By Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D.
We have a vegan restaurant, and someone asked if we are kosher. I told her “No,” but after confirming we use absolutely no animal products, they ate here anyway, so I figure it’s on them. Would a vegan restaurant be considered kosher?
Kosher laws are complex. While there are some common threads that everyone agrees on, the ways that kosher laws are observed can vary slightly based on the supervising rabbi (or mashgiach) or individual consumer.
Many kosher laws are specific to meat, fish and shellfish, and in terms of animals and parts of animals that are considered kosher if properly slaughtered and handled. For example, beef, lamb, goat, venison, chicken, duck, turkey, and fish with fins and scales like salmon and tuna can be kosher, whereas pig, rabbit, shellfish, fish without fins and scales such as catfish or swordfish, and most other animals are never considered kosher. The mixing of meat and dairy is prohibited, and dairy products need to carry kosher certification.
One mistake I often see operators make is conflating serving certified kosher products with being a kosher restaurant. Opening a kosher food product and preparing it in a non-kosher restaurant renders it unkosher.
Unlike meat and seafood, fruits, vegetables and grains are inherently kosher, but must be carefully handled and inspected for bugs.
Because you don’t have rabbinical supervision and certification, you are correct in replying that you are not kosher even though you are not serving meat, seafood or dairy. While most observant Jews would decline to eat in your establishment since it is not kosher, some Jews who otherwise follow kosher laws are open to eating in vegan restaurants, especially when traveling in places where kosher restaurant options are limited. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide their comfort in observing kosher dietary guidelines.
My advice is to always be upfront about your practices. You might consider pursuing kosher certification if you feel it would be appealing to your market.
More on kosher certification for restaurants here.