You Can Thank BTs for Kosher Sushi

I was schmoozing recently with a local Rabbi who is active in Kiruv. He was telling me about the many important things that BTs have brought to the always-observant community. But the one innovation he mentioned that sticks in my head is Kosher Sushi.

The theory goes something like this: When Baalei Teshuva entered the community they were not happy with the choice of Kosher Restaurants and take-out foods. So they innovated and brought Kosher Sushi to the marketplace. Now you can walk down Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills and drop into Sushi Metsuyan, Annie’s Kitchen or the Bagel Store to pickup a six-pack of your favorite seaweed-rice-vege combo.

So the next time you’re munching on that explosion of Ginger, Soy and Wasabi, give thanks to Hashem, and then remember the BTs who love you and are looking after your best interests. I’ll leave the spiritual appeal of Sushi for a future post.

27 comments on “You Can Thank BTs for Kosher Sushi

  1. Ephraim beat me to the sushi-vs-sashimi punch.
    I’ve also heard the recommendation to hold the seaweed, er, nori, rectangles up to the light to make sure you don’t see tiny sea-horses, even if it comes with a hechsher. Then enjoy! (assuming you like the smell of burnt plastic.)

    I can add to Ephraim’s point that famous story we sometimes hear: “Once, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch decided to vacation. He was asked by his followers how he could indulge himself in such frivolity. Rabbi Hirsch responded that when, after death, he would come before God, God would ask him, “Shimshon, why didn’t you see my Alps?” R. Hirsch said that he wanted to have what to answer. For Hirsch, the Alps are manifestations of God’s creative power.

  2. Ummmmm….yikes. So many misconceptions about sushi.

    Sushi is not raw fish. Sashimi is raw fish. Sushi may contain sashimi but it doesn’t have to. Sushi refers to a food made of a base of rice preserved with a vinegar and sugar dressing which is combined with various other foods. You can have sushi with vegetables, bean curd, egg omelette, etc. Raw fish is one of the most common elements of sushi, but it is not necessary.

    Also, in Japan, sushi is just food. There is nothing particularly exceptional about it. You can get expensive sushi or cheap sushi, just like you can get a regular hamburger or a gourmet chopped sirloin sandwich here. It is just food, no more, no less.

    The Mir Yeshiva was saved by the Japanese consul of Kovno, Lithuania, Mr. Sugihara Chiune, who, in direct defiance of the explicit orders of his government, gave thousands of Jews transit visas which saved them from the Nazis. Schindler cannot hold a candle to him. I personally know two people whose grandparents were saved by Sugihara. The Mir yeshiva was in Kobe, Japan, for six months before relocating to Shanghai. If anybody should dafka eat sushi, it is the Mir Yeshiva.

    Also, to the best of my knowledge, the Chinese do not eat sushi. It is a Japanese food, although the Koreans have something similar.

    And if you are worried about food-related materialism getting in the way of your spirituality, stop eating meat and drinking wine except on Shabbos and Yom Tov. That should do it.

    As far as sushi being a goyish food is concerned, you cannot go anywhere in Eastern or Northern Europe without running into some version or other of latkes. Goyim eat donuts. Are we to stop eating sufganiyot? Pasta because it’s Italian?

    Please. There must be something more important to worry about.

    And isn’t it a sin if you refrain from enjoying something which you can legitimately enjoy just because you want to take on an unnecessary chumra?

  3. I just recently discovered this website and am reading all the past blogs. With respect to Alter’s comments on Sushi: I remember Rebbitzen Kalmonovich at Eyaht (granted, as charedei a BT institution as there is!) explaining the concept that everything created by people has the spiritual imprint of the creator’s kavana. Hence, it is most appropriate to partake of food, music, literature etc that is/was created by frum Yidden, because then the thoughts internalized, on a spiritual level, along with the physical food, is “kosher” as well. It is not a radical concept to understand that one can elevate the physical with one’s kavanas (brochas, etc). This theory just takes it one step further: it is not just the consumer’s kavanos that count, ie saying the proper brocha, it is also the kavonos inherent in the thing itself put there by its creator. I believe I remember her saying that is why some chareidim in Meah Shearim do not eat pizza, even in Geula. Pizza was created by goyim. They eat only Jewish food. They also do not listen to Mozart or read non-Jewish literature. She was not saying that this is in any way a halacha or for everyone to do. She was introducing a concept for us to appreciate and perhaps, one day, to aspire to. This is of course in addition to the points about materialism that Alter wrote. I thought I’d share it since this blog skirted on this issue.

  4. Wow, this website makes me feel like I have died and gone to BT heaven. Or is it just Passaic?

  5. Mark – to reply to your question (a bit late, sorry) the restaurants are actually all dairy – there is a lot of yogurt (or yoghurt if you prefer) incorporated into Indian cooking. Plus you can’t forget everyone’s favorite (favourite?) Indian Chai Tea. Mmmm.

    On top of that there are delightful pastries that are dairy. However most items can be ordered parve if you need them to be.

