The Aroma of McDonald's

What makes a restaurant kosher? Aside from following the laws of kashrut (too lengthy to list here, but the main issues are permissible ingredients, separation of milk and meat and being closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays), most kosher restaurants acquire a certificate, usually from the Jerusalem Rabbinate but also from haredi organizations like Badatz, that assures the public that the establishment is indeed kosher. Most religious Jews won't eat at a restaurant without one, so in a religious city like Jerusalem, having a proper certificate can be very important. Six locations of the Aroma Expresso Bar chain became kosher last month in a move that might shake up the coffee industry in Jerusalem. One of the requirements set by the Rabbinate was that the newly approved branches change their name to include the word "kosher," perhaps because the popular coffee chain still has other, nonkosher locations in Jerusalem. According to Aroma spokeswoman Meirav Meluban, "The certificate was important to get for the public, and the Rabbinate said to change the name to Aroma Kosher Expresso Bar, but all six locations were already kosher and were closed on Shabbat. They didn't change anything, they just got the certificate." Getting the certificate is somewhat of a formality if the kashrut laws are already being followed by the establishment, but sometimes even adherence to the laws is not enough to ensure approval. Another big chain has over the past two years attempted to open kosher branches in Jerusalem without success. Requests by the McDonald's Israeli franchise owners to open kosher restaurants in the capital have been repeatedly turned down. McDonald's is the largest fast-food chain in Israel, with 127 branches countrywide, of which 20 are already kosher. There are currently five nonkosher McDonald's restaurants in Jerusalem, and the company plans to change its Beit Hakerem branch into a kosher restaurant, and indeed, according to McDonald's, that restaurant is already kosher and closed on Shabbat. But to receive the certificate, the Rabbinate has set as a condition that all the McDonald's branches in Jerusalem switch over to kosher status, something the company has rejected out of hand. They in turn offered a compromise similar to the one they reached with Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, in which the kosher restaurants changed their color scheme (to blue from the traditional red and orange) so that the kosher and nonkosher McDonald's outlets could be more easily differentiated. The Jerusalem Rabbinate rejected this offer and is still deliberating the final status of the request. Problems between McDonald's and the Jerusalem Rabbinate are long-standing; when the first McDonald's opened 11 years ago in downtown Jerusalem, it set off weeks of haredi rioting in protest. At press time, the Rabbinate had not responded to In Jerusalem's request for a statement.