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Specter of Kashrut Makes Venues Shy of Same-sex Weddings

Although it is illegal to deny access to public facilities on the basis of sexual orientation, there is an exception if refusal is required due to the 'nature or substance of the product, the public service or the public site.'

The Chief Rabbinate and local rabbis may not condition the granting of kashrut licenses on matters unrelated to whether Jewish dietary law has been met, according to the law on fraud. This has become a hot potato issue with halls maintaining kosher facilities reportedly hesitant to serve as the venue for same-sex wedding celebrations. They fear their kashrut licenses will be revoked.

The subject has been litigated in court since the 1980s, after kashrut certificates were revoked for businesses and party venues that hosted New Year's Eve celebrations on December 31, a non-Jewish celebration marked in Christian countries, or that hosted shows featuring belly dancing, which was perceived as immodest.

Hagar Comay
David Bachar

In 1989, a belly dancer filed a petition in the High Court of Justice against the Jerusalem religious council, contending that she and her colleagues had suffered a marked decline in business from party halls after the rabbinate informed one establishment under its kashrut supervision that it was not permitted to host belly dancing or striptease acts.

The High Court rejected the rabbinate's argument that immodest displays constituted an obstacle in the maintenance of kashrut, and that kashrut supervisors would find their presence in such a setting intolerable.

In another case in 2009, the High Court ruled that the kashrut certificates at two bakeries in Ashdod and Gan Yavneh could not be revoked because their owner was a Jewish woman who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.

"If the business satisfies all the requirements of kashrut, on its face, it is impossible to revoke a kashrut certificate because of a lesbian wedding," said a senior kashrut supervision official, who added: "Without knowing the specific instance, it is absolutely possible that there is local pressure or threats to bar an event of one kind or another. That absolutely happens in the field."

There was such an occurrence several years ago involving a religious lesbian couple who sought a kosher facility for their nuptial ceremony in the area east of Netanya. They booked the hall, only to have the reservation canceled at the last minute - the owner saying he had been threatened with revocation of his kashrut certification if he hosted the event. The couple ultimately found another kosher facility, where the event was held.

Recently Hagar Comay sought out a facility for her wedding celebration with her same-sex partner. She said a restaurant in Nes Harim, Pichonka, put her off repeatedly by saying no dates were available. She asked a male friend to pose as a potential customer as she suspected that the a same-sex wedding was probably the reason she was being rebuffed. One of the owners later admitted, Comay said, that he could not endanger his kashrut certification over her celebration. However, he later told Haaretz that Comay was not refused over the issue of kashrut certification, that he had only said there was sensitivity at his establishment over the issue of weddings because of his religious clientele.

"That's what was said in the conversation [with Comay] and that's it." The restaurant's lawyer, Eli Katz, said the restaurant has a traditional observant clientele and because the request from Comay would have involved hosting her event while the restaurant would be open to other diners, "it could hurt the feelings of the diners at the location," but he invited Comay and her partner to dine at the restaurant.

An owner of several party centers elsewhere in the country admitted some facilities are afraid to host same-sex wedding celebrations out of concern it would affect their kashrut certification. Although it is illegal to deny access to public facilities on the basis of sexual orientation, there is an exception if refusal is required due to the "nature or substance of the product, the public service or the public site."