Going Kosher in the Hofburg Palace

by B. Olidort - VIENNA, AUSTRIA

October 14, 2004

The royal tableware at the Hofburg Palace is taken out of storage only several times a year. On official state visits or other such occasions, the antique silver soup tureens and sterling cutlery of Emperor Franz Josef (1830-1916), are carefully polished and set on tables fit for a king. Every item in this precious collection is accounted for and cautiously guarded.

With the arrival next week to Vienna of Israel’s President Moshe Katzav, preparations in the palace are at full speed. By invitation of Vienna’s President Heinz Fischer who, much like his predecessor, the late Mr. Thomas Klestil, has extended warm relations with Israel, Mr. Katzav will receive an official reception and be hosted at a formal state dinner at the palace with one caveat:

President Katzav is kosher observant. He will not eat food that was prepared in or served on dishes that have been used for non-kosher foods.

It’s the first official visit to Vienna by an Israeli head of state. No less interesting, it is also the first time the tableware of Franz Josef is undergoing a koshering procedure. According to Chabad representative and Chief Rabbi of Vienna’s Bukharan and Sephardic community, Rabbi Yitzchok Niazoff, who was asked to supervise the koshering, it’s grueling work, made harder by the preciousness of these dishes and the high temperatures involved in the koshering process.

“What would normally take one day is taking us three,” says Rabbi Niazoff, explaining that every item must be handled delicately and with extreme care. “We would typically put lots of cutlery at once in the boiling water. But in this case, we cannot do that—we are koshering every piece individually to make sure that not a single item sustains any damage.” That’s about 1,000 pieces of cutlery, each one gingerly placed in water that maintains boiling temperatures, before it qualifies for kosher service.

The china service cannot be used at all, explains Rabbi Niazoff. “Porcelain cannot be koshered, so in this case, the catering house, DO&CO International, has bought all new china for the state visit.” It is rather the serving pieces—all the sterling service such as the platters, soup tureens, ladles and the cutlery, that are being koshered for the state dinner of 180 on Tuesday, and then for an official dinner of 150 the following evening, by Austria’s Prime Minister Wolfgang Schussel.

DO&CO International has its own kosher kitchen where all the food is being prepared. A representative at the company’s main offices in Vienna explained that DO&CO has a kosher division and has catered kosher affairs in the past.

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