Tourist tip #36 / Keeping kosher
Israel has a bounty of Kosher restaurants, but diner beware: the rules of kashrut are complicated, and it's best to ask if you're not sure.
It’s probably not going to come as a surprise to you that the Holy Land is full of places that cater to your religious needs. We have spirituality in spades, and we aren’t afraid to shout about it. So when it comes to eating out, you’d be forgiven for assuming you could dine in most establishments without having to worry about keeping kosher.
Even in Israel, obeying Jewish dietary laws can be tricky. It's best to avoid making assumptions, so if you're trying to keep kosher while eating in Israel, ask the restaurant about its kashrut policy before booking a table.
But surely in Israel – of all places – kosher food is served almost everywhere?
Not exactly. Yes, Israel does cater to the biggest kosher crowd in the world outside of New York, and the big tourist hotels are nearly always kosher. But there are no absolute rules and relatively secular cities such as Tel Aviv pose far more of a challenge to the observant eater than predominantly religious Jerusalem.
If you haven’t visited in a while, you’ll find things have changed over the decades as successive waves of immigrants brought with them new traditions, and new foods.
On your travels, it’s likely you’ll find some decidedly non-kosher items on some menus, including shrimp, cheeseburgers and even bacon.
It’s pretty obvious you should avoid these sorts of places if you keep kosher, but you should also be aware that the absence of pork-related products is no guarantee of kashrut. If in doubt, assume otherwise and check before you order.
Another thing to bear in mind is that restaurants that open on Shabbat are unable to receive kosher certification. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food itself isn’t kosher – so if you choose, you can still dine out on a Friday night – but it is well worth remembering.