Local rabbinate checking 'Jewishness' of restaurant employees, Knesset hears

"Next you’ll tell us to drop our trousers to check our circumcision," MK says at discrimination hearing.

A Kashrut certificate hangs at the entrance to a bakery in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A Kashrut certificate hangs at the entrance to a bakery in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A new phenomenon is on the rise, a Knesset committee heard on Tuesday, whereby restaurants are banning citizens from working in their establishment who emigrated from the former Soviet Union or whose parents did, and of the Rabbinate penalizing restaurants who employ such people.
The hearing in the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs was initiated by Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova and Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov to discuss two recent incidents and the problem in general.
Razvozov noted a complaint his office had received recently about a young woman who applied to be a waitress in a kosher restaurant in Carmiel, but was rejected by the restaurant which said that since her parents were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the local rabbinate would object to her working there because of doubt over her Jewishness.
Razvozov also produced a document demonstrating that restaurant workers in Carmiel do indeed have to prove to the restaurant’s kashrut supervisor that they are Jewish.
Another incident brought to the attention of the committee, which was reported by The Jerusalem Post earlier this year, was that of the Halitatea specialty tea shop in Jerusalem whose kashrut supervision fees were raised because a new business partner at the restaurant was of Russian origin.
Svetlova’s office says that they have received several other such complaints in recent years.
Jewish law prohibits Jews from eating certain types of food – even when the food is kosher – if a non-Jew cooks it, although there are widely-used loopholes within Jewish law to circumvent this problem and allow non-Jews to cook in kosher restaurants.
However, it was argued during the committee hearing that such considerations should be irrelevant regarding business owners, waiting staff and other such employees.
It was also pointed out that the behavior of the local rabbinates in Carmiel and Jerusalem demonstrated that they immediately suspect someone who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, or their children, as being non-Jewish, which was described as a racist and discriminatory attitude by Svetlova, Razvozov and others.
“Are Russian immigrants good enough to serve in the army but not good enough to be employed in restaurants in Carmiel and Jerusalem,” demanded Svetlova.
“Where are we living?” asked Razvozov angrily. “You the rabbinate are taking the law into your own hands. These people aren’t kosher in your eyes because they speak Russian, or other language. Whoever is responsible for this needs to be fired. We cannot allow this to happen,” he continued, pointing out that the young woman from Carmiel was anyway Jewish, as was the business partner in Halitatea, but adding that this was beside the point.
“She [the waitress applicant] had the right to the Law of Return, she has an Israeli ID, she is an Israeli citizen, she enlisted to the IDF, her parents are tax payers. Why is she being checked? What is the next step? The next thing will be to request us to drop our trousers to check if we are circumcised or not.”
The head of the Kashrut Fraud department of the Chief Rabbinate acknowledged that a restaurant worker not involved in cooking or food preparation does not need to be Jewish, while a legal adviser for the Carmiel rabbinate said that it did not interfere with the employment of workers or what work they carry out, saying that “there is nothing to prevent any worker who is not working in the kitchen from being from any nationality.”
Said the legal adviser “Jewish law states that kosher food be cooked by Jews, and the participation of non-Jews in the kitchen requires extra supervision,” and added that the restaurant in question is small where the waiters are also involved in the cooking process.
Attorney Elad Caplan of the ITIM religious services organization insisted however that local rabbinates and restaurants are in no way legally permitted to bar non-Jews from working in a restaurant kitchen.
Caplan said local rabbinates could insist Jews light stoves and ovens, which circumvents the need to have a Jewish cook, but that banning non-Jews and anyone thought to be non-Jewish contravenes the law for the protection of privacy and laws for freedom of employment, freedom of religion and equality.