I am experimenting with allowing my good friend, and in certain matters a rebbi of mine, Reb Yechiel Spira — a man who has devoted so much of the last few years of his life to single-handedly making sense of and clarifying the kashrus-situation in Eretz Yisroel for the public who cares — the opportunity to use this column as a platform to further educate the public, as he does so ably in his website, jerusalemkoshernews.com. This may become a consistent regular feature on this page; we shall see. I, of course, will review everything he writes, and I remain fully responsible for what appears.
So what better week to start than Parshas Re’eh, the Parsha in Devarim which sets down the laws of kashrus?! (Yes, I am aware that last week’s column was entitled “Ya Gotta Believe, Part One. There will im yirtzeh Hashem be a Part Two, but the Parshas Re’eh link was just too appropriate to pass up. V’od chazon lamo’ed [if you have to ask what that means, just forget it!])
Reb Yechiel, you have the floor:
Is A Cottage Cheese Revolution Kosher?
One cannot write about kashrus in Israel without being attacked for being either “for” or “against” the Chief Rabbinate’s state-empowered kashrus authority. Apparently we are not permitted the luxury of just telling it like it is without being accused of one political bias or another. Truth be told, I am simply trying to give an honest report on the accomplishments and shortcomings of the kashrus scene in the modern State of Israel in 2011.
And that is what I am going to do in this column today. You, the reader, may decide to “choose” one side, like most do, or perhaps, my personal hope, you may decide to accept the facts as they are presented before you, for it is an unbiased attempt to portray the objective situation, and alert consumers to the realities of shopping and dining out in Israel, with an eye towards improving the current situation.
One must credit the state kashrus mechanism for creating a basic level of kashrus in state institutions and around the country. In fact, the Chief Rabbinate’s official guidelines, the “shulchan aruch” for defining just what is “regular” kashrus and what is its “mehadrin” kashrus, are quite impressive. Without this system, many soldiers, policemen, patients in hospitals and tens of thousands of others might, chas v’shalom not have any kosher food available.
This, however, is not an excuse for what has in many cities become a sloppy, unacceptable standard of kashrus, due to carelessness, lack of concern, or general sloppiness.
The problem is simply that in too many areas, the Chief Rabbinate kashrus guidelines are not enforced. And I must immediately interject that in this community, larger Beit Shemesh, this is not the case, and by-and-large the rabbanim of the official “Rabanut” overseeing kashrus are doing a splendid job (of maintaining their standards), actually setting an example for many much larger cities, including our nation’s capital.
To the dismay of many, too many a rav in the state system has become a bureaucrat, and seems to have placed his primary responsibility as guardian of kashrus on the back burner; or in some extreme cases, the light has been lowered, if not extinguished. There are restaurants with the state-Rabbinate hechsher which lack the most basic standards of reliability, including the use of regular greens (not even the so-called Gush Katif variety), which have non-Jews lighting the gas (rendering most cooked items prohibited for ALL, Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike), as well failing to adhere to other basic halachos appearing in Yoreh Deah. (At this point, a member of the Dati Leumi camp is already debating if there can be merit in completing this article, while a member of the Chareidi camp is smiling while asking rhetorically, “What did you expect?”) On a positive note, though, one must acknowledge the many kashrus accomplishments of the Chief Rabbinate, and this is exclusive of one’s religious/political affiliation.
In a very telling and relevant-to-all-camps interview, the May 13, 2010 edition of the weekly BaSheva newspaper, affiliated with the Dati Leumi community, asked Rabbi Rafi Yochai about the level of Rabbanut supervision. Here is his answer:
“You educated entire generations to eat Rabbanut for ideological reasons. The result is that those people think that blind acceptance strengthens the Rabbanut, so they sit and eat anywhere. But this is wrong. Store owners realize there is a significant group of those with kipot srugot, who when seeing a Rabbanut teudah automatically sit and eat. But wait. What does the teudah say? Is there a mashgiach present? Do the leafy vegetables used have a hechsher? How about bishul akum? We’ve reached a situation where these store owners scorn these people and the kashrus they accept, and the Rabbanut has been the main victim. I want people to ask, ‘Where is the mashgiach?’ They should ask to speak to him, they should check if the teudah has expired, and check the level of kashrus there. This will let them both eat without hesitation, and strengthen the Rabbanut.” (Translation from Hebrew text). (For those who are unfamiliar with Rabbi Yochai, he heads the Chief Rabbinate Kashrus Enforcement Division, an arm of the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for stopping kashrus fraud.)
The message is simple, and relevant to all camps. Complacency results in unacceptable kashrus standards and/or reliability. The tzibur must remain vigilant regarding the Rabbinate and the Badatzim alike. What are the standards and are they being kept? When is the last time you ate out and asked to speak to the mashgiach? When is the last time you accepted a “kol motzrim Badatz” statement? Perhaps now is the time to awaken. Maybe the next “cottage cheese” protest will spill over to kashrus concerns, and we will merit kashrus as it was intended, for all to eat and enjoy — without compromise.
In my next article, I will specify common kashrus concerns, questions which should be asked of all kashrus organizations.
Thank you, Reb Yechiel
Rav Chaim Malinowitz