Israel's kosher fraud law gives the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over kosher food supervision in the country, but only allows the Chief Rabbinate to supervise food – not ideology or religious tolerance. But for years until it was brought to the attention of the High Court of Justice, in practice the Chief Rabbinate threatened to yank the kosher supervision from any hotel or restaurant that had a Christmas tree displayed for non-Jewish guests or hosted Christmas parties for them. But even though the Chief Rabbinate promised the High Court of Justice it would stop doing this, a new investigation reportedly shows that the haredi controlled Chief Rabbinate now uses its local affiliates around the country to continue the illegal bans.
Above: Israel's Chief rabbis, David Lau, left; Yitzhak Yosef, right
The religious freedom NGO Hiddush writes:
Israel's Rabbinate Coerces And Discriminates In Hotels
Despite officially and publicly updating its kashrut regulations for hotels this year, in order to be in compliance with the law, Israel's Rabbinate continues to coerce hotels to enforce Shabbat restrictions and its illegal ban against all Christian holiday symbols.
You may recall our sense of progress and achievement over the historic changes in the Rabbinate's kashrut regulations that Hiddush brought about [link]. The Chief Rabbinate had been in violation of the Kosher Fraud Law for decades, abusing its authority over kashrut certification to coerce hotels into implementing Shabbat restrictions and banning Christian holiday decorations.
What we now realize in monitoring the implementation of the Rabbinate's official new policy, is that there is just as great an additional challenge, which we are presently confronting. Namely, the Rabbinate disregards their own public acknowledgement that the prior regulations were illegal. This raises the larger matter of the rule of law! The Rabbinate, in effect, maintains that it is above the law, and intimidates and imposes its will as if ruling over their own state within the State of Israel.
In the course of our investigation, we contacted hotels in a number of communities. Our tapings of these conversations revealed that the hotels remain under pressure from their local rabbinic authorities and kashrut supervisors who maintain that "it's business as usual," and that as far as they are concerned – the old rules are in affect and binding. Following are some examples:
- Herzilya Daniel Hotel: "On Friday nights, since we are a hotel, you cannot turn on electrical appliances here. We are under the Herzilya Rabbinate's supervision, and this hotel keeps kosher. According to the Rabbinate [this means] it is forbidden to play music, or use projectors or microphones."
- The Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem: "This hotel observes Shabbat. If you want to hold an event, that's not a problem, but it will be without a projector screen, without a DJ, and without other [such] things. We cannot desecrate Shabbat on hotel property."
- The Crowne Plaza in Tel Aviv: "We wouldn't let you hold an event with microphones and music. Due to the desecration of Shabbat. Shabbat desecration would lead to the cancellation of our kashrut certificate. They have a kashrut supervisor and he can monitor [everything], and afterwards [we’ll] end up having issues with the kashrut [certification]."
- The Prima Kings Hotel in Jerusalem: Our hotel functions in accordance with religious [Jewish] law, and according to the Jewish faith, we cannot put up Christmas trees or other such symbols [out of respect for a visiting Christian group – U.R.]. They won't allow us. The Rabbinate. If there is rabbinical [kashrut – U.R.] certification, we cannot be engaged here in things that are unrelated to the Jewish religion. This the Rabbinate's policy. I cannot put up a Christmas tree or things of that nature."
- The City Tower Hotel in Tel Aviv: "There is a problem with the Rabbinate on the matter of a Christmas tree. They will cause problems here [for us] at the hotel. It's not the kashrut supervisor, it's the Rabbinate, the organization that he works for. In relation to the Christmas tree, this is problematic. It will create a messy situation with the Rabbinate."
- Ruth Rimonim Hotel, Tzfat: "No way, we're a kosher hotel. [Putting up Christmas trees] is forbidden to us. We cannot put up a Christmas tree in the hotel. There is no such thing as putting up a Christmas tree at our hotel. It's the Rabbinate.They won't give us permission to put up a Christmas tree in the cafeteria or anywhere in the hotel."
Hiddush has been discussing this state of affairs with the Israel Hotel Association (IHA), and it is obvious that they are caught between a rock and a hard place. IHA Director Noaz Bar Nir was interviewed on this matter in a (Hebrew) radio interview [link], explaining that:
"Kashrut costs a lot of money, and at the end of the day, the guests are the ones who pay it... hotel manager(s) are not willing to be interviewed about kashrut … they [the Rabbinate – U.R.] retaliate against the hotels if they don't toe the lines of the local religious councils. This results in great economic loss because at the end of the day, this raises our prices, gives Israelis incentive to go abroad, and fewer tourists come to Israel..."
This situation once again highlights the critical role of advocacy organizations such as Hiddush who are neither politically dependent nor subject to business extortion. We intend to pursue this matter and take all legal measure to enforce the law! It not only impacts drastically on tourists and visiting groups (like congregational groups who are denied the ability to celebrate oneg Shabbat or shacharit bar mitzvah services accompanied by musical instruments, as they can do at home, or hold educational programming over the weekends that uses video projection and the like), but also threatens the very core democratic principle of the rule of law.
This is a fundamental threat that we have had other occasions to refer to, such as our pending Supreme Court case [link], representing a Haredi family against the all too frequent phenomenon of rabbinic courts illegally threatening excommunication to block access to the civil courts of law and the remedies that were entrusted to them under Israeli law. It is impossible to exaggerate the looming danger of tolerating this, and Hiddush will continue to pursue it relentlessly.