Crave can’t save their bacon as rabbinate declares word non-kosher

Popular Jerusalem eatery offers kosher cured, smoked ‘lamb bacon’ in its rabbinate licensed restaurant but Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar orders restaurant to change the term

Crave  (photo credit: EDEN MALLER)
(photo credit: EDEN MALLER)
The trendy Crave restaurant next to Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market has been unable to save its own bacon, after Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said the word is unkosher and prohibited the establishment from using the term on its menu.
Crave, which has had a kashrut license from the Jerusalem Rabbinate ever since it was established, has for several years offered “lamb bacon” on its menu as a topping on burgers and other dishes, as well as making it the hero in a dedicated BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich.
Bacon is commonly thought to be solely a pork product and therefore not kosher. But according to co-owner Yoni Van Leeuwen, the term bacon actually refers to meat from any animal that has been cured and smoked in a specific way.
For its bacon, Crave takes a piece of lamb breast, cures and smokes it in a process that takes a week, before sizzling it up and sitting a few slices atop one of its prized burgers or nestling a healthy portion in the BLT.
Because of the sensitivities involved in the kashrut industry, the Crave menu has always referred to its product as “lamb bacon,” and not simply bacon, to avoid confusing customers who might associate bacon with pork.
Last December, however, Amar was made aware of the phenomenon in which Crave and other Jerusalem restaurants were using the term bacon and instructed all kashrut inspectors and supervisors that restaurants could no longer use the word on their menus.
When Crave’s inspector told Van Leeuwen and co-owner Tzvi Maller they had to change the word on the menu to “facon” to indicate that it was not a pork product, Van Leeuwen requested a meeting with Amar to explain the usage of the term.
The meeting did not go well, despite Van Leeuwen bringing substantive documentation to the meeting to show the rabbi that Crave’s bacon, and the word itself, was kosher, including information about the culinary product, the Merriam-Webster definition that bacon is not only from pork and the list of products approved by the US-based Orthodox Union kashrut licensing organization that includes numerous items using the word “bacon.”
Amar was not persuaded, Van Leeuwen said. When he asked why Halacha bans the use of a word in the context of the kashrut of the food item, Amar responded that Halacha requires one to distance oneself from even the appearance of something impure, without citing his sources, Van Leeuwen added.
Fearing that Crave’s kashrut license would be revoked, Van Leeuwen and Maller decided to comply with Amar’s decision and have reluctantly changed the name of their product to “facon.”
“We’re a chef restaurant,” Van Leeuwen said. “We have created something sophisticated and very complicated. It’s labor intensive and time intensive, and there is no other culinary term to describe it other than bacon.”
The rabbinate was “exceeding its authority” with its intervention into the wording of the menu, he said.
“We put so much energy into it,” he added. “We’re proud that we go the distance, that we don’t take shortcuts and that there’s nothing fake here. Yet we’re forced to use the word fake for this product.”
The Jerusalem Rabbinate’s concern with the use of the word bacon was brought up a week before its new certificate was due to be issued, Van Leeuwen said, and it was “very clear that we didn’t have a choice” but to comply with the demand.
Rabbi Shmuel Zememlan, head of the Jerusalem Religious Council’s kashrut division, said: “If you look on Wikipedia, even the non-Jews, when they talk about vegetarian bacon, they call it facon.” Only the head of the Jerusalem Rabbinate could discuss the issue, he said.
In response, Jerusalem Rabbinate Director-General Yehoshua Yishai said: “It would be ridiculous and weird for the rabbinate to give a kashrut license to a menu that includes a pork dish [bacon] even if it has another meaning. Therefore, we requested that the name be changed. If he [the owner] has a better name, he is welcome to propose it. However, I have no interest in conducting a dialogue with the business owner through the media.”
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, founder of the independent Orthodox kashrut licensing authority Hashgacha Pratit, which was subsequently taken over by Tzohar kashrut, said he was not aware why use of the term bacon should be prohibited by Halacha, especially given that Crave took care to call its product “lamb bacon.”
“This is more of the local rabbinate wanting to flex their muscles and throw its weight around,” he said, adding that intervention over the use of a word on a menu could open up a Pandora’s box of other concerns.
“The bigger problem is that because the rabbinate is a monopoly, it leaves no recourse for the business but to comply with unreasonable demands,” Leibowitz said.