Following a lengthy legal battle, the High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the Ashdod Rabbinate to grant kashrut certification to a local bakery owned by a Messianic Jew.

Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Yoram Danziger and Salim Joubran ruled that both the Ashdod Rabbinate and the Chief Rabbinate Council, which backed its decision, had exceeded the authority granted them by the Kashrut Law when they demanded that the bakery meet special conditions not demanded of other enterprises solely because the owner is a Messianic Jew.

The bakery, Pnina Pie, is owned by Pnina Comporati, a 51-year-old resident of Gan Yavneh who grew up in a traditional Yemenite household. Sixteen years ago, however, while working in the United States, she became a Messianic Jew.

In 2001, she opened the first branch of her bakery, in Gan Yavneh, and the Gan Yavneh Rabbinate immediately gave her a kashrut certificate. Later, however, her messianic faith became known, and in 2004, the rabbinate revoked her certificate. Comporati opted not to fight this decision.

Two years later she opened her second bakery, in Ashdod. However, word of her messianic faith soon reached that town, and the kashrut certificate she had initially received was revoked there, as well. As a result, she said, she lost 70 percent of her business within three weeks.

In July 2006, the Ashdod Rabbinate gave her a hearing, after which it wrote that because she believes in Jesus, she cannot be trusted to keep her bakery kosher. Therefore, it said, if she wanted a kashrut certificate, she would have to hire a full-time kashrut inspector, who would be on the premises whenever the business was open and have sole possession of the keys when it was closed.

Comporati appealed this decision to the Chief Rabbinate Council. But while she was awaiting a hearing, the Gan Yavneh Rabbinate decided to restore her kashrut certificate - with no strings attached.

The Chief Rabbinate Council, however, largely sided with the Ashdod Rabbinate, softening its terms only a little: It said she could obtain a kashrut certificate only if she hired someone whose kashrut could be trusted and who would be on the premises most of the day, and if she handed over the keys to a kashrut inspector every night.

Comporati petitioned the High Court in 2007, arguing that the rabbinate had no right to set special conditions just because of her religious faith. That, she said, violated both her freedom of occupation and her freedom of religion.

The rabbinate, backed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, argued that the conditions it set were legitimate. But the court rejected this claim, saying the only considerations the rabbinate may consider in granting kashrut certificates are those directly related to kashrut. As long as the applicant's personal beliefs do not affect the kashrut of the food, the rabbinate has no right to discriminate on account of these beliefs, it ruled.