hechsher, given by a local guy who happens to be frum and very learned, yet most folks don’t hold of the hechsher. “Have you ever spoken to him” is the question that people ask of me, as if my extreme bay area hocker qualities must mean that I’ve sat down with the rabbi from K-ORC and asked him about his hechsher and why it’s on all the best looking cheeses and why no one will touch it. Sure, I’ve said good shabbos to him, but no I admit I’ve never had the balls to sit him down and ask him about the cheese. The hechsher is on dozens of things, but that Redwood Hill Farms goat milk cheddar is anyone really cares about. Unless you happen to be on the east coast, where all the frum forums have some sort of debate as to whether or not it’s reliable.

Anyway, I find it troubling that a major website like kosher starbucks, which caters mostly to the hot chani and stay at home mom population to not tell you what is kosher or not kosher. Are the drinks not recommended actually kosher, but you don’t hold of them? Or are they treife? Or is it something else?

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{ 65 comments… add one }
  • Burn the non-Virgin Cohen April 30, 2013, 8:19 AM

    Kosher laws are stupid. Likely created to distinguish us from our Canaanite cousins to preserve national identity like all of our other don’t mix laws.

    • Heshy Fried April 30, 2013, 8:28 AM

      Actually it worked pretty well, kosher is a great separation, forces a sense of identity onto so many people.

      • Burn the non-Virgin Cohen April 30, 2013, 8:32 AM


  • Avromy April 30, 2013, 8:32 AM

    You make a good point. Starbucks is my second office. I spend a lot of time there but I can never order anything because I don’t drink coffee and nothing else is kosher. Someone should notify Howard.

    • Heshy Fried April 30, 2013, 8:34 AM

      I saw at some of them they have kosher bug-free water, but not in out of town ones

    • Woodrow April 30, 2013, 11:16 AM

      Actually they have Kind bars (OU kosher) and many of them have bananas (no hecksher needed), bottled water (ditto) and sometimes various types of chips that are OU kosher. So even if you don’t drink the hot drinks you should still find plenty to order.

    • Yochanan April 30, 2013, 5:09 PM

      Black, green, and passion iced teas are kosher. Bunch of other stuff too.

  • Michael K. April 30, 2013, 8:33 AM

    When you say “but in the end a product is either kosher or treife, whether you know it or not.”, that’s the whole point: you don’t always know in either case. “Not recommended” simply means “they didn’t pay for the hechsher”. There’s a huge difference between “kosher” and “under rabbinical supervision”.

  • mike April 30, 2013, 9:07 AM

    Actually, standards of Kosher has to do with the trust in the process that indicates that the item can be eaten without any fear of actual Issur.

    “Are your hands clean”? Sounds like a yes or no question, but different parents will have different standards of what they expect their kids’ preparation of cleaning their hands will be. Some may say to use the antibacterial soap, while others will say just scrub your hands really well. Some might even say stay away from the anti-bacterial soap.
    How long should the hand scrubbing be for my son’s hands to be clean? What if he ran them under water for a few seconds? What about 15 seconds? How much soap is enough? I would tell my son, just pump twice from the Softsoap bottle and hum the entire “Happy birthday to you” song and that should be enough to cover it.
    If he does less than that, might his hands be clean? Maybe. Would that be recommended? Perhaps not.

    • Jack of all Trades May 2, 2013, 1:12 PM

      It’s not a question of “standards” or “we don’t hold by” or “it’s not recommended.” Those are just things people say to show how frum they are, which apparently has become a competitive sport in some circles. People like me, who eat items that have any kosher certification (or have kosher ingredients), just believe that kosher (and other mizvot) are not about a process of eliminating any tiny potential that something that purports to be ok is actually not ok. If some rabbi says something is kosher, what benefit is there in me analyzing that and trying to find the flaw in that? Is that really how we as Jews need to approach Judaism? I guess it’s a question of perspective. In my world, you trust people generally (until there is some apparent or proven reason not to), you don’t undertake examinations to try and find chesroinos (problems) and you have the proper intentions and above all else, you give others the respect of not challenging their intentions or motivations if they seem sincere. That is a proper Jewish perspective in my view, not the world where every piece of lettuce is placed under a microscope to try and find a problem. It’s also a healthier way to view Judaism and the world.

