Holy Smokes!
06/19/13
Special To The Jewish Week
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Caterer Ari White has generated some buzz lately by launching a pop-up business to bring his kosher, Texas-style barbecue to street festivals here and as far away as Philadelphia.

Just as a rock star might name his guitar (Eric Clapton had Blackie and B.B. King had his beloved Lucille), White gave his smoker a moniker: Hakadosh BBQ.

That’s where the, ahem, rub came.

By playing on Hakadosh Baruch Hu, “The Holy One, Blessed Be He,” White has invoked the wrath of some rabbis, who feel his barbecue equipment trivializes God’s name.

After a recent Philadelphia-area fundraiser for the Kohelet Yeshiva High School featured White’s barbecue, some rabbis in attendance complained to the kosher certifying agency of White’s businesses, the Baltimore-based Star K. The actual names of White’s concerns — Gemstone Catering, which does events, and Got Cholent, which provides catering on Shabbat — were not the problem.

Star K rabbis conferred and decided earlier this month that the smoker’s name should be changed, White said.

Star K, which operates under the auspices of the Vaad HaRabonim of Baltimore, did not respond to requests for comment.

“It quite honestly left me unsettled,” White said after hearing of Star K’s recent decision and the angry e-mails the certifier received. “I am sorry to those whom I have offended and look forward to continuing to bring New York City and surrounding areas the best barbecue they’ve ever experienced.”

White got another hint that the name was trouble when at last week’s Long Island Kosher BBQ Championship he claimed that a judge gave his team poor marks because he was offended by the name. The move may have cost his barbecue the championship since it had won in the brisket category and finished second in chicken and beef ribs.

“I spoke with one of the judges and he found himself offended by what he deemed as irreverence of God’s name,” White continued. “I am in the business of making people be b’simcha [in happiness], not offending their deepest beliefs.”

White agreed with Star K and will be changing the name, but doesn’t know yet what it will be. Meanwhile, all online mentions of the smoker will be changed to read “Kadosh BBQ,” which just means “Holy BBQ.”

“This is by no means a Jezebel sort of scandal,” White said, referring to the downtown Manhattan kosher restaurant that changed its name to J Soho. (There are competing versions of whether the Orthodox Union forced the change or if the owners did it voluntarily.)

In the case of Hakadosh BBQ, there was no intimidation, ultimatums or threats of any kind made by the Star K, White said.

Dani Klein is the founder of YeahThatsKosher.com, a global Jewish travel and kosher restaurant guide. Klein was named to the Jewish Week's inaugural '36 Under 36' list in 2008. Continue this discussion with Dani on Twitter: @YeahThatsKosher 

Last Update:

07/06/2014 - 17:01

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I was at the event. It was my understanding that those who complained did so via email, telephone call, letter or pic. It was a wonderful event and none of those who attended were heard complaining.

The Star K wants to be politically correct in the circles it caters to. They look over their own shoulder. What is kosher is beside the point.

I love the name. It is part of a long line of delicious puns and should be treasured. Hashem can appreciate humor - he gave that spark to us for us to laugh with, not study "Torah lishmucks". So to all those other rebbeim who think they are zealously defending Hashem good name, please relax; hkb"h is a referent, not a name. If naming the smoker that keeps God in ourtthoughts for one additional second, isn't it a good thing? This rabbi says "yup, partner."

Mr White should be commended for the mature and professional way in which he handled this delicate situation. Who would have thought that a chef could teach us about midos in addition to food--mikol melamdai hiskalti.

It should be noted, parenthetically, that one of the criteria for judging at the kosher bbq cook-off was the cleverness of the name, so it doesn't seem so outrageous that the difficulty with the name was taken into account in the judging.

I find it crazy that the name Fifty Shades of Fleishig in honor of a popular soft porn fiction book won for best name at LI Kosher BBQ. I guess that we all have different ideas of what is and is not offensive . Hakadosh's BBQ makes me b'simcha no matter what you call it!

Years ago, my DH and some of his friends from shul decided to brew beer as a guys night out activity. When it was ready, they brought it to seudat shelishit to share, with the label "Mishna Brewery." The Rabbis thought it deserved a chuckle. But then, the Bostoner Rebbe, z'l, and his son the current Bostoner Rebbe weren't easily offended by clever word play.

If a contest judge was offended by a name, he should have kept it out of his judging - being an honest judge is far more important than what you name your smoker! Honesty in judgement is covered in the Torah; names for teams and cooking apparatus isn't.

