I asked Rabbi Sacket about potential kashrut problems in a hotel. He took a deep breath.
“There are so many intricate laws that the kitchen staff in a religious hotel has to be taught,” he said. “For a start, all hotels under the auspices of the rabbinate of Yerushalayim have a strict set of laws they must adhere to with regard to Shabbos. They may not place cooked food on a bed of lettuce or similar fresh greens, nor may they garnish such dishes with fresh herbs or the like. This is to avoid the prohibition of bishul – cooking on Shabbos. And the kitchen workers have to be taught not to use slotted spoons or similar sifting utensils because of the prohibition of borer, separating one item from another,
“And of course, as sometimes happens, when we run short of food the cook has to be taught that only fully cooked food can be placed in the heating cabinets. In addition the kitchen staff must know that coffee has to be made differently and oy vavoy if the housekeeping personnel decide to put a load of laundry in the washing machine.”
I remarked that the list of prohibitions was probably endless. “Well….almost,” Rabbi Sacket responded.
“In hotels without sufficient supervision, workers will often sort the cutlery for the day meal immediately after the night meal, which is forbidden; they might lay the tables for Sunday while it is still Shabbos, which is also forbidden; and they might soak their cutlery in boiling water and rub them with towels to polish them, which likewise is forbidden, under the prohibition of s’chita – squeezing.”
But, Rabbi Sacket took pains to emphasize, kashrut is only one aspect of running a hotel according to halacha.
“The bottom line is that a kosher hotel has to offer far more than kosher food; it has to provide a fully kosher service. Religious Jews can’t have it any other way. They cannot be expected to vacate their rooms on Shabbos afternoon, in advance of the Saturday night newcomers, and they cannot be expected to wait an inordinate amount of time for the one and only Shabbos elevator to make an appearance.
“And so I urge anyone planning to stay in a non-mehadrin establishment to discuss these details with the booking agent or the hotel’s mashgiach. Generally speaking, if the mashgiach appears to be trustworthy and knowledgeable or if he is acting as representative of a serious kashrut body, you can usually rely on the fact that he is true to his word.”
One great concern, Rabbi Sacket adds, involves the hotel grounds themselves.
“Is there is an eruv, and if there is, when was it last checked? Can you carry outdoors? How far can you go? What do you do about babies or infants who can’t walk? Please note that an eruv that is not checked regularly cannot be relied on, which may mean that a man cannot leave the building or his lodge wearing a wristwatch or even a tissue in his pocket.
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If preparing and maintaining a hotel for Shabbos is such an immense challenge, imagine what Pesach preparation and maintenance must entail.
There are no shortcuts – but then, when erev Pesach comes around and the guests are streaming into the lobby, there is no one prouder than Rabbi Sacket, who’s invested a tremendous amount of energy into making sure that everything is mehadrin min hamehadrin.
“They see me and they know they have someone to rely on, and that makes it all worthwhile. But of course my job is not over until Pesach is over. There are so many things to think about. For example, have you ever thought to check the source of the flowers that grace your table? Well I need to. What if they have wheat kernels in their packaging, God forbid?”
While most of the responsibility for Pesach rests with Rabbi Sacket, Yaakov Sha’ari, Ramada’s general manager, is far from bored.
“I try to get to know all my guests personally and greet them by name as they come and go,” Sha’ari told me. “And while it might seem incongruous that I myself am not part of the Orthodox community, it is my job to see that everyone performs according to the directives of Rabbi Sacket and I am proud of my success.”