Ultra-Orthodox Schools Resist Mandate on Vegetables, Fearing Kosher Violation

Can Kale and Kashrut Coexist in Yeshiva School Lunches?

Going Green? Orthodox schools don’t object to children eating healthier. But a federal requirment to serve green leafy vegetables poses special hurdles for kashrut-observant institutions.
getty images
Going Green? Orthodox schools don’t object to children eating healthier. But a federal requirment to serve green leafy vegetables poses special hurdles for kashrut-observant institutions.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 25, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Getting schoolchildren to eat green vegetables is anything but easy. Getting students in ultra-Orthodox schools to eat these vegetables as part of their school lunch could soon become impossible.

Representatives of ultra-Orthodox groups have been petitioning the government, in meetings and through correspondence since last October, to exempt their schools from the legal requirement to serve leafy dark green vegetables as part of a menu eligible for federal funding.

Their reason has nothing to do with the taste of spinach, kale, or cabbage. It is because these and other leafy greens might be infested with tiny insects that would render them non-kosher. The groups have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find substitutes that would maintain the nutritional benefits of these vegetables without having ultra-Orthodox children risk eating food that might contradict their dietary laws.

It is an issue that relatively few in the Jewish community pay much attention to, and given the reluctance of most Jewish groups to negotiate with the federal government over funding, due to their reluctance to ask the government for special preferences tailored to any religious group, ultra-Orthodox activists find themselves alone in the battleground.

Leafy green vegetables are only one of the concerns that drive advocates of the ultra-Orthodox community to engage with the federal government despite their lack of broad communal support. In recent years, for example, as the holiday of Sukkot approaches, representatives of Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization representing American Haredi communities, works with the Transportation Security Administration and with the Customs and Border Protection Agency to make sure Jewish travelers carrying the “Four Species” that make up the ritual lulav and etrog are allowed to go through airport security whether entering or exiting the country.

Agudath Israel also stood at the forefront of the campaign against the use of revealing X-ray scanning technology at airport security checkpoints, citing concerns over modesty of travelers.

This recent move by ultra-Orthodox activists follows complaints from school administrators at Haredi-run schools who found it difficult to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 which went into effect this school year. The law, aimed at fighting childhood obesity by making school lunches healthier, allocated $4.5 billion for school lunch programs for the next five years, but it requires public and private schools receiving federal lunch assistance to adhere to a new set of nutritional guidelines. These guidelines include limiting grain consumption and replacing refined grains with whole grains; requiring each student to be served at least half a cup of vegetables per meal with an emphasis on dark-green and red-orange vegetables; and imposing limits on sodium intake. Federal subsidies for lunches are conditioned on schools adhering to these requirements.

Ultra-Orthodox schools took issue with two of the measures. One problem stemmed from limiting the amount of grain-based foods served at schools. Administrators noted that for the purpose of saying the blessing over the bread (HaMotzi) and the blessing on nourishment (Birkat Hamazon), students require a certain amount of bread, usually one slice. But that would take up all the grain allocation for a meal and would not allow other grain-based foods on the lunch plate.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.