Friday, April 15, 2011

If this is "kashrut", count me out "נמאס לי "מכשרות

Yesterday Haaretz reported on events venues, specifically wedding halls, whose owners have been threatened with loss of their “kashrut” certifications if they host same-sex couples. Note that I put “kashrut” in quotes. The reason is that for me, kashrut is about the spirit, not just the letter, of the law, i.e., it involves ethics, not merely the gushpanka of some mashgiach that the meat and dairy utensils and work surfaces don’t make any contact.

For a certain portion of the public, kashrut certification is akin to an establishment’s certification that it has passed fire, building, and health codes. Accordingly, where secular consumers wouldn’t patronize an establishment lacking the first three, Orthodox consumers won’t patronize an establishment lacking the latter. So in effect, establishments operating without kashrut certification are the victims of an institutionalized boycott: A state-run agency — the rabbinate — is actually violating the law that guarantees freedom of occupation. Furthermore, the rabbinate is now in violation of the Nakba Law, which contains a clause prohibiting state-funded institutions from engaging in incitement. Because after all, what is refusal to host gays but incitement, as it implies that gays are untouchables?

I’m certain that if it hasn’t happened already, wedding halls will be threatened with losing their “kashrut” certificates if they host events wherein there is mixed dancing, or what is deemed morally abhorrent music or other entertainment. So what are we non-Orthodox to do? While turning to the courts is nice (assuming they decide in our favor), it’s time-consuming and costly. Instead, there is something we can do immediately, and that’s ceasing to view ourselves as victims of the Orthodox establishment, and starting to view ourselves exactly as the Orthodox, i.e., a consumer group with power.

A restaurant owner is quoted in the article as saying, “…he was not refused over the issue of kashrut certification,…[but rather because] there was sensitivity at his establishment over the issue of [same-sex] weddings because of his religious clientele.” Well you know what? I’m sensitive to insensitivity. I and my public — the non-Orthodox — have our “special needs” too: We have the “need” to not be complicit in intolerant practices. And the natural followup thereto is to counter-boycott, that is, to boycott venues that have kashrut certification.

Upon giving an affirmative reply to a couple’s inquiry, “Are you kosher?” and then hearing the prospective clients say, “Then no thanks, we’re not interested,” venue owners will sit up and pay attention far faster than they will to some verdict issued after having been dragged through the courts at a glacial pace.

As far as adhering to Jewish dietary restrictions, a certification-free place (they should actually hang signs that say “We’re kashrut-free. We welcome all clientele!”) can meet our needs. The client chooses the menu, after all; all it takes is choosing a meat-only / dairy-only menu that includes only permitted foods. If Orthodox guests are invited, let them do as they would if invited to any event: Decline, or attend but don’t eat, or eat what they deem acceptable (cold produce; soft drinks for instance). It’s not a host’s duty to ensure that every single guest’s dietary limitations are taken into account; it is a host’s duty to make sure to provide enough selection so that every guest can eat something; in any case, no one is going to starve.

Business owners listen to one thing: their bottom line. As soon as non-kosher businesses begin to realize that they’re a niche market, i.e., they serve a certain clientele, they’ll respond accordingly. But first, non-Orthodox consumers must take the initiative. We have to realize our power as a consumer group with our “special needs”, just the same as the Orthodox are recognized as consumers with their “special needs”. We need to fight Rabbinic Rule over our celebrations from the ground up — or shall we say, from the wallet up.


  1. Hear, hear! In the hands of Orthodox and especially ultra-Orthodox rabbis, "kashrut" is a travesty. This misinterpretation of law began with labeling wine as kosher only if it is touched only by Jewish hands. How then is Coke kosher?

  2. Irv, Coke isn't used for ritual purposes, while wine is. Not prescribing, just describing!

  3. How did rabbinic rule happen? Suddenly? A slower erosion? And all this time I've been under the impression that Israel is a democracy. Are the elected officials bound to honor rabbinical judgments?

    When Kennedy was a presidential candidate here, an issue that arose was his supposedly unquestioned obedience to the pope. Kennedy's statements in rebuttal: "We do not want an official state church. If 99% of the population were Catholic, I would still be opposed thereto. I do not want civil power combined with religious power. I want to make it clear that I am committed, as a matter of deep personal conviction, to separation. I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me." Now THAT's how a government should be run . . . not with smoke and mirrors.

    If an event venue were to lose its certification, everyone would know why (same-sex ceremonies, women actually dancing with men [eek]), and the non-Orthodox could continue to utilize that space, and it would prosper . . . encouraging other such venues to follow its example. Onward and upward with the separation of shul and state . . . because it's a JEWISH country, not an ORTHODOX country . . . right?

  4. Mollie, you've renewed my reverence for JFK. So glad you wrote in.

    In reply to your query [how did rabbinic rule happen?], the short answer is that at Israel's founding, deals were made with the then-tiny Orthodox minority, whose trajectory Ben-Gurion didn't foresee. For a fascinating, in-depth history, read Real Jews by Noah Efron. While I don't agree with his conclusions, it's a wonderful, well-researched yet reader-friendly, informative, colorfully written book.

  5. Shoshana Michael-ZuckerApril 17, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    If you're interesting in fighting back against the religious establishment in the world beyond your blog, people associated with the Masorti movement are organizing to influence the primaries that form the lists of major parties before the next Knesset elections. For more information, contact Tzvia Sheli:
    צביה שלי
    השדולה הפלורליסטית
    052 (358) 5655

  6. I can't stand when people use kashrut in an inhumane way, i.e., Orthos who won't eat organic because there are more bugs that they might not be able to wash off. Seriously! What about the kashrut we need to treat the earth with?

  7. The article is too simplistic.
    I'll go with the places that have kosher kitchens yet are refused certification because they operate on Shabat/Chag or other non-dietary-related reasons.