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I often hear that Passover programs are fraught with potential issues, primarily in the area of kashrus, but also with the reliability of the Rabbanim there and other issues.

How can one go about looking into a Pesach program to find out if its high standards extend past how good the food is? If you call the mashgiach or the program, obviously they will tell you it is top notch.

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    I disagree with your last statement. Certainly if you mention the words Ta'am K'Ikar or Mi'ut haMatzui in your questioning then he will treat you seriously and tell the truth. – Double AA Dec 4 '14 at 4:59
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    I've cold-called Mashgichim and been told not to eat there. Or that I shouldn't eat the meat or certain veggies. And I once found a Mashgiach - in a Jerusalem wedding hall - who was Muslim (and didn't try to hide it.) – Danny Schoemann Dec 4 '14 at 10:01
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    Reminds me of the (fictitious?) story of the guest at the hotel who searched out the mashgiach and asked to be reassured that everything was perfect in kashrus. The mashgiach answered "if you wanted perfection in kashrus you should have stayed at home". – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 4 '14 at 22:04
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    @avrohom One time, the proprietor of a non-fictitious, highly recommended restaurant in Paris told me that his Kashruth certificate was merely expired, not revoked, and that as soon as he sends in his payment it will be renewed. When I asked to speak with the Mashgiah, he told me he was the Mashgiah. At that point we had to leave, sadly. – Seth J Mar 16 '15 at 17:44
  • @AvrohomYitzchok +1. And the story is not fictitious. – LN6595 Mar 17 '15 at 20:41
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I have been to many, many Pesach programs, all "Glatt Kosher" with "Top-notch Kashrus". The truth is, though, the quality of Kashrus varied greatly from program to program.

From several unpleasant experiences, I have gathered some questions to ask the Mashgiach and previous attendees of the program before you sign up:

  1. Who is the Mashgiach? Can you get references you trust? (The Yiras Shamayim of the Mashgiach will make the biggest difference.)
  2. Are the kitchen and dining room locked when the Mashgiach is not present? Who has the keys?
  3. Will the Mashgiach notice if you bring your own food? (I once had a Mashgiach who refused to allow our Heimish candy into the dining room. That Mashgiach I trusted. Most places didn't notice.)
  4. What do they consider Kitniyos? (At a hotel overseas, the tables were liberally decorated with fennel.)
  5. Non-food Kashrus: What is the story with electronic room keys? Shabbos elevators? Pritzus? Music? Chillul Shabbos? General atmosphere? (Note that these issues tend to be more problematic the first year a program occupies a hotel.)
  6. If you have children, are the counselors upstanding, healthy teenagers, or poor role models running away from home? (Counselors who smoke on Yom Tov, or drink, are not the people you want watching your children.)
  7. Is all the wine Mevushal? If not, is wine poured by waiters that are not Shomer Shabbos?
  8. How is the lettuce checked for bugs? Which other sensitive vegetables are used? How are they checked?
  9. Is the Matzah up to your standards? Do they have enough high-quality Matzah for the whole Yom Tov? (We only eat Shmura, and the hotels would sometimes run out.)
  10. Other food questions: Are the meals served with attention to the relevant zmanim? How is the meat for the first night prepared? (Many people hold that meat cooked with only a little liquid is not acceptable for seder night.)
  11. A key question: How many mashgichim are there relative to the number of kitchen staff, kitchens, and guests? (A Rabbi and two assistants may be adequate for a 150-person, 1 kitchen hotel. A larger hotel needs many, many more. Additionally, the assistants must also be trustworthy and mature.) Do the guests constantly see the Mashgiach around? (The dining room, that is. Not the lounge, and not even the Shul/Beis Medrash.)
  12. Perhaps the most important question: Are the kitchen staff afraid to disobey the Mashgiach? (The cook and waiters are the best people to answer this question.)
  13. Halachik standards: Do they hold of pas yisrael, chalav yisrael, gebrokts, chumros in bishul akum, etc.? (You will get easy answers on these. If they can't tell you quickly and easily, that's a real red flag.)

I hope these questions prove useful. These are the type of issues that are real problems in many "Glatt" hotels. These are also the kind of questions that are more likely to get accurate answers. Wishing you a Kosher Pesach!

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Find a good pair of reading glasses, a comfortable seat and a sense of humor ... made you laugh, already, huh? That was the technical part, because you did ask how to look ... Now, for the practical part or the answer:

I would recommend a few strategies:

  • If possible, stick with a place that is certified by a national or well-known kosher company, such as OU, Star K, etc. A number of hotels state this directly.

  • If the hotel just states, "certified by 'Gebrochts' caterers" (Made-up name), you may be able to find who supervises the caterer, online or otherwise. Then, follow the previous step.

  • Ask for recommendations from rabbanim that you trust who know about the hotel and / or caterer. If you can't find any, locate a rav in the area where the hotel is, as he may be familiar with who is in charge, esp. if the same people have been there for many years. Of course, if you're choosing a hotel that's been "kashered specifically for Pesach", that's harder to do. Personally, I would discourage people from selecting such hotels, but that's my own shtick.

  • Lastly, but, still an important factor - ask for recommendations from reliable people who have been to this hotel or other places catered by the same people. In a sense, they can "vouch" for the hashgacha (it's not a halachic basis, but, if people you know and trust went there, it lends some sense of "comfort" about the hashagcha.) One important piece of info you will get only from such people is about the quality of the hotel and the food. (Pesach in a hotel costs thousands of dollars. You want to make sure you are getting good value and quality PLUS trustworthy hashgacha!)

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