  • Classic April 30, 2013, 9:07 AM

    There are a lot of individual hechsharim (non Vaad or Groups like the OU) that people just assume is no good. Everyone had always told me not to eat at Crumbs since the hechsher, Rabbi Harry Cohen who goes under the OKS, isnt legit. So I just gave him a call and we spoke for a good half hour about places he gives hechshers to, the ingredients they use etc. After speaking with him I felt confident in his hechsher and now frequent the establishments he gives to. Bottom line is, if you never heard of the hechsher and arent sure, call the rabbi himself.

    • Alter Cocker April 30, 2013, 12:15 PM

      They don’t even have a website. If they can’t be relied on to purchase a domain name, they can’t be relied on for kashrus.

      (said half tongue in cheek)

    • Yochanan April 30, 2013, 5:12 PM

      I wouldn’t go to Crumbs, but not because of Kashrut reasons. Too much sugar. You take one bite and it’s like instant diabetes.

  • Oliver April 30, 2013, 9:08 AM

    Some starbucks blends are pretty decent, some are terrible. Best to try and figure out which is which

    • Oliver April 30, 2013, 9:09 AM

      FWIW most non artisan/upmarket coffee places in England are awful so my expectations are probably quite low.

      • Yochanan April 30, 2013, 5:13 PM

        Try Caribou coffee. I’ve heard they actually have some stores in the Midwest.

  • LFD April 30, 2013, 9:23 AM

    I thought from the opening of your post you were going to be writing about if it’s “Kosher” for you to go out with a female coworker for coffee now that you are married.

    • Heshy Fried April 30, 2013, 9:45 AM

      depends on how jealous your wife is. My wife would be jealous if we were getting good coffee for sure.

      • Jeffrey Daniel Rollin-Jones April 30, 2013, 10:05 AM


  • dk April 30, 2013, 10:02 AM

    the k-ORC bleu cheese is da bomb

  • Jeffrey Daniel Rollin-Jones April 30, 2013, 10:08 AM

    You could always ask him what he says about something you KNOW is kosher (A good example in the UK would be Rakusen’s red box pesachdik matzah) and compare his reaction. Or just take the view that “we don’t hold of it” = treif.

  • zach April 30, 2013, 10:14 AM

    Re Amy’s: A while back I wrote to the company suggesting that they consider a more widely used hechsher. They didn’t really seem to care, however. I then corresponded with the supervising rabbi and was surprised that he kept saying only that it was rennetless while avoiding my questions about gevinas akum. So I ate only the cheese free products.

    Subsequently I fell off the slippery slope. First, it was relying on Rabbi Abadi who convinced me that most kashrus supervision was unnecessary. Made Pesach SO much easier. Next up, stam yanim; I felt that the issur made sense at one time but is stupid nowadays. Love the wine selection at Trader Joes – no more $12 blue bottle Moscato. Then it was rennetless gevinas akum – didn’t want to give those Beis Shammai THUGS a posthumous victory and can now eat all Amy’s.

  • E-man April 30, 2013, 11:25 AM

    Couldn’t have said it any better myself. Crc has a similar list of “kosher” stuff at Starbucks. Everything is not recommended or check the label

  • K-ORC April 30, 2013, 11:52 AM

    We don’t like you, either.

  • Alter Cocker April 30, 2013, 12:13 PM

    Unless the store is certified, I don’t see how people justify buying coffee from these places.

    Maybe the plain coffee is technically kosher, but there are a lot of non-kosher things going on in there. Would you really argue that the vessels are not used for various things (kosher and non-kosher)?

    Only thing I’d buy from a Starbucks is something in a sealed package with certification.

    • comicserver May 8, 2013, 9:57 AM

      I agree, since sponges may have been used to wipe glatt, dairy and spit . . . dishwasher’s too . . .

  • AriSparkles April 30, 2013, 1:29 PM

    I was a Barista for two years. If I were really orthodox, I would only have black coffee and packaged hechshered goods. We toss everything into the sanitizer (a dishwasher like thing) at the end of the shift. Meaning that the metal milk steaming mugs and the tongs that touched the bacon breakfast sandwiches likely touched in there. And Heshy, the teabags are real tea leaves. The sugary powder you are talking about is the sweetened matcha for green tea lattes and frappuccinos.

    This reminds me of when I worked at the Bux’ in Washington, DC a few years ago and a whole mess of Yeshivah girls on their 8th grade trip to DC came in. I knew to check the syrups for them. They were impressed that a girl in DC knew all this, but I am an ex yeshivah girl myself! This was before we were warming bacon sandwiches.

    • Jess April 30, 2013, 4:02 PM

      Not Jewish, but am a New Yorker and this site just amuses me. I also worked at Starbucks and agree that honestly, nothing can really be considered Kosher unless it’s packaged. Everything is tossed into the sanitizer together, including the scoops used to measure out the coffee beans for drip coffee before brewing and the plastic bins in which the beans are stored. Ditto for the little tongs used to grab the tea bags. Cold espresso drinks should be okay because none of the espresso machine is supposed to go into the sanitizer but plenty of stores ignore that and toss everything in there as well–and everyone sanitizes the ice scoop.

      I used to sometimes wait on orthodox Jews who would want me to advise them what was Kosher and I’d honestly say nothing. They usually got annoyed with that but I was just being honest with the way that I understand it. I’m not going to tell someone what they want to hear.

      • Michael K. May 1, 2013, 11:38 AM

        I hold that the sanitizer actually kashers everything.

  • Nate April 30, 2013, 3:57 PM

    Why would any of these things not be okay? Are there any incredients in them that are treif? Why do people assume the rabbis at OU are any mor credible than any other orthodox rabbi? Have people personally met the OU rabbis an established their trustworthiness? The mishigas needs to end. R’ abadi and R’ aviner seem to have things right (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDYQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rabbijablon.com%2Fkashrutguests.pdf&ei=_kuAUbqzBdes4APSxYHgAw&usg=AFQjCNFQAUzXn0rxbo0yEE1_cpBLumuJpQ&sig2=uuLg8UIDE6dHzz54oisNoA)

  • Marion May 1, 2013, 7:18 AM

    To me “not recommended” means the Rabbi of the organization being asked didn’t supervise the product. Much of Kashrut is legit–and SOME of it is turf. My father was a Kosher butcher in Washington Heights, NYC and the Breuer folks wouldn’t buy from him because the supervising Rabbi was from New Rochelle, not their community. And that we didn’t go to their Shul. No other reason that I could see.

  • Curious May 1, 2013, 10:43 AM

    I get iced soy lattes at Starbucks, though I was told by an Orthodox Rabbi that iced dairy lattes were fine as well. I also hold by all hechshers because I believe in giving my fellow Jews the benefit of the doubt and trusting them. I’d rather support Jewish unity than single a Rabbi or organization out as untrustworthy over something that may very well not be true. Anyway, I am genuinely curious (and admittedly afraid to ask a Rabbi) as to why we believe that dishwashers have the potential to cross-contaminate. To my understanding, if I was hypothetically able to run one with a limb inside, I wouldn’t have any flesh on it by the end of the cycle. Point being, it’s crazy hot in order to sanitize. Is there any actual science or proof behind the dishwasher ruling, or are we all just going along with it?

  • Jamie Glenn May 1, 2013, 7:50 PM

    There is no “alternative” to keeping kosher, but a young person at college who’s hungry and who is not near his parents, rabbi, or other observant person, may have his mind play tricks on him, and that is why many students may gravitate to vegan.

  • Gingi May 1, 2013, 8:23 PM

    Even granting the tendentious assumption that the pork dishes are washed with the espresso machine, what is the halachic problem with later drinking espresso or drinks made from this machine? Please do not respond without citing actual halachic sources. (1) Do we assume the taste of the pork enhances the taste of the espresso? (doesn’t for me.. can’t even taste the pork…) (2) Washing things in soap and water gets rid of microbes, crumbs and lingering tastes. Does it not? If so, what’s the problem. (3) Why would we not invoke the less than 1/60th rule?

    My issue with these kind of discussions is that nobody bothers to state the actual halachic problem. People just throw themselves behind the mantra ‘its not kosher’ without citing exactly what about the item makes it halachically not kosher, and the sources in Jewish law which putatively proscribe such practices.

