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Shine a Light: Advancing Progressive Values in Israel this Hanukkah. Night 6—Kashrut

About The Author

Chelsea Feuchs

Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.

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This Hanukkah, ARZA is working to shine a light on several challenges facing progressive Judaism in Israel. We do so with the intention to generate greater understanding, to increase the investment of Reform Jews in the Jewish State, and to center a connection to Israel in our communities. Each night for eight nights, check in with us to learn more about pressing issues and to advocate for equality, pluralism, and democracy in Israel.

 

During the month of December, the shuk—an open-air market in Israel—is filled with the most mouthwatering pastries. One evening stroll will throw any healthy diet into total disarray. The smell of fried food wafts through the alleyways as vendors shout to advertise discounts on their holiday treats. While greasy latkes are common in America during Hanukkah, a tasty reminder of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days, doughnuts are the favored treat in Israel. These doughnuts, called sufganiyot, can be found throughout the shuk. From jelly-filled ones at small stands to the pricier and more creative ones at upscale cafes, Hanukkah treats in Israel are simply delicious.

With all this greasy goodness, it feels strange to realize that food in Israel is actually quite political. Each stand and café must deal with the ultra-Orthodox authorities to validate their kosher certificates, or teudot kashrut in Hebrew. The Rabbanut is the only body legally allowed to issue such certificates despite the fact that this system has well-documented problems. Rabbis often appoint friends and relatives to jobs that they treat as sinecures, doing little work but receiving a steady paycheck nonetheless. For those who do work steadily, they are often appointed to oversee an impossibly large number of restaurants. Still, the ultra-Orthodox authorities hold a monopoly on the market, making it difficult to address this mismanagement.   

It might be tempting to say that only people who observe the laws of kashrut need to worry about these certifications, and secular Israelis can just steer clear of the controversy. Unfortunately, the kosher issue spilled into an unrelated event just a few months ago. The Israeli Ministry of Science, Technology and Space temporarily cancelled a celebration of World Space Week because some of the venues for the event were not certified kosher. In a country known for its intellectual achievements, particularly in STEM, it was disheartening to see this issue threaten to derail such an event.

Luckily, there have been some victories for those looking to reform the system while still respecting the laws of kashrut. Although the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that only the Rabbanut can issue kosher certificates, a movement for alternative certification has gained legitimacy. While the papers issued by this movement cannot legally contain the word “kosher,” they can use creative wording to communicate the same message to customers. This move toward private supervision, which is seen by many as more rigorous than the mismanaged existing system, is gaining widespread acceptance in Israel.

Hanukkah is a time for celebration, for coming together with friends and family around big plates of delicious food. Throughout Jewish history, food has played an important role in creating community and transmitting culture. Imagine an Israel that transmits a spirit of progress in this way, showing that it is possible to respect Jewish law without becoming entangled in a system that cedes all power to an ultra-Orthodox monopoly. As you sink your teeth into some fluffy sufganiyot or crispy latkes this season, savor the idea of a Judaism that belongs to us all.