A passionate internal debate among some of the Chief Rabbinate’s most senior
members has the potential to cause a dramatic hike in the price of kosher
hotdogs in Israel.
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is also part of
the 16-member Chief Rabbinate Council, stirred up a maelstrom when, during his
weekly Monday night lesson, he told students that some of the major hotdog
producers in Israel were using non-kosher ingredients, including pig skin, for
their products’ casings, which are sold under seemingly adequate kashrut
In days of yore, sheep intestines were used to contain the
hotdog ingredients, but nowadays reconstituted collagen casings, produced from
chemically treated animal skin, are the prevalent practice.
for Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar refuted Eliyahu’s claim and produced a
verdict issued by Amar over 10 years ago, ruling that the chemical processes
that the animal skins undergo constitute a sufficient change in form to nullify
the previous substance, even if the animal was not slaughtered according to
They can therefore be considered kosher – though not
mehadrin A similar principle governs the kashrut of gelatin that is of animal
Amar had issued that adjudication before he became chief rabbi at
the behest of senior Sephardi halachic authority Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who
endorsed the decision.
In addition, six months ago Rabbi Avraham Buhbut,
head of the rabbinate’s meat-processing department, issued a letter to all city
rabbis and kashrut supervisors, reiterating that the Nipi casings produced in
Japan and Naturin casings from Germany were kosher – albeit on the most basic
level, as they used the skin of animals that were not slaughtered according to
Amar had even issued a later letter backing the kashrut
supervision supplied to Nipi by Rabbi Shneor Revach, after the chief rabbi sent
two senior members of the rabbinate’s kashrut committee to oversee the factory’s
So what in the world could be unkosher about a hotdog with such
pedigree? Plenty, according to Eliyahu, who noted in a conversation with The
Jerusalem Post on Thursday that most of the significant Halacha adjudicators
were of the opinion that the processes used on the skins couldn’t change them
enough to create a new and neutral product.
Eliyahu said that the Chief
Rabbinate Council had convened on the issue in the past and decided against
giving the rabbinate’s approval to the product, despite the highly regarded
minority stance of Amar, who was already chief rabbi at the time.
there are alternatives that are indisputably kosher, made from synthetic
materials or kosher animals, Eliyahu said, the council saw no reason to approve
a disputed product.
According to Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbinate Council is
the only body that can decide on such matters, so Amar cannot formally bypass
its authority. As for Buhbut’s and Amar’s letters, Eliyahu noted that neither
were formal kashrut certificates.
Sources in the rabbinate denied that
the decision against providing Nipi with certification had ever taken place, and
challenged Eliyahu to produce its protocol.
But even without the
protocol, it is clear that the rabbinate never approved the Nipi casings. The
Chief Rabbinate’s Import Division is the only body that can give the rabbinate’s
official stamp of approval to the kashrut certification of products from
Asked by the Post whether the division had approved the Nipi
casings’ kashrut, Import Division head Rabbi Yitzhak Arazi said that it had not.
It didn’t take long for two
people – a religious Muslim and a religious Jew – to hop on the opportunity and
file a request on Wednesday to sue Soglowek, one of Israel’s largest hotdog
producers and a user of Nipi casings, for NIS 200 million.
case on Eliyahu’s address, the two told the Jerusalem District Court that they
had been misled by the company to eat highly unkosher swine
Soglowek, which is based in Nahariya, issued a furious
response, saying it would sue anybody who caused the company losses by
besmirching its good name. The meat factory also pointed out that since its
inception, it had taken care to use only products approved by the Chief
It is the local rabbinates that provide the supervision for
food factories, and Nahariya Chief Rabbi Yeshayahu Meitlis told the Post late
Thursday that if the head of the rabbinate himself – Amar – had given his
approval to the Nipi casings, he didn’t need the formal approval of another
clerical committee, referring to the rabbinate’s Import
Besides, he said, disqualifying casings produced from
non-kosher animals would most likely cause a serious hike in the price of
casings, which would be made only from kosher skins or synthetic materials, and
that could discourage people from purchasing kosher hotdogs.
sources within the rabbinate who asked to remain unnamed said that Eliyahu had
the rare courage to speak out against a longstanding situation that might be
kosher in some ways, but sure didn’t smell right. There are procedures that must
be followed, the sources said – with all due respect to Amar’s halachic stature,
which none disputed.
Meanwhile, both Revach and Amar have lashed out
against Eliyahu on radio broadcasts over the past few days, rebutting his claims
primarily from a halachic point of view.
“These are not impure animals
[whose skins are used]; whoever says that is unnecessarily defiling his mouth,”
Amar told Kol Barama on Wednesday, citing Yosef as the primary source for this
halachic line of reasoning.
The Chief Rabbinate Council will debate the
issue in its upcoming meeting.