    All three are owned by the same group of people so perhaps that makes more sense.

  6. Herring is the original sushi, and a good Matjes is better than sushi!
    Now is herring a jewish food, because we adopted it in poland hundreds of years ago?

    Isnt all jewish food come from the countries we come from. That is why jewish cooking is so good.

  7. Alter- I hear your point about materialism 100 per cent, I think I’m just having a problem seeing sushi as an example of it. Clearly, American/Western society is driven by materialism. No doubt about is. Sadly, that materialism has crept into frum society as well. IMO, money and wealth (or the lack thereof) present some of the biggest challenges to any spiritual growth.

    At the same time, no particular food, assuming its kosher, is intrinsically good or bad. If someone enjoys sushi, makes a brocha on it and that adds to his/her evening out with his/her spouse or to the joy of his guests at his/her simcha or shabbos table, that seems to me to be a good thing.

    On the other hand, if someone is cholishing for sushi the whole day or is expending exorbitant amounts of money to feed his “sushi habit” (see this link to jk) then that is problematic.

    However, that is the case with any particular food, not just sushi. I think if our discussion didn’t germinate in the sushi post, we might be on the same page. And perhaps I have a bias since I enjoy sushi (in moderation).

    BTW, my Rav does not have a particular problem with Sushi (and he didn’t learn at the Mir which might create a bias due to the Shanghai connection (sorry)) and he doesn’t drive a Ferrari but an eleven seater van.


  8. David,
    I guess I am not communicating my point properly. It isn’t about sushi per se, rather about decadence of this generation which is spilling into the frum society. Look in the Mishneh Berurah,156, note 2 and the sha’ar tziyun 3, which discuss the issue of luxuries, etc. When I became frum, which was in Israel, one of the big things I loved about the frum society there was the tremendous emphasis on the spiritual and the lack of emphasis on the material. There was a purity that I found to be exceptional. For the most part, I didn’t find it in the American frum community. The emphasis on the material is in my opinion too great. Just take a drive to most shuls on a sunday morning and see the amount of luxury cars parked out front. Granted, it is a tremendous thing that they are there however I think we have missed the “boat”. When I hear Yeshiva boys “oohing and aaahhing” about the latest gvirs car and what new function it has, that makes me think about our values. I am guilty just as everyone else by particpating in such extravagances every so often, however I realise now we need to stop and stop soon before the bubble bursts. talk to the Rebbeim around town and you’ll find out how the system is cracking from the financial pressures that people are under. Part of that pressure is selfinflicted. Sushi is just the symptom of a much greater problem. I now reside in Israel and I must say that the materialism is here too however much, much less. Here the test is what tosafos/rashi you know, not what model lexus you drive. I am not condemning someone who drives a lexus,(I had an acura once) however what I am syaing is we need to ask ourselves “are we imparting the right values to our children. Make your self a rav and go ask the question. But make sure he doesnt drive a ferrari……

  9. I’m having a hard time swallowing (excuse the pun) the idea that the abstention from a particular food simply because it is popular in broader society is a goal. That may be a personal challenge for some but I’m not quite sure that it presents a particular challenge for most growing Jews of any stripe.

  10. Just as a followup so no-one misunderstands me. Obviously, we need to be realistic and recognize what level we are on and what level we wish to attain. However, we need to make sure that we aren’t complacent and static. The ideal always needs to be in front of us. I also agree that we don’t want our children to feel like they are in prison. However, if more people would get on board with the ideas that I expressed, then everyone would be doin’ it and they would feel part of the team. Also, nobody should attempt to throw the sushi out the window(literally) unless they have “deprogrammed” themselves and do so out of desire to be on a higher level ,because otherwise that person will hate serving Hashem and then what good have they accomplished. Trying to make torah the center of our lives and frame of reference, is a life-time avodah which needs constant nurturing.
    Best of Mazal.

  11. Alter – I have mixed feelings about your post. I too have converns about what my business partner calls the “Oreo Syndrome” which is that people get more revved up that they can eat Oreos (assuming they are not makpid on cholov yisrael, pas yisrael, etc.) then about anything spiritual. I hear that.

    On the other hand, we do not have to be relegated to a life of abstention in areas of permissibility. All the more so for BTs where each of us have to find our comfort level in all areas of the spiritual/physical intersection.

    I think I have even more concern with the area of how are children view these things. I agree that we must be careful about venerating physicality so as not to set our children in that direction. At that same time, it feel is it critical to avoid restricting our kids in every avenue for fear of creating the “shver a zein a yid” (“It’s hard to be a Jew”) syndrome that unfortunately led to many,many post-war yidden leaving their Yiddishkeit back in the old country.

    Certainly, we should not be letting our chuildren have free reign in all areas of permissibility. My wife and I spend many a night discussing when to say yes and when to say no to our kids so that we are able to provide a proper framework without stifling individuality. Anyway, most of my kids hate sushi (more for me and my wife).

