‘There is no procedure’

On Passover, restaurants billing themselves as kosher without certification are facing a new kashrut situation.

Ichikidana (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
‘We will be closing for Pessah [Passover],” says Lahava Siliman-Herman, the owner of Ichikidana, an Indian restaurant in the middle of the Mahaneh Yehuda. Since last year, Siliman-Herman has been part of a loosely affiliated movement of restaurateurs who have rejected oversight from the country’s Chief Rabbinate and have given up their kosher certification. Operating as “kosher without a certificate,” these restaurants are acting in protest at a rabbinate that they believe is falling down on the job.
With Passover coming up, all leavened products are forbidden and must be sold symbolically to a non- Jew, kitchens are required to undergo massive cleaning and dishes must be either replaced or ritually cleansed for use. The owners of some of these restaurants, such as Ichikidana, which serves Indian food prepared fresh from ingredients purchased from food stalls in the surrounding market, are unsure about how to prepare themselves for the holiday and how to sell their hametz (leaven) without the help of the rabbinate.
Siliman-Herman, a short woman wearing traditional Indian garb, says that she will be closing her restaurant the holiday. The intermediate days of Passover will be brief this year, she notes, and in any case, Passover is the perfect time to take a vacation.
“We always close for Pessah because its the only opportunity to actually get some days off and take a break,” she says.
“Last year,” she notes, “when we were kosher, the mashgiah [kashrut supervisor] came and bought all our hametz. We did the cleaning, we stayed closed anyway and then we bought back all the hametz” after the holiday. However, “this year, I don’t know.
We are kind of running without any instructions.”
She does not make any leaven on the premises and just sells bread that she buys every day. “There is really nothing to sell,” she says. “We [previously] did sell so I don’t really know how to function except just have a good clean and close everything up like we would do at home if we weren’t using our regular dishes.”
Such an approach could prove problematic for some of her Orthodox customers, however, as the dishes would still have been in her legal possession during the festival.
A “good clean” is all she would do on her own, she reiterates, but she does “want to ask what other people are doing.” Siliman-Herman notes that “I don’t have much instruction and next week I will have to figure out what I’m supposed to do.”
The theme of being a bit at a loss is echoed by Yonatan Vadai, the owner of the popular Rehavia eatery Carousela. While the restaurant will also be closing for the holiday, Vadai says that regarding the sale of hametz he is still unsure, at the time of this interview, how to proceed. “I’m closing on Pessah anyway because I am finding it’s difficult to make the kitchen kosher for Passover,” he says.
“Actually, I think that all the restaurants that don’t have a certificate have difficulties because they don’t know what to do on Pessah,” he says. “There is no procedure that they can actually follow during Pessah.”
“If you take my case, I’m closing for Pessah. But the customer will never eat here at my place if I don’t have a certificate that says I have sold hametz and the only organization in Israel that gives this certificate is the rabbinate. Last year I got the te’udat mehirat chametz [certificate that hametz has been sold].”
It’s “not a big deal” to get this document, he says.
“I will try to do it this year but I really don’t know.
Maybe because of the protests and the struggles within the Rabbinate, they will give me problems this time.” Without certification that Carousela did not own hametz over Passover, its Orthodox clientele will no longer eat there.
Someone has to make a “dramatic change” in the Rabbinate before he will return to the fold, Vadai says.
The supervisor from the Rabbinate who was assigned to his restaurant “came only two times a week, three times a week maximum for five minutes maximum and they didn’t check. It was just for the record,” Vadai says.
Eli Mizrahi, the owner of Cafe Mizrahi in Mahaneh Yehuda, agrees. Sitting and enjoying a meal with friends outside his eatery, Mizrahi says that he plans to stay open over the holiday.
He says that he sent the rabbinate packing because he felt that the institution and its supervisors were “betraying the people who count on them.” When he was officially kosher according to the state, he says, he had “to pay a mashgiah who came once a day for five seconds and... didn’t check anything” and that he was “paying a lot of money for nothing...
In their place, I had to be the kashrut supervisor,” he asserts.
However, he has engaged the services of a private rabbi to “clean everything for Pessah,” he says. What cannot be cleaned will be sold to a non-Jew and everything will be done according to Jewish law.
The only difference? No involvement by the rabbinate.
Rabbi Aharon Leibovitz runs an alternative, community- based kosher certification program for several restaurants that consider themselves kosher without certification. The head of the Sulam Yaakov Yeshiva, Leibovitz is strictly Orthodox but has grave reservations about the rabbinate.
Speaking about what the restaurants that don’t work with him should do, he notes that despite his opposition to the state kashrut authorities “the easiest thing would be for them to sell their hametz through the rabbinate. You don’t have to have a kashrut certificate to sell through the rabbinate. It’s a simple procedure.”
The challenge, however, is not selling the hametz, he says, but “documenting it so the clientele will know that it happened.”
The “most most significant challenge is kashering the restaurant for Passover, which requires a complete overhaul in the kitchen, and it’s significantly more complicated than day-to-day kashrut.”