Could kosher restaurants soon be able to open on Shabbat?

The Chief Rabbinate has for a long time however refused to grant kashrut licenses for restaurants which open on Shabbat.

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)
Could restaurants that maintain the requirements and standards to be considered kosher soon be able to obtain a kashrut license while being open on Shabbat?
This is the question the High Court of Justice will consider on Wednesday morning, which has been petitioned by the Bab al-Yemen restaurant in Jerusalem. Bab al-Yemen observes kashrut practices, is open on Shabbat and does not violate the laws of Shabbat while it is open – and yet does not have a kashrut license.
The Chief Rabbinate has for a long time, however, refused to grant kashrut licenses for restaurants that are open on Shabbat. It maintains that it is not feasible to supervise them or necessary for them to open.
But Bab al-Yemen owner Yehonatan Vadai and the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah religious-Zionist organization, which has taken up his legal petition to the High Court, want to change that.
Diners interested in eating at restaurants on Shabbat can order their food in advance. The restaurant will prepare the food ahead of Shabbat, so it will be ready to be served when they arrive. Payment can be made ahead of time. For diners who come in without having pre-ordered, a non-Jewish member of the restaurant staff takes down their details and sends a request for payment after Shabbat.
Food is not cooked in the restaurant on Shabbat, since that would violate Shabbat laws, so extra portions of the menu items are prepared to provide for customers without a reservation.
Attorney Elad Lubitch, who is representing Vadai’s case in court, said kosher hotels serve food to their guests on Shabbat and are licensed by the rabbinate. Therefore, there is no reason why kosher restaurants should not be able to be as well, he said.
“The rabbinate does not give kashrut licenses to kosher restaurants on Shabbat that do not violate Shabbat laws, despite the fact that such restaurants operate in the same way as hotels, which open on Shabbat and do not violate Shabbat laws – and get a kashrut license from the rabbinate,” Lubitch said. The petition simply asks the rabbinate to act with “consistency,” he said.
The rabbinate sees things differently.
In dealing with an earlier appeal by Vadai for a kashrut license, the Chief Rabbinate wrote that restaurants are different than hotels. Hotels generally know how many people they will be serving before Shabbat begins, but a restaurant cannot know, and there is a greater chance food will be prepared on Shabbat for unexpected diners, the rabbinate said.
In addition, hotels host kashrut supervisors, so they are immediately available to do their work, the rabbinate said. But supervisors would be required to walk to any restaurant they are supposed to be supervising, and this is hard to find.
Also, hotels host guests and must provide them with food, but there is no urgent need for restaurants to provide kosher food over Shabbat, the rabbinate said.
At least two kosher restaurants did operate with a rabbinate kashrut license in Jerusalem, but this ended in the 1980s.
The late chief rabbi and revered religious-Zionist leader Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu said it was “certainly possible” for restaurants to operate a system where they serve food on Shabbat to diners but do not cook or take payment on Shabbat.