Recently, a disturbing bit of news fudge-rippled across Anglo-Israeli Facebook
pages: the Chief Rabbinate had instructed all grocery chains under its
supervision to stop selling Haagen Dazs premium ice cream, claiming it is not
kosher – despite the fact that the ice cream is certified kosher by the Orthodox
Union of the United States (the OU).
The particular policy implemented by
the rabbinate in this case is not so new; it was articulated by former chief
rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron in a 2003 article in a journal of contemporary Jewish
law. Nevertheless, the outrage expressed at the pulling of Haagen Dazs from
supermarket freezers is largely justified.
The bone of contention is a
halachic restriction on halav nokhri
– milk that was not produced in the
presence of a Jew.
The ancient rabbis were concerned about a mixture of
milk from non-kosher mammals.
Contemporary practice includes a variety of
viewpoints: the most stringent position upholds a blanket prohibition on any
milk produced without a Jew present, but leniencies articulated by major
halachic authorities permit the consumption of such milk if there is no reason
to suspect the adulteration of the milk, if there is credible government
supervision of the dairy industry (the basis for the OU’s policy), or if the
products in question contain a milk derivative (such as powdered milk or butter)
and not liquid milk.
Every kosher-certification organization in the world
has subtly and not-so-subtly different standards, stringencies (humrot), and
leniencies (kulot). No law mandates that every kosher certifier must accept the
certification of every other, and it is not uncommon for a single product to
have multiple certifications.
For better or for worse, it has been this
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That being the case, why the outrage about the Israeli
Rabbinate’s non-acceptance of OU-certified products that contain liquid milk?
There are several reasons: In the first place, the rabbinate’s ruling is
predicated on a common misconception about the OU’s policy, based on a leniency
articulated by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (and espoused by other major authorities in
America and Europe). Bakshi-Doron’s position paper argues that Feinstein
intended for his leniency to apply only in extenuating circumstances, and thus
does not apply in the Jewish state, where Jewish-produced milk
This is a distortion of Feinstein’s true position: this leniency
applies to any government supervised milk, irrespective of the availability of
milk produced in the presence of a Jew.
To be sure, Feinstein sees value
in accepting the humra of Jewish-supervised milk, but he clearly views it as
being beyond the letter of the law. In the quarter-century since his passing,
the trend toward greater humra has managed to revise his legacy, and there are
even stories circulating about how Feinstein once induced vomiting after
accidentally ingesting government-supervised milk. Such ludicrous hagiographies
illustrate the degree to which it has become anathema to accept any leniency, no
matter how sensible and no matter how respected an authority promulgated
By not certifying this kind of dairy product, the Chief Rabbinate is,
in essence, saying that the vast majority of Western olim do not really keep
After all, every major American kosher certifying organization,
and the vast majority of American and Western European Jews who keep kosher,
relies on Feinstein’s ruling.
This is even more disconcerting given the
Chief Rabbinate’s kosher-certification mandate.
Israel has developed a
two-tiered certification system – regular and super-kosher “mehadrin” –
precisely because the rabbinate often relies on leniencies in order to enable
kashrut-observance among a broader segment of the population.
rabbinate has even developed an entire system of caveats to indicate when it
relies on controversial leniencies. Thus, the fine print on a food label can
tell the consumer when a given product is not eaten by a particular community
(kitniyot on Passover, for example) or by those who do not rely on a particular
In recent years, however, the rabbinate has gone against its
mandate and reversed longstanding lenient policies. Perhaps the best-known
example is the refusal of certain municipal rabbinates to accept the hetter
mechira, a fictitious sale that allows Jewish farmers to continue to work during
the shemita (Sabbatical) year, and which has been a mainstay of the rabbinate’s
policy since its inception.
In the case of Haagen Dazs, the rabbinate has
changed a policy of benign neglect that allowed individual consumers to make
their own choices about kashrut standards.
Of course, one can live
without Haagen Dazs ice cream. Nevertheless, it is deeply insulting to have the
country’s official kosher-certification body cast aspersions on longstanding and
halachically accepted practices.
The stakes might be lower, but the
attitude evinced is of a piece with other attempts on the part of Israel’s
rabbinic establishment to distrust or neglect Diaspora community customs in
order to amalgamate a “unified”– that is, a more stringent–Israeli
It is of no difference whether the targets of this
condescension are from North America or North Africa, England or Ethiopia. I
would hope it is not too much to ask that, in the future, such products be made
available with the caveat: “kosher in accordance with the accepted practice of
Diaspora communities.”The writer is an author and translator from
Modi’in. His recent retrospective about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, entitled “Halacha
for Americans,” appeared on Jewish Ideas Daily.
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