And finally, it's impossible to NOT offend people these days. Cooking meat offends some; competition offends some. It seems that if for 10 months people had no objections, and then all of a sudden a slew of "outraged" emails hit, it was a very small, very loud minority that caused Mr. White to change the name. I call that bullying, regardless of how he wants to view it.

Disclaimer - I have little love for the Star-K in general, being that they treated one of my family members in an outrageously callous manner when she was ill. They bullied her, too.

A lot of hubbub has surrounded my recent decision to rename my prized 4700lb Texas made BBQ Smoker and I would like to set the story strait. Three of my four babies were named on Sukkot. Asher Elimelech had his bris followed by a huge Gemstone catered lunch at Orach Chaim nearly six years back. Three years later my second son Yoav Oz was named again during Sukkot at his bris (which I did myself=) followed by a Seussian inspired -Green Eggs & "Ham" bbq breakfast in the Sukkah at my HQ in Yonkers, the Lincoln Park Jewish Center. While my third son (Nadiv Israel) was still incubating within my wife who was on bedrest at Columbia Pres Hospital at the time, the name Hakadosh BBQ came to one of my guests in between zmirot during 1st night's dinner, inspired in the sukkah surrounded by a feast of friends enjoying a phenomenal bottle of good ol' southern bourbon. From the moment the name left Benji's lips, I knew it was what I wanted to name my new smoker - an 18ft "Stalker" model bbq rig made in Houston Texas by the ever so talented guys at Gator Pits. Over the 10 months to follow, the very nature of my business would take wild expansionary turns resulting in the pitcrew we currently have servicing the NYC area with pop-ups and the weekly Sunday street fairs. H'kBBQ was never meant to be the name of any business as we operated then and still under the dual titles of "got cholent? Inc", our Shabbat oriented wing as well as Gemstone Catering, our on and offsite boutique catering branch. I took on the name on facebook and twitter as part of our ever active online marketing and left it at that. Ten months of work in and around the metro area and we never heard so much as a peep. In fact the name, at least for those who got the pun, was generally received with great humor and praise. Our most recent pop-up in Philadelphia however, a fundraiser for the Kohelet Yehiva and their Yoetzet program, proved to be a game changer as it seems that angry mail began pouring into the STAR-K offices aghast in outrage and condemnation for what was viewed as the trivialization - chas v'chalila - of the The Name of The Holy One, Blessed Be He. This matter was brought to my attention just before our competing this past weekend, also under the team name Hakadosh BBQ in the Long Island Kosher BBQ Competition and quite honestly left me unsettled all Shabbas long. My epiphany came while meeting and speaking with one of the judges charged with scoring booth names and designs. He too found himself offended by what he deemed as irreverence of God's name and scored us accordingly, which as an aside cost us 1st place and the Grand Champion trophy. This judge struck me as good man, mamish, and I had deeply offended him. I left the corporate world so that I could do something I love and literally bring greater joy to people. We cater weddings, bar/bat Mitzvahs, meals and kiddushes for Shabbat and work with dozens of charitable and worthy organizations facilitating many of their fundraising events. Every one of these gigs in some way works towards the goal of making this world of ours an ever so slightly better place. The answer, in my eyes, was crystal clear. I am in the business of making people be b'Simcha, not offending their deepest beliefs and personal paths towards praising daily The Almighty. I'd like to see my part in bringing the Southern traditions of my youth to NY streets as a Kiddush Hashem and not the very opposite. With that said, it is the mutual opinion of the Vaad HaRabonim of Baltimore, aka the STAR-K, and myself that we find a better suited name for my budding business now, rather then waiting to offend even more people in the weeks and B'sD years to come. This is by no means an OU/Jezebel sort of scandal. Nor has their been any sort of intimidation, ultimatums or threats of any kind by the STAR-K. I am happy with having the quality and authenticity of my food speak for itself and don't need any gimmicks or shock marketing to get people to follow and frequent our pop-ups, street fairs and events. I am sorry to those whom I have offended and look forward to continuing to bring NYC and surrounding areas the best damn BBQ they've ever experienced. Our schedule of dates and locations can still be found at www.gotcholent.com. Our smokin' has just barely begun! b'Simcha Tamid ~Ari White Chef/Owner ~ Gemstone Catering Pitboss ~ Texas Roadside Smokehouse  

Who are these rabbis? Are they ashamed to take their supposedly principled stand in public? Community rabbis should be expected to make their positions known and be answerable for them. If they think they are standing up for G-d, they should do it publicly and with pride.

