An investigative report has found that women trying register for courses that train them to be a mashgiach, kosher food inspector, are being turned away because Israel’s haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate is blocking the courses for modesty reasons" – even though the profession was open to women until recently.
Haredi-Controlled Chief Rabbinate Allegedly Stonewalls, Blocks Women From Working As Kosher Inspectors
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Women, get out of the kitchen – if you’re being paid, that is.
An investigative report published by Makor Rishon's Nashim Magazine and summarized by Ynet has found that women trying register for courses that train them to be a mashgiach, kosher food inspector, are being turned away because Israel’s haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate is blocking the courses for modesty reasons" – even though the profession was open to women until recently.
The existing classes – required since 2010 when the Ministry of Religious Services issued new regulations mandating them – are for males only. No women’s classes exist.
And that allegedly is no oversight.
Emunah, the Zionist Orthodox women's organization, wanted to open a kosher food inspector course for women to fill that gap. It asked the Chief Rabbinate for a permit. Six months passed without any answer from the Rabbinate.
Emunah did some investigating and was reportedly able to obtained protocols from meetings in the Rabbinate discussing its proposed class for women. Those protocols show that Rabbinate is intentionally delaying answering Emunah.
“For modesty reasons,” the protocols reportedly say.
Tziporet Schimmel, Emunah's attorney, says Emunah tried to open a kosher inspector course for women in 2004.
"We had a meeting with officials from the Rabbinate's Kashrut Enforcement Division, and they agreed to allow women to integrate in two fields: Shatnez (cloth containing both wool and linen which Jewish Law prohibits wearing) lab tests and checking supervised leaves for bugs. In both fields the woman does not work at the actual business, but rather in an isolated and hidden place, for modesty reasons. They basically conveyed the message that it is immodest for women to serve as full-fledged supervisors,” Schimmel reportedly said.
Emunah balked at the Rabbinate's offer, and planned to go ahead with its course anyway. But financial and other problems eventually forced Emunah to put the course on hold until April of this year.
"Our [new] request [made in April] was met with dead silence," Schimmel pointed out, noting that Emunah contacted the Rabbinate again in June because it had not yet received a response, even though by law the Rabbinate had to reply within 45 days.
The second request was met with more silence, and the next 45 day period passed with no answer from the Rabbinate.
Finally, in late August the Rabbinate sent a letter to Emunah’s Chairwoman Liora Minka claiming that the rabbis had not yet to make the decision on whether or not to approve Emunah’s classes. Enclosed with the letter were some of the Rabbinate’s discussion protocols.
One rabbi, Avraham Yosef, boasted about writing a detailed “scholarly” letter to one of the country’s leading rabbis, who had been employing a woman as a kosher supervisor in a slaughterhouse. Yosef claimed to have “proved” that employing the woman there “was against halakha,” Jewish law, “in many different ways” apart from the “fact” that there are many modesty-related “obstacles” that “come from employing women as kosher supervisors.”
Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had a political reason to stall Emunah.
"The discussion on whether a woman can be employed as a supervisor is not purely halakhic, but is part of efforts made by different organizations interested in creating a public discussion on the issue of equality for women in public life,” the protocols reportedly quote Amar as saying.
"As far as we are concerned, this was a clear statement. We understood that they were trying to wear us out and make us give up on this course. The problem is that this refusal, and the strange letter they sent us, made us fight for this course even more…every normal society would not tolerate such blatant violation of the freedom of occupation under the pretense of modesty. They present the modesty claim every time they seek to exclude women from positions or [bar their] presence in different places, but there is no doubt that modesty is only an excuse,” Schimmel noted.
There are several veteran women kosher inspectors who were hired before the Rabbinate required special training courses. These women inspectors are reportedly highly respected.
Yael Dugma has worked as a kosher inspector for the Mateh Asher Regional Council for 11 years.
“Naturally, a woman is familiar with the kitchen. I have thorough knowledge of the menu and I understand how to carry on in a kitchen. When I make kashrut demands I feel that I am always respected because I explain what I do and why,” Dugma said.
The rabbi of the Mateh Asher Regional Council, Shlomo Ben Eliyahu, believes there are places where it is better to have women work as kashrut supervisors rather than men. Why? Also for modesty reasons.
"The majority of the staff in kitchens is comprised of female cooks and waitresses, and this system of women should be supervised by a woman,” Ben Eliyahu claimed.
Miriam Goldfisher is a pleader in state rabbinic courts and the wife of a rabbi. When she was first asked to design and administer Emunah’s women-only kosher inspector course, she sought and received approval from leading rabbis.
But she also heard complaints from several rabbis.
"They told me that it's a job which requires assertiveness, that the hours are unsuitable for women, that the job entails carrying sacks and boxes which woman cannot do. They even told me that it's unsuitable for women because the pay isn’t good. But the modesty claim is always in the background. The opponents explain that it's immodest for women to work in the kitchen with men,” Goldfisher reportedly said.
Rabbi Yaakov Sabag, head of the Rabbinate's Kosher Enforcement Division, rejects Emunah’s claims.
“After the Emunah organization appealed to the Chief Rabbinate, an initial discussion was held by the Kashrut Committee. In that meeting the rabbis and committee members were asked to prepare a personal position paper on the matter. Rabbi Chaim Lasri, the Kashrut Committee's coordinator, recently sent a reminder to each of the members in a bid to discuss the findings as soon as possible and inform the Emunah organization of the committee's stand. I must stress that everything said in the Kashrut Committee's protocol [so far] does not reflect the committee's stance or opinion, as the issue has not been subject to a practical discussion yet,” Sabag claimed.
Emunah Chairwoman Liora Minka insisted that its kosher inspector course will open, even if Emunah has to go to the High Court of Justice to make that happen.
"The Rabbinate is so afraid of its own shadow that it can't make a decision. At the end of the day there will be women supervisors. And just like women benefitted the field of rabbinical pleading field, they will benefit the field of kashrut supervision. As a religious person, I am offended by the fact that that the court – rather than the Rabbinate – will have to open this important channel. They could have taken advantage of this excellent opportunity to lead this process together with the Emunah movement rather than be dragged there by a court ruling and then issue the cry of the 'robed Cossack.'
"We have overcome greater obstacles and I have no doubt that we'll overcome this one as well so that at the end of the day jobs will be added for women and they will be able to express their personality, skills and specific contribution to this field of kashrut in the public domain. As is the way in a democratic country, what common sense won't do will eventually have to be determined by the High Court of Justice," Minka said.
[Hat Tip: Moshe Ber.]