    • Alter Cocker May 1, 2013, 9:18 PM

      There’s no “tendentious assumption”. It’s a fact that utensils there are being used for both “kosher” and non-kosher.

      • Gingi May 2, 2013, 7:30 AM

        Okay. You haven’t responded to my point. Even if the utensils ARE used for kosher and non-kosher, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is asur to consume things from the store or things that have touched the utensils. Please cite halachic sources to support these claims instead of repeating the mantra ‘its not kosher’

        • Alter Cocker May 2, 2013, 12:14 PM

          I didn’t repeat any mantra. I told you there’s no tendentious assumption here, so stop acting like people are making one.

  • Anonymous May 2, 2013, 4:04 PM

    Please then cite sources that support the claim that these food items are not kosher

    • Alter Cocker May 8, 2013, 1:32 PM

      I have posted undisputed facts and you ignore what I write and keep repeating over and over requests for Talmudic sources that talk about Starbucks.

      Chazal don’t talk about Starbucks, so I can’t help you there. What is from Chazal is the concept of bliah.

  • Gingi May 2, 2013, 4:05 PM

    Please then cite sources that support the claim that these food items are not kosher

    • Alter Cocker May 2, 2013, 4:25 PM

      I don’t know who you’re talking to but I was replying to your “tendentious assumption” stuff.

      FYI, the burden of proof is on the person claiming things are kosher, not the other way around. I don’t have to prove something is not kosher. You have to prove it’s fine.

      • Gingi May 3, 2013, 7:32 AM

        Well, if there are no extant properties of a food item that might render it not kosher, than that constitutes support for the claim that the item is kosher. Do I have to ‘prove’ that a glass of water or new type of fruit is kosher? What would such a ‘proof’ even look like? If there are no prohibitions against eating something, than that item is by definition kosher.

        • Great Divider May 3, 2013, 7:58 AM

          And how any of the bs connects us to G-d is anyone’s guess. And don’t say but we are discussing his laws bla bla. They are man made laws. And this is how we spend our time

        • Alter Cocker May 3, 2013, 3:19 PM

          “If there are no prohibitions against eating something, than that item is by definition kosher.”

          That is false. Something manufactured needs supervision.

          Fruit, vegetables, and water do not, as they are not manufactured.

          Fact: Many of the things at that coffee shop are not kosher
          Fact: There is no kosher supervision at that coffee shop

          If you eat anything you want because no one can prove to you it’s not kosher, then you’re not keeping kosher.

          • Gingi May 7, 2013, 10:47 AM

            Instead of supporting your claims by simpy stating they are “facts” please cite a source in Talmudic or rabbinic literature or responsa to support your claims.

            • Gingi May 7, 2013, 10:52 AM

              Also, water is ‘manufactured’ in the sense that it is filtered, processed and additives are added in state plants. Just as orange juice is squeezed and processed in orange juice plants and is in a sense manufactured albeit a natural product. By your reasoning, does tap water need ‘supervision’? ‘What people do’ does not = halacha. If you want to have a rational conversation, you must cite halachic sources for your claims.

            • Alter Cocker May 8, 2013, 1:27 PM

              These are certifiable facts. There is no Talmudic literature referring to Starbucks.

              If you want to know why it’s non-kosher if it’s washed together, you may want to look up what bliah is, since you appear to be completely unaware.

    • Big Hooked Nose May 6, 2013, 10:51 AM

      I’m guessing the source was a sour faced old man with a long beard and black hat.

      • Alter Cocker May 8, 2013, 1:28 PM

        The source of the facts about Starbucks? No, that’s from personal experience. No sour faces or black hats involved.

  • Miriam B. May 8, 2013, 9:47 AM

    Does anyone know how Kosher “GMO” flour is? If a gene from a non-kosher animal species was used to replace a gene in CORN or WHEAT–to make the crop more bug-resistant, while all non-GMO seeds are squeezed out of market-place,
    aren’t we being held like cattle, to eat what we’re fed, all Halacha be darn displaced?!

  • Religion hurts kids May 8, 2013, 4:42 PM

    Just stopped keeping Kosher this week, and I’ve never felt so alive!

  • Alter Cocker May 23, 2013, 10:16 AM

    Looks like Gingi ran away. Obviously he/she realized he/she was way off base and rather than admitting it, took the coward’s way out.

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