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Halachic Community Standards

Important Standards of Shabbat Food Preparation for the United Orthodox Synagogues Community

Prohibitions regarding cooking or heating food on Shabbat are based on the Torah prohibitions of not cooking and not using fire on Shabbat and the rabbinic extensions of these laws. Observing them is a personal decision for each individual and family to contemplate on their own. As a community we do not judge anyone for how or whether they implement these laws in their homes. People have a right to grow religiously and move towards observance at a pace appropriate for them. However, it is important for people to know what the community's halachik standards are.

When you invite people to your home, which I would hope becomes a regular activity, you take upon yourself a responsibility to feed those guests food that they are halachically allowed to eat. That means keeping to community standards. In addition to making sure the food you serve is itself kosher according to community standards of kashruth, there are shabbat community standards which you need to observe regarding that food. Food that is cooked on Shabbat, or even heated incorrectly on Shabbat, is prohibited to be eaten. I am confident that these community standards for Shabbat re-heating will help unify our community because they will allow everyone to feel comfortable hosting and being hosted on Shabbat, in any home in Houston. So here goes …

Do Not: Put any uncooked food or beverage on a hot burner, in a heated oven, in a crock pot that is on or in a heated urn on Shabbat itself. Moreover, there are many rules that apply even to fully cooked foods:

Do Not Heat any liquids on Shabbat: Water or even fully cooked soup or stew - anything that can be poured out - needs to be put on the heat (in an urn, crock-pot, or on the stove) and left there, BEFORE Shabbat.

Do Not Reheat even solid food that has cooled down (from the refrigerator, for example) either by putting it right on the stove or in the oven. This will render it prohibited to be eaten on Shabbat (for you and your guests). You can reheat cold, solid, pre-cooked food by adhering to any one of the following procedures:
1.  Put it on a warming tray ("plata" in Hebrew) which cannot be adjusted (tape the knob if there is one) and is not designed to cook (just to warm).
2.  Put it on a "k'deira blech" or a "non-blech" which is a pan of water covered by another pan (not just a plain sheet of metal which is called a "blech”).
3.  Put it in a warming drawer or cupboard, which is designed just to warm, not to cook.

"So, what does the blech (metal sheet over the stove) that I grew up with allow me to do?" A simple blech only allows you to return hot food (solid or liquid) which you removed from the stove (and had in mind to return to the stove) back to the stove - while the food remains hot. A blech does not allow you to reheat food once it has cooled down. Without a blech, once you remove food from a stove (even a glass covered stove) you cannot even return it to the stove. A "k'deira blech" — meaning a pan of water covered by another blech (the equivalent of a double boiler) allows you to return cold solid pre-cooked food to the stove.

Do: Ask the rabbi if you have any questions about these procedures for re-heating. Food on the k'deira/non-blech can be covered with a towel, and it will reheat evenly. REMEMBER: Only solid food which has already been cooked can be reheated. Liquids or uncooked food cannot.

Do: Eat hot food on Shabbat, if you can. It is a misguided Kara'ite custom to eat only cold food (unless that is what you like). So how is it possible with all of the Do Nots listed above?

Do: Keep food in a crock pot or on the stove or in the oven overnight, but…

Do: Make sure that any food you serve is at least one-half cooked before Shabbat starts (18 minutes after candle lighting). For example, if you are making cholent, make sure you put it in with enough hours to make it minimally edible (hard, chewy, but edible) before Shabbat. If cholent takes five hours to be ready to be served (even if normally it is served after 12 hours…), the rabbis estimated one half of that would allow it to be minimally edible, meaning that you have to give it 2 ½ hours to cook before Shabbat starts.

Do Not: Stir food in the crock pot or on a heated stove once Shabbat comes in, at the very least until it is fully cooked. It is preferable to remove the ceramic insert of the crock pot before transferring the contents to a serving dish. (Please note: Adding water to the chulent is a complicated matter and should not be done without consulting a rabbi)

Do: Feel free to offer your guests tea or coffee; however, since brewing tea or coffee may be considered cooking, please follow the following special Shabbat procedures (these can be ignored on Yom Tov):
You may use instant coffee or tea or essence that is made before Shabbat by putting several tea bags in a cup of hot water, or you may make tea (or coffee) by the most common technique:
  • "K'li sh'lishi" (tertiary vessel) tea: Make sure that the tea bag only is immersed into a cup of water that has been twice transferred from the urn or kettle. For example, hot water is poured from the urn (primary vessel) into a teapot or carafe (secondary vessel) and from there to each person's cup (tertiary vessel). Once it is in their cup, they can then put in the tea bag without any fear of cooking (the water is still piping hot, just a little cooler than it was in the urn).
Do Not: Be scared or intimidated! These laws are meant to be doable, and if you make a mistake, that is exactly what the rules were designed for: to protect the basic Torah laws of not cooking and not using fire on Shabbat. Please speak to the rabbi if you have any questions, doubts or issues regarding any of these standards. They are meant to enhance your Shabbat, not to diminish it. From our home to your home, with wishes for peace and unity,

Rabbi Barry Gelman

This guide was created by Rabbi Asher Lopatin. It was reviewed and updated by Rabbi Barry Gelman for the UOS community.