  12. Alter – You make some good points about the danger of crossing the line and focusing too much on materialism instead of the more proper focus of sprituality.

    But I believe the Torah does recognize using and elavating the physical in our service of G-d. And we eat fish on Shabbos because it is a delicacy (see Mishna Berurah Section 242 – Note 2). Do you think the Chofetz Chaim would have objected to the use of Sushi as such a delicacy?

    Of course, Moshe Rebbeinu or the Chofetz Chaim would not go on a cruise, but we have to recognize that not everybody is at their level. Maybe it makes sense to continue climbing the ladder towards the ideal, but recognize that we are each on different rungs of that long, long ladders and accept and appreciate each individuals unique and wonderous struggle.

  13. I have to say that you can make fun of the people who think sushi is spoiling us as Jews however you see sushi is just one symptom of what is ailing us. The frum community has become the “let”s be like everyone else(the goyim) in the world but kosher” and this doesn’t help to keep us a part and make us a Holy Nation. “Sushi is good, so are glatt kosher cruises(I don’t think Moshe Rabbeinu would have gone) and pesach at hotels with thousands of people and your kids mingling with other kids whom during the year you would never let them meet). The world out here has become one hedonistic society and we are joing them if we opt for the sushi. I know that sounds far fetched but lets see the message that we send our kids. Variety is the spice of life. Don’t accept the plain boring things. I need external things to make me happy. You laugh,but that is the message. Then we wonder why our children need all the external stimulants like compter games , etc to make them happy-fun is needed 24/7. I remember what someone who grew up in the house of a gadol told me. He said that when they would ask their mom what is for dinner, she answered food. They didn’t grow up spoiled or finicky. The people who have dedicated themselves to torah and the Tzibbur are fighting a losing battle because the rest of the world is dining out and they can’t or won’t and their kids feel jealous.I am a baal Tseuvah for 16 years and recognize that we need to fit our lives to true torah haskafa and not fit the torah to our lives. That is imcomplete Tseuvah. By the way, the idea of putting raw fish into my mouth is revolting( call me finiky!)

  14. While I think that kosher sushi came to exist because of wealthy moderns, or perhaps upper west side Orthodox, I’m just glad we have it. Metsuyan in Kew gardens, Haikara in NYC, and I’m starting to really like Estihana in NYC which is blessedly close to my office! Debate is always welcome.

    My sushi tastes were cultivaed in Hawaii, where it is both a high end food and a fast food, so consider myself a master.

    It is real kosher food- no questions like turkey where there is a minhag that it is kosher (uh oh, I posted strong pro-Thansgiving views elsewhere) but served in a Japanses style. Nothing wrong with that, even if you think wasabi isn’t as good as chrein.

    Just one thing- NO gefilte fish or whitefish sushi adaptations please!!! You have inspired to work on a sushi post!

  15. David- while BT’s are taking credit, think big! We haven’t just revitalized culinary institutions, but financially and religiously revitalized communities.

    I’d say BT’s comprise 40-50% of the frum community whereever you go, with the exception of non-chabad chassidish communities.

    Anyone have any reliable guess as to the ratio of BT to FFB’s?

  16. Kosher Sushi sounds nice. On the other hand, a GI specialist who I learn with mentioned that sushi has an awful lot of worms, etc that feast in the darkness of the GI tract. In his opinion, he would not touch Sushi with a ten foot pole.

  17. Three Kosher Indian Restaurants!? How are they doing? Maybe it’s a good business idea. I can’t think of one in tbe NYC area.

    The reason might be because it’s much easier and less expense to provide supervison for a parve restaurant. I’m assuming there is no dairy in an Indian restaurant.

  18. I think BTs are also part of the reason we are blessed with kosher indian restaurants. :) Curiously there are at least 3 in seattle but no meat restaurants can be found in the state. Alas.

  19. No problem David. And I think I can produce satisfactory evidence that we innovated Kosher Pizza also – stay tuned.

  20. I knew we BTs did something right, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Thanks, Mark, for being a light in the darkness.

  21. Pizza has become a problem now? Well I taught at a Charedi day school in Chicago for 7 years and pizza was the standard meal on a special occasion there, such as a siyum. I wonder if the opposition to pizza has something to do with which side of the Atlantic you live on…

  22. just think – in the times of the mishneh raw fish was muktzeh and raw meat was OK – now its the opposite – raw meat is muktzeh and sushi is becoming the “bimkom” for gefilte fish more frequently!

  23. MMM… Annie’s Kitchen… (Sushi Mitsuyan is awesome, but WAY too expensive to go to often. Though if you go, get the Steak Negimaki.)

  24. I heard from a Sushi restaurant owner years ago that a catalyst for establishing kosjer sushi restaurants was that Modern Orthodox Jews were eating salmon, white fish, and the veggie kinds out.

    Additionally, I remember a Rabbi at Ohr Someach who railed against these foreign, non-Yiddishe foods, such as pizza. Because keeping kosher as a BT isn’t hard enough as is.

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