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J'lem eatery won’t have female servers Thursdays

March 15, 2012 03:25

Kashrut certification request infuriates activists.

Ultra-kosher for ultra-Orthodox.

haredim kosher food 311. (photo credit:Ariel Jerozolimski)

A well-known Jerusalem restaurant in Rehavia has found itself in the middle of the latest storm involving discrimination against women, after the organization providing the restaurant’s kosher certification threatened to withhold it unless the restaurant stops employing female waitresses on Thursday nights.

Originally the Badatz Agudat Yisrael certification authority had requested that the restaurant, Hemeishe Essen (Yiddish for “Home Food”), stop employing female waitresses altogether. When the owner balked, they compromised, deciding that there would be no female waitresses on Thursday nights, when the restaurant is full of male yeshiva students.

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The 46-year-old restaurant is a Rehavia stalwart and serves eastern European Ashkenazi comfort food, catering to both secular and religious populations.

Its customers have included prime ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert, MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), writers, politicians, journalists and prominent left- and rightwing activists, according to owner Alexander Haim Safrin.

In addition to the state-mandated kosher certification from the Chief Rabbinate, the restaurant chose to have a higher level of certification from the Badatz of Agudat Yisrael (Badatz is an acronym meaning “rabbinical courts”). Many of the stricter haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sects will only patronize restaurants with certain Badatz certifications, which are considered more stringent than the rabbinate’s certification.

On Thursday, the Yisrael Hofshit (Be Free Israel) movement and the Israel Religious Action Center will hold an evening of community singing in the restaurant’s courtyard to protest the Badatz decision.

“These are actions of terror,” said Mickey Gitzin, the director of Be Free Israel. “It’s not just about kashrut, they’re dealing with other aspects that are creating discrimination against women and violence against women.”

City Councillor Rachel Azaria, a prominent activist for women’s rights in Jerusalem, said the request from the Badatz set a dangerous precedent and that other restaurants could soon find themselves facing similar requests.

“Generations of women fought so that wouldn’t happen,” she said. “We can’t let the haredi population take that away from us. It’s not like [the waitresses] are in swim suits, and they’re not asking to pray.”

Safrin said he understood the Badatz’s request and was trying to find a happy medium that would both honor the needs of his religious customers and enable his female staff to keep working. He vowed not to fire any waitresses, and said he would continue to employ Arab and secular waiters.

Safrin explained that 20 years ago, the restaurant had not been concerned with the extra-stringent kashrut certification, but that the make-up of the neighborhood had changed.

“The haredi community in Rehavia is growing. Every apartment that opens up goes to a haredi American,” he said.

But he defended his decision to acquiesce to the demands of Badatz.

“It’s like someone who complains about the taste of the food or complains about the cleanliness, they’re complaining about female waiters,” he said. “It’s not discrimination, because no one is getting fired.”

But Azaria disagreed.

“It’s against the law. In Israel, you can’t cut shifts because of sex,” she said. “It’s not just exclusion of women, it’s discrimination.”
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