Who are these rabbis? If they desire anonymity, are they ashamed of taking a principled stand? A community rabbi should be expected to make his positions public and be willing to answer for them. If they think they are standing up for G-d, they should do it publicly and with pride.

It's so sad that the overheated sensibilities of so few can lead to such misuse of authority. Anyone who confuses an amusing play on words with chilul hashem is hyper sensitive to say the least. L'hefech, the name Ha Kodesh BBQ is a reminder that we are doing G-d's will by observing kashrut. Kol Hakavod to Ari for being such a mensch about this.

I have known mr. white for many years. No one has any reason to question the validity of his level of kashrut! This was simply a clever name , pure and simple! How ridiculous to make him change the name.

When I was much younger (and far more naive) I had the zechus to daven in Rabbi Oelbaum's shul in kgh. At the time there was a lubavitche member z"l, who in honor of his Rebbe, would daven the kedusha to the tune of the French national anthem as a tribute (the Lubavitche Rebbe a'H was a "musmad" of the Sorbonne) After davening I approached Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum, who is to me one of the great Torah scholars of today, and I asked him how you can daven to a notably secular melody. His answer which I remember to this day (and I paraphase) was that you can ALWAYS elevate the mundane into something Kadosh! And indeed when I built my pool at my home, I elevated even that to a mitzvah by having a sign printed at the sign maker and prominently posting it by my pool with the quote from the Talmud bestowing upon a father 3 obligations towards his sons 1) to teach him Torah 2) to teach him a trade and 3) to teach him to SWIM, and in doing so elevated my mundane pool into an opportunity for my husband and me to use it to fulfill a mitzvah. I guess the point that I am making is that if you can elevate something as mundane into something that every time we mention or see it reminds us (even if it is in a mundane way) of Hakadosh Boruch Hu, not only do I see it as harmless, but to me it is a POSITIVE thing!!! I really think that in today's times there are those among us who spend so much time focusing on non-issues, trying to make them "issues", instead of focusing on the true issues that yidden face today...to many for this venue, but where their attention would be much better spent!!!

very well put yigal. situations like this make a mockery of the kashrus process. there are no doubt many people who consider themselves shomer kashrus eat at vegan restaurants that have no hechsher because the value of a hechsher has been diminished by situations like this. it is easy to justify when you clearly see kashrus is as much about politics and other nonsense as it is about halacha.

Yigal, at the end of the article I specifically stated that there was no extortion or ultimatum involved, but rather it was a mutual decision as Mr. White did not want to offend anyone.

Moreover when you say that they "decided" what is that, if not an "ultimatum"? Never heard of a Kashrut organization that says "we decided, but it's all good if you don't comply".

Dani,

You also said:

"Star K rabbis conferred and decided earlier this month that the smoker’s name should be changed, White said."

“It quite honestly left me unsettled,” White said after hearing of Star K’s recent decision and the angry e-mails the certifier received.

Doesn't sound like it was a particularly friendly suggestion.

Ari was unsettled by hearing that he had offended others.

Absolutely ridiculous that people would take offense to this. If you're going to be that sensitive, then don't bother coming out to an event such as this.

Sign the petition to keep the name the same!
https://www.change.org/petitions/hakadosh-bbq-please-don-t-change-your-name

I was at the event. It was my understanding that those who complained did so via email, telephone call and/or letter. It was a wonderful event and none of those who attended were heard complaining.

Indeed, I stated "angry emails" in the article.

I find the Star-K's move to be deeply disturbing. Kashrut organizations have a very simple and narrow task - to certify whether the food served by an establishment meets Halakhic standards for being Kosher. Such standards have nothing to do with the name or type of establishment serving the food. By way of illustration, an apple doesn't become Treif simply because it is served in a Church and Ham doesnt become Kosher because it is served in a synagogue. Moreover, we're not talking about any kind of Halakhically problematic conduct here - just about not offending the sensibilities of some Rabbis at the Star-K who apparently have no sense of humor. Indeed, if I had to speculate why the Star-K avoided commenting, it is because the Star-K has absolutely no tangible Halakhic justification for its decision. Indeed, to be blunt, this seems like a rather straightforward case of blackmail -the Star-K exploiting a caterer by using its certification as leverage to extract compliance on an issue entirely unrelated to Kashrut. With such conduct, one wonders, can we really trust THEIR Kashrut?

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