Dear friend,

In an effort to continue to create a community standard of kashrut, where we can all eat in each other's homes and enjoy each other's hospitality, United Orthodox Synagogues is happy to provide this link to an updated list of approved labels which signify reliable kashruth supervision. If a product has rabbinic supervision (see below which ones do not need such supervision), you can tell based on a symbol somewhere on the package. I am confident that any product bought from the enclosed list of labels is unquestionably kosher and adheres to our community's standards of kashruth.

What makes a supervision unreliable?
There can be several problems, which can make even a great and pious Torah scholar a poor supervisor. First, the supervisor might rely on certain leniencies within the law (or assumptions) which the Orthodox community of today has chosen (based on the halachic process) not to rely on. Sometimes our standards of observance change - we are all, we hope, growing in how we keep mitzvot - over time, and the supervising authority needs to keep up with the accepted halacha of today, not just what was deemed OK many years ago. Unfortunately, some supervisions have not. Other issues can be that the supervisor is not careful enough on the lines that he is in charge of - not purposely giving hashgacha to a non-kosher product, but, again, not meeting the standards we have come to expect. Some supervisors have apparent attitude problems - they may be too clever for their own good - which seem to prevent them from correcting errors which by nature occur in the kashruth industry, but which demand attention and are immediately addressed by a more reliable organization. Even fancy titles such as "Chief Rabbinate of …" do not ensure reliable supervision. Rather, personal integrity and hard, careful work are what makes a supervision reliable.

What about labels which are not on the list?

There are some labels that are not on the list, but which are still fully reliable. If you come across one of these labels and have any questions, please feel free to give me a call or e-mail me. Usually they are fine. There are some labels, which are not on the list, that require a case-by-case analysis: Some of the products under their supervision are reliable, others are not.

Products from Israel

Products from Israel, under rabbinical supervision, are reliable. However, you must make sure that the product does not contain gelatin (even "kosher" gelatin). The rabbinate in Israel accepts a different standard regarding gelatin than we do in America. If you live in Israel you should feel free to follow their ruling. But in Houston , we need to follow the standards that the Orthodox community has accepted here in the Diaspora. Currently that standard is to allow no gelatin at all from animals. The only gelatin-type product which is acceptable is Kolatin, which is fish gelatin. All the labels on this list will use only kosher gelatin. At Passover time, especially, beware of marshmallows or any chewy candies from Israel, which might have gelatin in them.

Cheese and dairy products

Please remember that all cheeses and cheese-based products need reliable supervision, even cheese which is 100% vegetarian. Sometimes, you may be surprised to find products with cheese in them or grape juice which are under reliable supervision, and even though they are not a "Jewish" company, they are perfectly acceptable. Creams can be made with whey that is halachically considered cheese and may contain stabilizers which are not kosher. So even if they have no extra ingredients listed, fresh creams, half-and-half and even milk and Lactaid should all have supervision. However, since the possibility of non-kosher ingredients in these wholly natural cow products is remote, you can rely on any supervision (except for a plain k) for these products. Butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, and yogurt, however, all need reliable supervision. Creamers with additives and flavorings also need reliable supervision. If you want to be strict about the law of "Chalav Yisra'el" (milk watched by Jews), you need to buy milk which specifically says "Chalav Yisra'el".

Grape products

Wine, grape juice and any product with grape juice or grape flavoring, including unspecified "fruit juices", need to be reliably certified as kosher. Fresh whole grapes are kosher. Even if a wine is certified kosher, it may not be appropriate for your dinner table - especially in our community. That is because, since our community is so open and diverse, frequently we will have around our shabbat tables beloved people who are gentile or who have not yet fully converted to Judaism or who may have converted with non-halachic conversions. In such a case, only wine that is MEVUSHAL (flash heated or pasteurized) may be served. Almost all American kosher wine is Mevushal (Kedem, Baron Herzog, Weinstock - except when noted), but many of the Israeli wines (especially Galil, Golan and Yarden ) are not. In order to make your table as inclusive and comfortable as possible for all people, please look for the word MEVUSHAL on the back label of the kosher wine you buy (sometimes it is in Hebrew).

