Rabbis’ debate threatens hike in kosher hotdog prices

Rabbi tells students that major hotdog producers in Israel are using non-kosher ingredients, including pig skin, for their products’ casings.

A passionate internal debate among some of the Chief Rabbinate’s most senior members has the potential to cause a dramatic hike in the price of kosher hotdogs in Israel.
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who is also part of the 16-member Chief Rabbinate Council, stirred up a maelstrom when, during his weekly Monday night lesson, he told students that some of the major hotdog producers in Israel were using non-kosher ingredients, including pig skin, for their products’ casings, which are sold under seemingly adequate kashrut supervision.
In days of yore, sheep intestines were used to contain the hotdog ingredients, but nowadays reconstituted collagen casings, produced from chemically treated animal skin, are the prevalent practice.
A spokesman for Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar refuted Eliyahu’s claim and produced a verdict issued by Amar over 10 years ago, ruling that the chemical processes that the animal skins undergo constitute a sufficient change in form to nullify the previous substance, even if the animal was not slaughtered according to kashrut laws.
They can therefore be considered kosher – though not mehadrin A similar principle governs the kashrut of gelatin that is of animal origin.
Amar had issued that adjudication before he became chief rabbi at the behest of senior Sephardi halachic authority Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who endorsed the decision.
In addition, six months ago Rabbi Avraham Buhbut, head of the rabbinate’s meat-processing department, issued a letter to all city rabbis and kashrut supervisors, reiterating that the Nipi casings produced in Japan and Naturin casings from Germany were kosher – albeit on the most basic level, as they used the skin of animals that were not slaughtered according to kashrut laws.
Amar had even issued a later letter backing the kashrut supervision supplied to Nipi by Rabbi Shneor Revach, after the chief rabbi sent two senior members of the rabbinate’s kashrut committee to oversee the factory’s work.
So what in the world could be unkosher about a hotdog with such pedigree? Plenty, according to Eliyahu, who noted in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that most of the significant Halacha adjudicators were of the opinion that the processes used on the skins couldn’t change them enough to create a new and neutral product.
Eliyahu said that the Chief Rabbinate Council had convened on the issue in the past and decided against giving the rabbinate’s approval to the product, despite the highly regarded minority stance of Amar, who was already chief rabbi at the time.
Since there are alternatives that are indisputably kosher, made from synthetic materials or kosher animals, Eliyahu said, the council saw no reason to approve a disputed product.
According to Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbinate Council is the only body that can decide on such matters, so Amar cannot formally bypass its authority. As for Buhbut’s and Amar’s letters, Eliyahu noted that neither were formal kashrut certificates.
Sources in the rabbinate denied that the decision against providing Nipi with certification had ever taken place, and challenged Eliyahu to produce its protocol.
But even without the protocol, it is clear that the rabbinate never approved the Nipi casings. The Chief Rabbinate’s Import Division is the only body that can give the rabbinate’s official stamp of approval to the kashrut certification of products from abroad.
Asked by the Post whether the division had approved the Nipi casings’ kashrut, Import Division head Rabbi Yitzhak Arazi said that it had not.
It didn’t take long for two people – a religious Muslim and a religious Jew – to hop on the opportunity and file a request on Wednesday to sue Soglowek, one of Israel’s largest hotdog producers and a user of Nipi casings, for NIS 200 million.
Basing their case on Eliyahu’s address, the two told the Jerusalem District Court that they had been misled by the company to eat highly unkosher swine products.
Soglowek, which is based in Nahariya, issued a furious response, saying it would sue anybody who caused the company losses by besmirching its good name. The meat factory also pointed out that since its inception, it had taken care to use only products approved by the Chief Rabbinate.
It is the local rabbinates that provide the supervision for food factories, and Nahariya Chief Rabbi Yeshayahu Meitlis told the Post late Thursday that if the head of the rabbinate himself – Amar – had given his approval to the Nipi casings, he didn’t need the formal approval of another clerical committee, referring to the rabbinate’s Import Division.
Besides, he said, disqualifying casings produced from non-kosher animals would most likely cause a serious hike in the price of casings, which would be made only from kosher skins or synthetic materials, and that could discourage people from purchasing kosher hotdogs.
However, sources within the rabbinate who asked to remain unnamed said that Eliyahu had the rare courage to speak out against a longstanding situation that might be kosher in some ways, but sure didn’t smell right. There are procedures that must be followed, the sources said – with all due respect to Amar’s halachic stature, which none disputed.
Meanwhile, both Revach and Amar have lashed out against Eliyahu on radio broadcasts over the past few days, rebutting his claims primarily from a halachic point of view.
“These are not impure animals [whose skins are used]; whoever says that is unnecessarily defiling his mouth,” Amar told Kol Barama on Wednesday, citing Yosef as the primary source for this halachic line of reasoning.
The Chief Rabbinate Council will debate the issue in its upcoming meeting.