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.