(Okay, I promise, this is my last food related post for at least the next eight hours).
The innocuous-looking heksher on the right, or a variation of it, is plastered on a huge percentage of the food products sold both in Israel and to Jewish stores and restaurants in the Diaspora. It is the heksher of the Jerusalem Badatz, the group responsible for the kashrut supervision of almost every major product in Israel.
But what exactly is Badatz? Unlike other large kashrut supervisors like OU, they have no website and no PR – yet their hashgacha is ubiquitous and their influence on Israeli society profound. Badatz is an acronym for Beit Din Tzedek, and acts as the high court for the ultra-Orthodox, fiercely anti-Zionist Edah ha-Charedit, a Charedi roof organization, based in Jerusalem, with other branches in Charedi strongholds around the world like Antwerp and New York. The Edah ha-Charedit is opposed to Zionism in general, but also the government of Israel and the Israeli Rabbinate, which it views as illegitimate.
Badatz itself does not only perform kosher supervision, but acts as the arbiter of halakhic law in many of the Charedi neighborhoods of Israel (Meah Shearim, Geulah, Bnei Brak) and uses the considerable clout it has thanks to its widespread hashgacha to attempt to sway the government and corporations to more strictly follow Jewish law. As such, it is seen by secular Israelis (and some non-Charedi religious Israelis) as an emblem of the power the Charedi establishment has in dictating the style of life in Israel. Israelis ask whose side one is on: Bagatz (the Israeli Supreme Court) or Badatz. An Israeli bumper sticker reads “BADATZ – A Symbol of Religious Coercion – Don’t Buy of Your Own Free Will!” Badatz has been instrumental in continuing to ensure the difficulty of finding non-kosher meat in Israel. In 1992, Badatz successfully forced Pepsi to pull an ad campaign showing man’s evolution from apes by threatening to remove its hashgacha from Pepsi products in Israel. More recently, Badatz boycotted a company for having a worker who was Jehovah’s Witness, and came out against a Charedi female taxi driver who drew the ire of a Naturei Karta rabbi in Meah Shearim.
But one evening Miriam was sent out to pick up a client who turned out not only to be male but also a Natorei Karta rabbi.
“This kind of mistake had happened a couple of times before,” says Balouka “and the drill was for Miriam to simply not open the cab door or windows and message the station to send another driver.”
This time, however, the rabbi didn’t wait for another cab and the next day, pashtilim (posters) appeared all over Mea Shearim informing the religious public that Online used women drivers and asking for the company to be put in herem [excommunication].
“Online [the cab company] met with Badatz,” says Balouka, “and asked for their support, but the testimony of the Natorei Karta apparently carried more weight. We tried to present the argument that we were offering a more kosher service, but they argued the future downfall of the Jewish family if women begin to get such freedom.”
A Badatz-affiliated rabbi who spoke to In Jerusalem refused to allow his name to be publicized, nor would he allow himself to be identified as a spokesperson for Badatz.
“It is assur [forbidden] for women to drive taxis. We allowed it for a temporary period. It is pritzut [licentiousness]. The Beit Din ruled two weeks ago that women are not allowed to work as taxi drivers.”
Some secular Israelis in response have called for a boycott against Badatz-supervised products, but the Badatz heksher is so widespread that boycotting it and still eating normally would be nigh-impossible.
All of which begs the question: how did a Charedi anti-Zionist organization not only become so powerful, but come to dominate kashrut supervision in the supposedly secular Zionist state?