The High Court of Justice on Tuesday ordered the Ashdod Rabbinical Council to provide documents proving that the kashrut terms demanded of a Jews for Jesus baker were identical to those demanded of the Jewish bakers in the city.
The decision came at the end of a hearing on a contempt-of-court petition filed on behalf of Pnina Conforty, a Jews for Jesus follower whose kosher certification had been revoked in 2006 because of her religious affiliation.
Last June, the High Court ruled that the rabbinate could not withhold a kashrut certificate from Conforty as long as she obeyed the laws of kashrut, and that it could not demand of her conditions more strict than those required of Jewish bakers in Ashdod.
Nine months later, the rabbinate has still not granted the certificate.
“Court rulings must be obeyed,” Justice Ayala Procaccia told the state’s representative, attorney Hani Ofek, at Tuesday’s hearing.
Ofek asked the court for more time, explaining that the rabbinate and the State Attorney’s Office were conducting an “institutional dialogue” and looking for a “practical solution” to the High Court’s order.Related:
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“There is a problem here,” replied Procaccia. “The High Court handed down a ruling. I have never heard of a case in which the court handed down a clear ruling and the rabbinate is looking for a ‘practical solution.’ We specified the solution.”
Ofek said there was not a single rabbi who would sign a kashrut certificate for a member of Jews for Jesus. She added that the court ruling had “fomented a storm in the rabbinical world.”
“I am asking for some time, some oxygen, to conduct this ‘institutional dialogue,’” she said.
The judges were not satisfied.
“These things happen too often,” said Supreme Court Deputy President Eliezer Rivlin. “The government must understand that when there is a ruling, it must be carried out. The State Attorney’s Office is not conveying this message.”
But the thrust of the hearing changed when the Ashdod Rabbinate’s attorney, Eyal Nun, got up to speak after Ofek.
Nun informed the court that there were eight bakeries in Ashdod that baked their goods on the spot. All of them were required to fulfill the same conditions, which included the presence of a kashrut supervisor at all times when goods were baked, and a “trustee,” a religiously observant employee, who would be on site throughout the day.
“We asked for a list of the kashrut conditions required of all the other bakeries, and they were exactly the same as those required of Conforty,” said Nun.
During the three years in which the petition was heard, Nun had never made this claim. On the contrary, the Ashdod Rabbinate had explained that precisely because Conforty was not Jewish and therefore not fully trustworthy when it came to observing the kashrut laws, she required a trustee to oversee the bakery.
Nevertheless, Rivlin asked Conforty’s lawyer, Eliad Shraga, whether his client was willing to fulfill all the conditions, including up to five hours of kashrut supervision and a full-time trustee.
Shraga, obviously angry at Nun’s claim, refused.
“These are the same conditions they demanded of us in 2006,” he told the court. “It was exactly these conditions that the court rejected in its final ruling.”
Procaccia said, “We asked for a list of the conditions in all the bakeries in Ashdod that bake their own goods. If what the attorney for the Ashdod Rabbinate says is true, we cannot allow your client to do less.”
Shraga accused the rabbinate of lying. He said it had prepared the new requirements for the other bakeries only in the wake of June’s ruling.
He also demanded to know what the kashrut conditions were for bakeries throughout the country, and said he personally knew of some that did not have a kashrut supervisor for all baking and a full-time trustee.
Procaccia rejected this argument as well, saying that kashrut observance was the responsibility of each local authority.
The court demanded that Nun provide a list of all the bakeries in
Ashdod and the conditions that each one was obliged to fulfill to
receive kosher certification. It also demanded to know whether the
Ashdod Rabbinate would grant Conforty a certificate if she promised to
fulfill all of its conditions, assuming that they were the same as
those imposed on the other bakeries.
Nun said it would.
Procaccia made it clear that if the rabbinate provided such a list and
if, indeed, the conditions were as Nun had claimed, it would accept the
document at face value, on the assumption that a public body would not
lie to the court. This is standard practice for the Supreme Court,
which cannot call witnesses to testify.
However, the justices also asked Nun to tell them when the current
conditions for certification had first been imposed on the bakeries.
Conforty told The Jerusalem Post
after the hearing that the rabbinate
was lying. She said that when she first received a kashrut certificate
in 2006 (before it was revoked), the rabbinate had not required her to
hire a trustee and had told her that she must have a kashrut supervisor
only half an hour a day.