Non-orthodox religious leaders: Israeli Hotels Refusing Torahs to Egalitarian Minyanim

Torah service at Moreshet Israel, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem

The directors of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and The Masorti Movement  have sent a letter to the government complaining that hotels are refusing to allow egalitarian minyanim to use hotel rooms and Torahs for fear of losing their kashrut certificate.

The Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and the Masorti Movement represent the interests and religious needs of non-orthodox religious Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews visiting Israel. The letter was sent to both the ministry of Tourism and the ministry of Diaspora Affairs. According to Ynet, the letter concluded:

We ask that you find the proper public manner in which to make it clear that this is an invalid policy that is not compatible with the law, a policy that damages relations with Jews in the Diaspora and the image of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

The complaint follows an incident last month when a group of American high school students were refused a Torah for their Shabbat minyan. The hotel belonged to a non-religious kibbutz and advertized itself as a place that would meet all the needs of bar and bat mitzvahs. However, when the group asked for a Torah for their morning Shabbat service, the hotel religious supervisor informed them that they couldn’t have the Torah unless they agreed to a service with a mehitza where only boys read from the Torah.

The rabbinut denied that this was an official policy but did concede that local rabbinut may have different rules and that these may be responsible for the difficulties.

Loss of a kashrut certificate has severe economic implications for hotels. Hotels have little recourse when a local kashrut supervisor threatens to withdraw their kashrut certification.

At least two cases complaining against the policy of bundling non-food related behaviorial requirements with kashrut certification have gone before the Israeli Supreme Court.  The Kashrut (Prohibition of Deciet) law prohibits a food-service establishment from claiming it is kosher unless it receives a certificate from the state run rabbinut.

In the 1980′s the rabbinut tried to withhold kashrut certificates from establishments that allowed belly dancers on the premises.  In 1989 the Supreme Court ruled that it was not the intent of the Kashrut Law to empower a rabbi to force a business or its customers to act in compliance with religious law on non food related matters.    They could not use kashrut to prohibit belly dancers, New Year’s parties, or even Christmas parties.

In 2009, the Supreme Court found that a kashrut certificate could not be withheld from an Ashdod baker even though she believed Jesus was the Messiah.  The court ruled that “The Kashrut Law states clearly that only legal deliberations directly related to what makes the food kosher are relevant, not wider concerns unrelated to food preparation,” .

The bundling of rules about how a Torah may be used with kashrut certification is clearly against the Supreme Court ruling.   However fighting a loss of kashrut certification in the Supreme Court is a potentially lengthy process.   In the meantime the restaurant risks loss of revenue from kashrut observant clients.

Even with a successful suit, it may be difficult to get the relevant ministries to comply with the Supreme Court decision.   It is not uncommon for civil rights organizations to have to file additional Supreme Court suits when a ministry fails to follow through on an earlier Supreme Court decision.  Thus many establishments prefer to play by the local rabbinut’s rules regardless of their legal rights or the rights of their customers.

Related articles in Jacob’s Bones:

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