Coffee shop at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital loses its MK heksher

A notice posted by the Jewish Community Council of Montreal stating that it has withdrawn its kosher certification from the Atrium Coffee Shop at the Jewish General Hospital.

A disagreement over how many hours a mashgiach should be on duty has led to the Jewish Community Council of Montreal (JCCM) withdrawing its kashrut certification for the Atrium Coffee Shop at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH).

On March 2, the JGH Auxiliary, which runs the establishment, placed an ad in the Montreal Gazette stating that “in order to provide sufficient quantities of lettuce to serve its customers, (the shop) will prepare the lettuce itself, following the procedures established by the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, but not under its supervision. All other food and preparations will continue as it has for the past 50 years.”

The same day, the JCCM issued an alert that “due to a kashrut violation,” the shop is “currently not under the MK certification.”

All food served at the JGH has been kosher since it opened in 1934.

The JGH Auxiliary (and the JGH Foundation, which benefits from the shop’s proceeds) has remained tight-lipped. “We are assessing the situation. We have no comment at this time,” JGH Auxiliary executive director Nancy Rubin told The CJN via email on March 5.


JCCM executive director Rabbi Saul Emanuel told The CJN that a few years ago, the JGH Foundation informed him that it wanted to reduce the number of hours worked by the mashgiach, whose salary it pays, to which the JCCM acceded.

More recently, however, the JCCM has felt that the mashgiach’s hours were insufficient, due to the increased volume of business at the shop, which is located in Pavilion G. The JCCM says the mashgiach should be there a full eight hours a day, but Rabbi Emanuel said the JGH was only prepared to pay for five.

The shop is open Monday to Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (2:30 on Friday). The coffee shop serves light dairy meals and snacks, and does in-house catering.

In late 2016, the JGH closed its main cafeteria, which had been a popular restaurant for more than 80 years, when a food court with multiple vendors opened in the new Pavilion K.

The inspection and preparation of vegetables, especially salad greens, are the main sticking point at the Atrium.

The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. (Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The JCCM is very stringent about produce. When eaten fresh, it only sanctions iceberg and Boston lettuce, and only if they’re prepared in one specific way.

The four outside leaves must be removed and discarded. The head is then cut into quarters and all the leaves separated and inspected for any insects. The leaves are soaked in a solution of one tablespoon of soap to one litre of water for five minutes, and then rinsed and dried.

Fresh greens like spinach, kale and mesclun are not deemed kosher.

A number of ways to reduce the time it takes to prepare the lettuce were considered, such as the use of pre-checked produce, but nothing was settled upon, Rabbi Emanuel said. The newspaper notice placed by the JGH Auxiliary came as a surprise, he added.

MK certification remains in place at all other food areas at the JGH.

Rabbi Emanuel noted that the JCCM does not charge its usual administrative fee to the JGH, or any other health or care institution under its supervision. “We do this as a service to the community, because we recognize the importance of their being kosher,” he said.

He said on March 5 that a detailed explanation of what happened with the JGH would be published, but that was not yet available, as of press time.