Tzohar: Kashrut is about giving Jews chance to observe sacred laws - opinion

Ensuring proper kashrut is a complex effort requiring deep insight into halacha and utmost respect for our traditions.

 A WOMAN walks past a Jerusalem eatery with a Tzohar kashrut certificate. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A WOMAN walks past a Jerusalem eatery with a Tzohar kashrut certificate.

In Monday’s Jerusalem Post, Prof. Ari Zivotofsky authored an article harshly criticizing and diminishing the work of Tzohar’s kashrut supervision in ways that we fear will lead some uninformed readers to question the legitimacy of our work and the integrity of our halachic process.

While we respect the author’s right to present his opinions, when someone publishes statements regarding our organization that are factually misleading, it is our obligation to respond.

From the outset, it is critical to understand that our purpose in developing a kashrut branch of Tzohar in 2018 was the same as the motivation for all our efforts – to firmly uphold halacha in ways that will help more people observe Jewish tradition and embrace their Jewish identities. Our strong belief is that religious practice must not be a reason for division in Israeli society – and that contention inspires all our activities.

After more than four years since we launched the kashrut program, we take enormous pride in our accomplishments. Despite massive and ongoing challenges, we have succeeded in bringing kashrut to hundreds of businesses that were previously not kosher, along with hundreds of others that felt disenfranchised with the prior kashrut structure. In so doing, we allow thousands more Israeli Jews to eat kosher food each and every day in eateries that are now under supervision guided by transparency, integrity and high levels of kashrut.

In attempting to disparage these efforts, in ways which could only weaken the ability to bring more kosher food to more Jews across Israel, Prof. Zivotofsky cites two cases.

A Tzohar kashrut sticker in a window (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)A Tzohar kashrut sticker in a window (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The first case he chooses to focus on is one where Tzohar approved the kosher sale of wine that has been produced for consumption several years earlier. While there had been no doubt over the kashrut of the wine, both in terms of ingredients and production, our involvement was to ensure that the appropriate terumot and maasrot (tithes from agricultural produce) had been taken as dictated by halacha.

In retrospect, while our supervisors determined that the wine was 100% kosher, we recognize that from an image perspective perhaps this wasn’t the best decision, specifically because we should have better anticipated responses like that of the professor. However, we continue to believe firmly that halachic practice must be primarily guided by the integrity of Jewish law and not concerns over how that halacha might be interpreted – or misinterpreted.

IN A similar regard, Prof. Zivotofsky’s second claim against Tzohar alleges that our approval of non-Sabbath observant vinters to participate in the production process is in contrast to accepted practice. Beyond addressing the misguided assertion that accepted practice is by definition preferred practice, we would humbly suggest that the author is predicating his assertions on an altogether different interpretation of the relevant halacha.

Our policies regarding kashrut supervision are in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), where there is no prohibition against a non-Sabbath observant vinter working in a vineyard. It does prohibit such an individual touching the wine – but not from being physically located in the presence of wine preparation. This is the clear halacha that doesn’t require any deeper interpretation and is not a radical, novel leniency.

The fact that certain entities, specifically the Israeli Rabbinate, have enacted guidelines prohibiting secular workers in vineyards may be worthy to some, but are in no way based on halacha as codified by the Shulchan Aruch. It is worth noting that at the very same time that they prohibit secular Jews from being involved in production, the Rabbinate often doesn’t enforce preventing secular waiters from serving wine in places that they supervise and approve as kosher.

In reading this piece, we are left to wonder whether the author made similar efforts to research cases where the rabbinate failed in achieving their mandate to provide kashrut with integrity and full adherence to halacha. It would seem that despite the fact that one could very easily identify many incidents where they failed in that regard, as was detailed in depth in the state comptroller’s report, critics choose to instead focus on these two lone stories around our supervision of wine, which as detailed above were fully motivated by our sincerest respect for, and adherence to, halacha.

Ensuring proper kashrut is a complex effort requiring deep insight into halacha and utmost respect for our traditions – and we have never wavered from that commitment, nor do we shy away from full transparency.

But, it is critical to understand that the ultimate goal of supervision should not be to limit the number of people properly eating and consuming kosher products based on halacha, but rather to ensure that we are giving as many people as possible the ability to properly observe and appreciate these sacred laws. We would hope that Prof. Zivotofsky and other critics of our work would recognize that as an important effort for the betterment of halachic practice, and our collective national and Jewish identities.

The writer is a member of the Rabbinical Council of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization.