Rabbinate attacks restaurant blacklist

Rabbi Benny Lau calls report an attempt to reduce the number of non-Jews employed by J'lem eateries.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
The Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and a group of capital restaurant owners have threatened to sue a rabbinic organization that published a damning report on the state of kashrut supervision in the Holy City. Kosharot, an organization based in Elon Moreh that provides advisory services in the field of kosher supervision, compiled a blacklist - complete with names and addresses - of dozens of kosher restaurants around Jerusalem after conducting an investigation. Kosharot recommended not eating in these restaurants despite the fact that all of them were under the supervision of Jerusalem's Rabbinate. The blacklist was later distributed via e-mail to hundreds of religious households throughout the city. It was received with shock and dismay by people who had relied on the kashrut supervision of the Jerusalem Rabbinate and had dined at the restaurants on the list. Kosharot said in response that it had no part in the publishing and distribution of the report, which was compiled for private use only. Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger, who is responsible for the Chief Rabbinate's kashrut supervision in Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post there were serious mistakes in the report. The document states that restaurants with normal kosher supervision in Jerusalem are visited by a supervisor (mashgiach) only three to four times a week. However, Schlesinger said supervisors visited the restaurants twice daily, once in the morning for at least two hours and once in the afternoon or evening. Also, the report states that restaurants with regular kashrut supervision permitted non-Jews to place uncooked food on the fire when in reality this was prohibited under Chief Rabbinate directives. In contrast, Schlesinger said it was permitted for non-Jews to place uncooked food on the fire provided the fire was lit by a Jew, in accordance with the Ashkenazi halachic tradition. Jews who followed the more stringent Sephardi tradition that prohibited eating food that was cooked by a non-Jew could eat at restaurants with a more stringent mehadrin supervision provided by the Chief Rabbinate, he said. "We discovered that many of the restaurants mentioned in the report were never even visited by anyone from Kosharot," Schlesinger said. Orthodox Jewish law prohibits eating some foods cooked by gentiles so as to prevent the development of close relationships between Jews and non-Jews that could lead to intermarriage and assimilation. Rabbi Benny Lau, head of a congregation in south Jerusalem, checked Kosharot's claims, visited some of the restaurants on the blacklist and met with the Jerusalem Rabbinate's kashrut supervisors. In an open letter that appeared on several Internet news sites, Lau said Kosharot's report was in part an attempt to reduce the number of non-Jews employed by the restaurant industry in Jerusalem. "The demand that a Jew place uncooked food on the fire is only for Jews who follow the halachic decisions of Rabbi Yosef Karo [author of the Beit Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch] and is not included in the Chief Rabbinate's directives. "There is a real concern that Kosharot's interests are not restricted solely to Halacha and kashrut. Rather, for them it is no less important to reduce the number of non-Jews working in Israel. "That is of course a legitimate consideration. But they should be open about it instead of turning thousands of people into eaters of treif food," Lau said. Noam Elboim, owner of the Koros chain of restaurants, said he was considering suing Kosharot along with several other restaurant owners in Jerusalem unless it retracted the report. "Some of the most important rabbis of the haredi world eat in our restaurants," Elboim said. "Our supervisor is one of the most respected and experienced around. "We demand that Kosharot apologize and take back everything it wrote in the report." Elon Moreh Chief Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, who is also the president at Kosharot, said the report was not meant to be published. "We compiled that report for our own private use and for a specific project involving the investigation of restaurants in Jerusalem," Levanon said. "The report itself was provided to a private individual along with oral explanations. We are sorry that it reached the irresponsible hands of the person who distributed it without these oral explanations. "Nevertheless, there are very serious problems with the kashrut supervision in Jerusalem," Levanon said. "To people who ask for my opinion, I recommend checking carefully before eating in a restaurant with regular kosher supervision in Jerusalem. "There are serious problems with goyim cooking, not just for Sephardi Jews, even for Ashkenazim. In many restaurants goyim not only cook the food, they also light the fire. "After all, non-Jewish labor is much cheaper," he said. Levanon said he hoped the public interest aroused by the report would improve the level of kashrut supervision in Jerusalem.