KLBD Director Rabbi Jeremy Conway was spotted this week in the popular BBC Series the Great British Bake Off. Fortunately for the competitors, he wasn’t taking part in the Bagel and Challah challenge but made his guest appearance where he discussed the methods of ensuring the kashrut process of the bagels sold at Kosher bakeries.
You can watch the entire episode here. Rabbi Conway appears around the 46 minute mark.
Below are some of the points which Rabbi Conway discussed during the interview in further depth.
What is a Kosher Bakery?
A Kosher bakery means that it conforms to all Jewish dietary laws. Many people think that keeping Kosher means don’t eat ham, don’t have pork and that’s it, but there’s much more to it than that.
I am the Director of the Kosher Food division of the London Beth Din – Court of the Chief Rabbi. We have about 150 establishments including; restaurants, bakeries, caterers and cafes under our supervision and license. About 30 are Bakeries!
What makes a kosher bakery different from an ordinary bakery? Three things:
1) First of all, our rabbinic inspector checks all products and ingredients to ensure there’s nothing of animal origin and nothing derived from milk. (All bread and rolls must be Parev, non-meat and non-dairy - ideal for vegans and Jews!)
2) Secondly, he lights the ovens, the bagel boiler and all cooking equipment so that he should have some input into the baking, so that the products are called Pas Yisrael, literally “Jewish Bread”. Jewish law encourages us to eat “Jewish bread” in the first instance when it is readily available, a) to ensure the products are strictly kosher, and b) to reinforce a sense of Jewish identity and community.
3) Thirdly, he performs an ancient Jewish ceremony of the separation of Challa-dough. Actually this is one of the oldest and most basic traditions of the kosher laws. It is mentioned explicitly in the Bible (Numbers Ch 11): “G-d says to Moses - Tell the Israelites, When you go into the land of Israel and you bake bread, you should separate some of your dough...”
There are two reasons for this:
a) to give it to the Kohanim - priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. Even though we have no Temple, - its 2,000 years since it was destroyed by the Romans (part of the Western Wall is still standing), and even though we don’t live in the Holy Land, we still keep up the tradition to this day!
b) I think there’s a deeper concept. Bread is the basic staple food. It has to be nourishment not only for the body but also for the soul! A human shouldn’t eat in the same way as an animal feeds. Starting the food process with this mitzva – this holy observance, and making the blessing imbues the bread with a certain degree of holiness, and giving a portion to the priest reminds us of the imperative to share with those less fortunate than ourselves. (For hundreds of years, Jewish housewives when baking bread and separating the dough, would also set aside a few coins which would be sent to support poor scholars studying Torah in the Holy Land.)
The amount of dough requiring for the ceremony of separating challah is the amount of Manna that, according to the Bible, fell daily for each Israelite travelling through the Wilderness to the Promised Land. It reminds us that our ‘daily bread’ is a gift from G-d. (Echoes here, perhaps, of the Christian prayer “Give us this day our daily bread…”)
It’s an amazing thing. The tradition of separating Challah even when we are not in the Holy Land and there are no Priests to receive the dough, was enacted by the Rabbinic Sages over two and a half thousand years ago “shelo tishtakach toras challa miyisrael” – in order that the traditions of Challa should not be forgotten; and here we are, centuries later, still continuing these Biblical traditions in the 21st century in modern Britain! Generations of observant Jews have kept up the traditions, and it is these traditions themselves that guarantee Jewish continuity.
Other distinctions are that bakeries close every Shabbat from Sundown Friday till stars appear 25 hours later on Saturday night, as well as every festival and of course the entire week of Passover.