Israelis Begin a Serious Domestic Cake Fight
Benjamin Joffe-Walt • Media Line
What began as a local spat over the kosher credentials of a bakery has turned into a national political drama.
Israel's chief rabbi has launched an unprecedented campaign to forbid Israeli courts from interfering in matters pertaining to Jewish dietary laws following a court ruling forcing rabbis to issue a kosher certificate to a Jewish pastry shop owner who believes in Jesus.
In both an address and letter to all members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar asked for a bill to be drafted to prevent the country's High Court of Justice from 'interfering' in matters pertaining to kashrut, Jewish dietary laws.
The chief rabbi's request follows a ruling by the high court that the Rabbinate had illegally revoked the kosher certification of a pastry shop owned by a woman who believes in Messianic Judaism, a movement that combines elements of both Judaism and Christianity.
The bakery, which had previously been certified as kosher by the rabbinate, was stripped of its status when it was revealed that the owner was a Messianic Jew.
The rabbinate had demanded that a kosher supervisor be given the keys to the pastry shop so as to ensure that kosher standards were adhered to.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch ruled that this request was unreasonable, harmed the basic rights of the cake shop's owner and that the rabbinate would be fined if it did not immediately issue the bakery with a kosher certificate.
The rabbinate and Israel's attorney general argued that the woman's claims of keeping the pastry shop kosher could not be trusted, but Justice Beinisch said that the fact that the rabbinate does not "trust" the owner was an insufficient reason to withhold kosher certification.
“The trustworthiness of a restaurant owner must be measured according to standards of general law," she wrote in her decision, "not according to Halakhic standards.”
Chief Rabbi Amar responded to the ruling by stating that it left the rabbinate with "no choice but to gather our forces to prepare a bill in order to defend the status of kashrut in the country - and the sooner, the better."
"They have such gall, this is either a mistake or just complete nonsense," Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifshitz, founding chairman and director of Yad L'Achim, a Jewish anti-missionary and anti-assimilation organization, told The Media Line. "You can't interfere in religious matters if you are not religious."
"They simply don't understand kosher law and this judge is telling us to act according to laws that are incorrect," he said. "What are we in the USSR? How can you tell a rabbi not to believe in the laws of kashrut."
Rabbi Lifshitz denied that it was a matter of discrimination.
"It's simply not kosher," he said. "Someone who doesn't believe in the laws of kashrut cannot be trusted to keep kosher. It doesn't matter if the person is a 'Messianic Jew', an Arab or whatever."
The Rabbinate, run by the chief rabbi, is Israel's official Jewish religious governing body that controls a number of legal matters on behalf of the government, including marriage, burial and kashrut.
But Dr Ron Breiman, who represents the Hatikva faction in the National Union-National Religious Party in Israel's parliament, argued it was important to distinguish between court interference into matters of discrimination and court interference into religious matters.
"The High Court in Israel is interfering with everything," he told The Media Line. "But in this case the High Court is not trying to make a ruling over whether or not an establishment is kosher, they have ruled based on how this woman is being treated because she is a messianic Jew and I agree with this decision."
"If the place is kosher it's kosher, it doesn't matter who runs it," Dr Breiman said. "If the High Court tried to make a ruling over whether or not something was kosher, that would be another issue. But that is not what's happening here."
Rabbi Hank Skirball, the chairperson of Hiddush, an organization promoting religious freedom in Israel, said Israel's rabbinate was intentionally creating a cause célèbre out of the case of the cake shop.
"They are flexing their muscles in areas which have nothing to do with food," he told The Media Line. "When someone looks at a kosher certificate they want to know if the food itself is kosher, they are not interested in whether the owner of the establishment is a belly dancer or believes the Messiah has already come."
"If you look at the laws of kashrut then you see that the beliefs of the owner of a restaurant have no bearing," he said. "Sometimes there's a question of who handles the food but kashrut itself has nothing to do with the owner."
"You have to remember that in Israel the Chief Rabbi is an agent of the government," Rabbi Skirball said. "I would be much happier if it wasn't organized that way and people could decide which rabbis and which seals they want to trust but in the meantime we have a rabbinate that represents the government in these matters."
"For that reason, the rabbinate has to not only represent Jewish customs but they also have to be non-discriminatory," he said. "In other words the government cannot allow the rabbinate to blacklist someone."