Kosher Restaurant Revolt Brews in Jerusalem

Rebellion Grows Against Rabbinate's Certification Monopoly

Eatery Anger: Restaurateurs are fuming at the Israeli state rabbinate’s monopoly on kosher certification.
courtesy of jerusalem movement
Eatery Anger: Restaurateurs are fuming at the Israeli state rabbinate’s monopoly on kosher certification.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published November 11, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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It isn’t just restaurateur rebels who have questioned the value of Jerusalem rabbinate supervision. Last year, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, paid surprise visits to Jerusalem kosher restaurants and, according to local media, was worried by what he found. He learned that supervisors were only making brief checks and not properly completing tasks as they are meant to do.

Jerusalem’s self-appointed kashrut watchdog, Yechiel Spira, editor of the fiercely-independent Jerusalem Kosher News website, wrote to his readers in July: “I feel that you have a right to know that the kashrus situation in the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem, has reached an all-time low, at least since my aliyah, over 30 years ago.” He echoed the concerns of disgruntled restaurant owners and of Metzger that supervisors are not investing the time they are paid for to ensure that the restaurants are meeting correct standards. Spira even claimed that mashgichim are “all too often ‘no-shows.’”

Spira said, “From my hours and hours of visiting stores, monitoring stores, spying on stores, stakeouts, picking through garbage, observing mashgichim, walking the shuk [market] and other areas in the center of Jerusalem,” he has “reached the conclusion that one seeking reliable kashrus may no longer rely on the Jerusalem rabbinate hashgacha [supervision] in restaurants… unless you are personally familiar with the goings-on in the restaurant you wish to visit.”

Spira believes that the restaurateurs’ campaign is significant. “It’s snowballing,” he told the Forward. “If they stay tough, it’s not going to go away.” He declined to say whether he supports it.

At the Jerusalem rabbinate, Yishai professed puzzlement at the calls for change, asking, “What is there to change?”

It is “possible” that some supervisors are not spending enough time in restaurants, Yishai said, but it is the restaurateurs’ responsibility to complain to the supervisors’ superiors. They don’t, he stressed, because they “aren’t interested in complaining.” fd Life is easier for them without a supervisor present, so they resent absences by supervisors but don’t ask the rabbinate to rectify the problem, he said.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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