This is a follow up to my previous posting about Hasgacha Pratit. If you haven’t already, you should read that one before this.
On Monday night March 3d Hasgacha Pratit – private kosher certification movement – held an open meeting at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Located on the border between the Talbia and German Colony neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the Shalom Hartman Institute has a beautiful campus comprised of three buildings built around a quad designed to look like an amphitheatre. The Institute was founded in 1976 by the late Rabbi David Hartman, an American orthodox rabbi with a PhD in philosophy, and named for his father. It continues in Rabbi Hartman’s tradition of taking a liberal approach to the study of Tora and the practice of Judaism. About sixty people attended the event and there seemed to be a mix of religious and secular attendees.
The conference was divided into three parts. First there were some opening remarks followed by a panel which included Hasgacha Pratit’s founder, Rabbi Aaron Liebowitz, Professor Micah Goodman and a local restaurateur Shai Ghini. After a break for refreshments, the attendees split up into five different discussion groups. Finally there was another panel discussion which included Rabbi Liebowits and Likud party Knesset member and deputy speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin who is orthodox.
Rabbi Donniel Hartman, Rabbi David Hartman’s son, is President of the Shalom Hartman Institute. He opened the event by explaining why he agreed to host it at the Institute. “I didn’t agree to have the meeting here just to have it here,” he began. “I agreed to host it because I support the cause. Your initiative is an initiative of a new Jewish plant.” This loses something in the translation but Rabbi Hartman in effect said that he feels that this movement is the beginning of a new trend that does not define Jews just by which stream they follow.
Rabbi Liebowitz is now a member of the Yerushalmim Party. He was number three on their list for the Jerusalem City Council in last year’s election. The party won only two seats on the city council, but thanks to a rotation agreement with the party’s number two, Rabbi Liebowitz will join the city council in the middle of the current term.
Rabbi Liebowitz stated that he came to the Yerushalmim because of Hasgacha Pratitit. He joined the party when it adopted Hashgacha Pratit as one of its platform points. The Yerushalmim is a local Jerusalem Party which only concerns itself with local issues. When asked why it promotes Hashgacha Pratit which deals with a national issue – kashrut certification of restaurants – Rabbi Liebowitz said that, “this is a local issue too. People should have more control over kashrut certification in their own communities. The problems with the Rabannut certification affect local business owners and residents alike.”
Rabbi Liebowitz described the current situation in Jerusalem with regards to Kashrut certification from the Rabannut as “terrible.” Every city is different, he explained, but right now Jerusalem does not even have a chief rabbi. Rabbi Liebowitz said that competition in the filed of kashrut certification can only help.
Rachel Azaria, leader of the local Jerusalem Yerushalmim party, member of the Jerusalem city council and deputy mayor of Jerusalem spoke. Rachel Azaria talked about how Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai founded a new yeshiva in Yavne two thousand years ago when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. She explained that Rabbi Yochanan understood that the world had changed for Jews after the Temple was destroyed and so changes to the Jewish way of life were needed to meet the new reality. “We are living in an opposite reality today. If Rabbi Yochanan understood that in his time the center could no longer be the Temple and the physical center of the Jewish people would no longer be in Israel, then today the situation is reversed,” she said.
Rachel Azaria went on to discuss the issue of whether a restaurant can be kosher if it is opened on Shabbat. She said that she hears from secular people that they do not eat at places that are kosher and are closed on Shabbat. This is because they want to support the businesses that are open on Shabbat to ensure that there will be places to go out to on Friday nights. No business with kashrut certification can be open on Shabbat and so this causes a conflict between the religious and secular communities.
This leads to the question of whether a business which operates on Shabbat should receive certification. The answer is generally no. “How can you trust a restaurant to obey the laws of kashrut if it does not obey the Sabbath?” is the question asked when explaining why a place of business that operates on Shabbat cannot receive a hashgacha.
This does not apply to hotels which are kosher and serve meals on Shabbat. The hotels follow the rules of what is or is not allowed to be done on Shabbat. For example, nothing is cooked on Shabbat nor is water heated. The hotels are given this special dispensation because their guests need a place to eat on Shabbat and serving food is not prohibited on Shabbat.
Rachel Azaria concluded by stating that the onus today is on the community as a whole. “There are no longer any individuals like Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai who can change the world on their own and so we need the greater public as a whole comprised of the different public groups to change the world and we also need more events such as this to do it.”