Best's Kosher and Hebrew National

Best's Kosher and Hebrew National meats do not meet community standards. Best's Kosher relies on leniencies regarding the lungs of the animals it processes, leniencies that are below the standards of the Orthodox community. Hebrew National seems to have real problems with the credibility of its supervision, even though the rabbi in charge, Rabbi Tuvia Stern, is a learned man. Hebrew National is on a lower halachic level than Best's (though Best's apparently is now buying some meat from Hebrew National); neither one is flat-out treif, but, they are not currently up to the standard that the community should be keeping.

Fruit juices

Except for grape juice, which always needs reliable supervision, other fruit juices which are 100% pure - orange, apple, pineapple, grapefruit, etc. - with no added natural or artificial flavorings or added "fruit juice" listed in the ingredients, do not need supervision. However, if possible I would recommend finding juices with supervision. There is some debate about this among the supervising authorities; however, the Star- K, a fully reliable supervision under the halachic administration of Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, has ruled that these 100% pure juices do not need supervision. Tomato juice always needs reliable supervision.

Other Beverages

Please be careful to look for supervision on any juices that have added fruit flavorings in them (all tomato juices and grape juices need supervision). Please use this link to determine if colas and other drinks are kosher.
 Despite some controversy, all whiskies and unflavored spirits (vodka, gin, Scotch, bourbon, etc.) which are not grape derived are kosher. I rely on Rav Moshe Feinstein and the London Beth Din for this ruling. Unflavored beers do not require supervision. New Zealand beers may be dairy. Liqueurs require reliable supervision except for Amaretto Disaronno, and Peter Cherry Herring, which are both kosher without a kosher sign.

The plain K

Merely having the letter "k" on a product does not mean it is kosher. On the other hand, there are products that bear a "k" which really stands for a reliable supervision. The best example of this is Kellogg's cereal (and other products). KD means that they are dairy. Kellogg's with a "k" are under the supervision of the Va'ad Harabanim of Massachusetts. Please note that some of Kellogg's cereals are not kosher and do not bear any "k". Other notable examples of a reliable "k" are Tabasco sauce and Starbuck's Frappacino with a "k" - both under reliable supervisions. Otherwise, you simply have to be "in the know" to know which "k"s you can rely on and which you cannot.

Fresh fish

It is acceptable to buy the fish from a regular store as long as the following conditions are met:
1.  Make sure the fish is a kosher fish.
2.  Make sure you can identify this fish 100% as kosher either by seeing its scales or because it is red or pink in color.
3.  Ask that the fish be cut on a new piece of paper.
4.  If you cannot have them use a knife that you bring, try to have them wash off their knife before they cut your fish. In any case, make sure you wash the fish thoroughly when you get home. Since nothing hot touched the fish, washing them off will clean off anything treif that might have touched them.
If possible, when you return home, you should gently scrape the cut part of the fish with a knife.


Please note when having events and smachot in private venues at which food is served to guests, (not including private homes), it is strongly recommended that the event be supervised by the Houston Kashrut Association (HKA). This ensures that the Kashrut standards of our community will be observed and that all members of the community will be comfortable participating in the event. Such a standard is especially important and should be required if hot foods are being served or invitations indicate that “dietary laws will be observed” at the event. This includes events with caterers who often work under supervision. Even if the food is prepared under HKA supervision, HKA should supervise the food at the event to avoid issues regarding kashrut in re-heating and serving. Without the appropriate kosher supervisors (mashgichim) at private venues, it is simply too difficult and practically impossible to ensure the kashrut of the food. If you are serving items from HKA supervised restaurants or stores that are in the original packaging and you are using paper utensils and plates (i.e. Pizza from Saba's in the original boxes with HKA stamps on the box), then HKA supervision is not required at the event. When is doubt, please ask if there is a mashgiach present

Please see me, call me or e-mail me if you have any questions.

These standards are designed to unite our community — to enable us to feel comfortable in any house we go to. The detailed laws of kashruth are meant to be a celebration of the holiness inherent in our meals. If we all work together to keep to these standards, everyone will feel comfortable in our community, and no one will be judging anyone else's standards because we will all be equal in that regard. We sing, when we put the Torah away, "d'racheha darchei no'am" — Torah takes us in the most pleasant way. Let us together continue to create a community whose standards reflect the pleasantness we each have within us and which the Torah wants us to bring to our tables and homes.

Rabbi Barry Gelman
Tue, October 26 2021 20 Cheshvan 5782