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Kashrut --Israel Style

10/07/2020 10:06:48 AM


In the Diaspora, the subject kashrut — keeping kosher — is relatively simple. All Orthodox, some very traditional Conservative (such as at my synagogue, Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring, Md.) and a few Reform Jews adhere to the dietary laws. (A few non-Jews, believing that kosher food is somehow cleaner or more healthy, eat food with kosher certifications, but, of course, keeping kosher is much more involved than just that. Eating a breakfast of rabbi-authorized eggs and toast with some crispy bacon or a ham steak isn’t keeping Jewish dietary laws.)

The laws are pretty straightforward: eat only animals whose hooves are cloven, that chew their cud and are butchered according to Jewish law; consume only fish with scales and fins; don’t eat birds of prey; and feast on dairy products and flesh — meat and chicken — separately. God has spoken, believers obey.

In Israel, like so many things, it’s more complicated. Of course, Israeli Orthodox Jews act like the counterparts around the world. After that, it gets a little dicey.

Some Israeli Jews who are traditional in outlook but not religious nonetheless follow all the rules of kashrut. Others in that group wouldn’t consider eating pork or shellfish — the ultimate in treyf (not kosher) fare — but have no problems eating a steak not butchered according to Jewish tradition or having a cup of coffee with cream at a meat meal.

Confused yet?

Many non-Jews may not be mavens on the details but understand this is a subject on which care is needed. While working for The Jerusalem Post, I went on a journalistic junket to south Germany to visit spas, resorts built on mineral springs where vacationers go “to take the waters.” There were five of us — secular Israeli Jewish reporters all — but our hosts were taking no chances. Where we ate set meals, fish was always the main course.

When Bonnie and I visit our family in Israel, we always take them out to eat. Our number 2 daughter Debra knows that I don’t eat non-kosher meat or chicken and always checks the restaurants’ kashrut status. She has discovered an interesting tidbit: Many Israeli restaurants stay open on Saturday (the Sabbath), and therefore the rabbinate will not grant them certification. But several spokespeople have told her that they buy their meat and chicken from the same wholesalers who sell their products to kosher restaurants. If that is true — and it may be, for in Israel, it’s easier to buy kosher than non-kosher animal products — the meat and chicken in those eateries are, in a sense, kosher, the restaurants are not.

Nonetheless, when we eat in restaurants like those, I stick to fish and salad.

Ironically, although the number of Orthodox Jews living in Israel has skyrocketed since we lived there, the availability of non-kosher meat also has increased.

When we lived in Jerusalem, one of our friends told us that the only source of non-kosher meat in the Jewish part of the city was “Moshe the treyf butcher.” We were never sure whether Moshe was real or a legend, for neither we nor anyone we knew had ever bought anything from that perhaps mythical establishment, had visited it or even knew its location.

The supermarkets and grocery stores we frequented in the 1970s and ’80s sold only kosher goods.

Today, one countrywide chain carries only non-kosher meats and chicken, and there are meat stores in many places that sell pork, shellfish and other forbidden foods.

So, more religious Jews equals more available, non-kosher food.

The reason for this irony is the influx of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Denied a Jewish education, they were uninterested in keeping kosher in the country of their birth. Not that observing kashrut would have been possible anyway due to the dearth of kosher products.

In Israel, most have continued to ignore Jewish dietary law.

Photo Silver Spring’s Shalom Kosher market.


Wed, February 8 2023 17 Shevat 5783