'Shabbat restaurant' petitions to receive kosher certification

Yehonatan Vadai, who owns Bab al-Yemen, argues in his petition, that a restaurant like his is no different than a hotel where people pay before and are still able to receive kosher food.

Yehonatan Vadai in fron of his Bab al-Yemen restaurant (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yehonatan Vadai in fron of his Bab al-Yemen restaurant
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A Yemenite restaurant petitioned the Chief Rabbinate, the Jerusalem Religious Council and the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem on Monday to be certified as kosher and open on Shabbat.
It might sound game changing, but it doesn’t break any Jewish laws. In fact, owner Yehonatan Vadai thinks he has a good case.
“We want to change the way we are thinking; we want to change the way the Rabbinate works,” Vadai told The Jerusalem Post. He explained that he wanted a place where secular and religious people could come together and meet.
Bab al-Yemen – the “Gate to Yemen” – is part of a new Jerusalem trend where you can eat in a restaurant atmosphere on Shabbat, but all of the food and drinks are prepared according to Shabbat laws. Furthermore, the customer does not have to pay on Shabbat and can either prepay or pay after.
“There is no reason for the hotels to receive a kosher certificate and to operate on Shabbat, while kosher restaurants that do not violate Shabbat cannot do so,” Vadai wrote in his petition.
Vadai could have easily made his restaurant non-kosher, but he wanted a place where people can come together in an increasingly divided city.
The restaurateur argues that a restaurant like his is no different than a hotel, where people pay beforehand and are still able to receive kosher food prepared according to Jewish law with no issue.
“Absurdly, an Israeli backpacker can wander around the world... and find in almost every place the possibility of a Shabbat meal, with the payment arranged before or after Shabbat,” the petition states. Yet, “In the State of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, these young people encounter a lack of a solution for themselves.”
The petition refers to the same model Chabad uses worldwide to help Jewish travelers receive kosher meals.
Vadai also owns Carousela, which has used alternative kosher certifications like Hashgacha Pratit – and later, Tzohar – but these organizations won’t give a certification to a restaurant open on Shabbat.
“They are working from the same fear [as the Rabbinate],” Vadai told the Post when asked if Tzohar might be more willing than the Rabbinate to give a restaurant like his a kosher certification. “They don’t have enough support,” he added.
Vadai has received support from prominent rabbis such as Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Aryeh Stern.
He “liked the idea and wanted to put in a recommendation that the restaurant be deemed kosher, but ultimately he said that his hands were tied by the Rabbinate’s decision.”
Still, Vadai believes that the Rabbinate is working out of fear. One potential reason that it might be worried about having a restaurant open on Shabbat is maarat ayin, a concept in Jewish Law where something could be perfectly permissible but the rabbis fear people might draw false conclusions because of what they are seeing.
But Vadai believes that for “Jerusalem, this is a cure.”
“We need to adapt and make people come together.”
Vadai’s restaurant is the first since the 1960s or 1970s operating with this concept, and has encouraged others to follow in his footsteps. Ofaimme Farm Cafe, opening shortly after Bab al-Yemen, offers some non-kosher wines and spirits, but also allows customers the option to buy wine, challah, smoked and cured fish, kugel, pastries, sandwiches and farm cheeses on the spot, before or after Shabbat.

Eliana Rudee contributed to this report.