Shai Ghini and his wife Yona Sasson are the proprietors of Topolino Italian restaurant on Agrippas Street at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehudah Market. (You can read about why Topolino gave up its Kashrut certification from the Rabannut in my previous piece.) Shai is also the chef and he wore a white, clean, double breasted chef’s long coat to the event. He must have put on a clean one for the occasion since there is no way that he could have been wearing the same coat in the kitchen all day.
Topolino has now decided to join the Hashgacha Pratit movement and accept its certification. According to Yona, “we didn’t work with them before because they were not ready yet. But now they have enough volunteer inspectors available to oversee us.” Yona explained that Hashgacha Pratit will place a special notebook in the restaurant for the inspectors to sign when they make visits to check on their kashrut.
Topolino will pay Hashgacha Pratit about 400 Shekels a month for its supervision, which is roughly the same fee that it paid the Rabannut. The main difference is that the restaurant will no longer have to find its own inspectors from the Rabannut’s list and pay them their fees in addition to the monthly fee. Topolino will not have a sign saying that it is kosher and will rely simply on word of mouth and an explanation to its customers about Hashgacha Pratit.
Hashgacha Pratit was originally going to be a free service provided by communities to the local businesses. But Rabbi Liebowitz explained that it was too difficult to find enough people who were willing to volunteer to serve as mashgichim. As a result, restaurants must now pay a fee which goes towards paying mashgichim, but a least the inspectors are provided by Hashgacha Pratit.
Dr. Micah Goodman has a PhD in philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where he teaches and is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He also spoke at the meeting.
Dr. Goodman referred to the many problems with Rabannut kashrut certification in Israel. One issue that he raised was that of the kashrut certifiers pressuring businesses such as hotels into not allowing certain groups, such as the Reform, from having events. The businesses, he maintained, are threatened with the loss of kashrut certification if they do anything to alienate the Rabannut. A loss of certification can be deadly for a hotel.
There was a time when kashrut was a matter of trust. The communities individually decided whether or not to trust the various businesses as to their kashrut. Dr. Goodman said that, “today the Israeli government has decided that the businesses can no longer be trusted and so it must decide if you are kosher or not.”
Dr. Goodman does not like the idea of the government involving itself in any way in kashrut certification. He feels that there should only be independent kashrut organizations that handle certification for businesses and that it will be up to the individual to decide which organization to trust.
When asked if the Rabannut is not providing a public service when it comes to kashrut Dr. Goodman said, “that organization has a monopoly. Why can’t my community be trusted to do it? Why is it just the government that can do it?”
Dr. Goodman said that the government can set a standard and regulate kashrut organizations. But when asked if this does not still mean that the government will determine the definition of kashrut, he acknowledged that ultimately he does not want any government involvement. When asked whether it would be all right for a place of business to call itself kosher when it cooks milk and meat together – by anyone’s standard this is not kashrut – Dr. Goodman bizarrely and mistakenly claimed that there were two rabbis in the Mishna who cooked milk and meat together. Perhaps he was thinking of cooking milk and poultry together. The prohibition of mixing dairy and poultry is a purely rabbinic one. There is no opinion in the Mishna that holds that it is O.K. to cook milk and meat together.
Regardless of the accuracy of this, even if one were to only mix dairy and poultry together today then he would clearly be in violation of the laws of kashrut. This is not one of the more recent prohibitions such as Ahkenazic Jews not eating legumes on Pesach or the amount of time one must wait between eating meat and dairy. If one wants to go back to the written Tora and start to undo Rabbinic rules then do they have he right to claim that what they are doing is in keeping with kashrut? Does this not also leave us with the problem of how to know which business is truly kosher?
Moshe Feiglin spoke of the general principal of community control. He cited the fact that unlike other countries, Israel has no districts – either nationally or locally – with a local representative. “I support any move from control by the national government to control by the local community,” he said.
Moshe Feiglin supports the principal of local communities taking the lead in kashrut certification, as opposed to the national Rabannut. But he feels that there will always be a need for the Rabannut to handle kashrut in many areas. The local communities, for example, cannot handle checking the kashrut of products that are imported to Israel. Nor can they provide a standard for the food produced in factories in Israel that the entire country can accept. So, he argues, the local communities will need to work with a national body.
Hashgacha Pratit is intended for restaurants specifically and the organization is not planning on dealing with food manufactirers.
In a follow up to my previous posting, the first restaurant to take part in Hashgacha Pratit, Nachlaot’s Salon Shabazi, recently closed.