This Week in the World of Kosher

What goes into making food kosher?

The debate over this question has recently raged in America after the poor working conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse were exposed. The new Magen Tzedek certification has proposed that kosher food follow certain labor and environmental standards, but many Orthodox rabbis have disputed whether kosher certification can encompass anything more than the strict rules of kashrut.

Israelis are having their own version of this debate, looking at whether kosher certification should look at more than how the food is prepared. The chief rabbinate in Israel, which provides most kosher certification in the country, wanted to pull its kosher certification of a bakery owned by a Messianic Jew — a Jew for Jesus. The Israeli Supreme Court said that the chief rabbinate could not hold this baker to a higher standard than any other baker: “The Kashrut Law states clearly that only legal deliberations directly related to what makes the food kosher are relevant, not wider concerns unrelated to food preparation.”

In making its decision, the court cited a famous previous decision about an American-émigré belly dancer. In that decision, the court had ruled that the performances of the belly dancer at a hotel or catering hall could not be used to disqualify the site for kosher supervision.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the debate over kashrut has taken a different form during a European Union session on creating unified standards for animal slaughter. Last month, the British Farm Animal Welfare Council released a report stating that kosher and halal slaughter did cause animals “significant pain and distress.” In the end, though, the European Union passed a regulation protecting kosher slaughter in all EU member states — thus exempting religious slaughter from a requirement that all animals be stunned before they are killed.

No word came from Brussels on the belly dancing issue.

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