A Landwer café in downtown Jerusalem has agreed not to open on Shabbat after an ultra-Orthodox organization threatened to remove the kashrut certification of Landwer Coffee, which is a separate firm to the café chain but was founded by the same family.
The Jerusalem municipality has been trying to open a café in Independence Park for several years, and it recently awarded the franchise to the Landwer café chain. The owners initially said the café would open on Shabbat, a move that secular activists cheered as bolstering secular culture in the city.
But sources familiar with the chain of events said the owners recently changed their minds and decided to make the café kosher and close it on Shabbat. These sources added that the owners made this decision after Badatz – the kashrut organization run by the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit – threatened to remove its kashrut certification from Landwer Coffee.
The coffee company and café chain are completely separate enterprises. Both were founded by the Landwer family decades ago, and their respective owners are relatives. In order to spare Landwer Coffee the harm that losing Badatz certification would cause, the café chain’s owner decided to accede to Badatz’s demand and keep the Independence Park café closed on Shabbat.
Landwer Coffee needs Badatz certification in part because this allows it to sell coffee to El Al Israel Airlines.
Over the last few days, ultra-Orthodox newspapers have run advertisements signed by Badatz’s kashrut committee that made its threat explicit.
“For the sanctity of Shabbat, regarding the rumor of a plan to open Landwer cafés in massive violation of Shabbat, heaven help us,” it said. “We are making a last-minute appeal to anyone who can prevent this destructive breach of Shabbat in the holy city of Jerusalem. If this plan, heaven forbid, is implemented, we will be forced to end our [kashrut] supervision of the Landwer Coffee company.”
The Committee for the Sanctity of Shabbat in Jerusalem – an umbrella organization representing all the city’s ultra-Orthodox sects – said a final agreement hasn’t yet been signed with Landwer, but it seems the Independence Park café will open only six days a week. A source on the Badatz kashrut committee said the same.
The ultra-Orthodox sources added that they negotiated intensively with Landwer for several weeks. But after Badatz issued its threat, Landwer Coffee’s owner “threw his whole weight” behind the effort to persuade the café chain to back down.
Both the café chain and coffee firm declined to comment. Moti Sharabi, the franchisee who will run the Independence Park café, said he was unaware of any threats, and planned to obtain kashrut certification from the Jerusalem Rabbinate.
“I run a kosher café in Tel Aviv, and I like the idea of this one being kosher very much,” he said.
But a municipal official reacted angrily to the news. “This isn’t ordinary ultra-Orthodox coercion, it’s extortion,” he charged.
The ultra-Orthodox sources said they have no intention of using similar tactics to try to force the Landwer café in Jerusalem’s First Station compound to close on Shabbat, since that café has already been in operation for quite some time.
Many businesses in First Station are open on Shabbat, but ultra-Orthodox groups mounted almost no public opposition to the compound’s opening. That was due largely to their having suffered a series of costly failures in previous battles to keep businesses from opening on Shabbat, most notably in the violent struggle to close the Karta Parking Lot near the Old City.
The official pretext, however, was that First Station was located far from the center of the city, in an area with no substantial ultra-Orthodox presence – something that also made it hard to recruit people willing to walk there to demonstrate on Shabbat, when religious Jews don’t drive.
Despite seemingly losing the battle over the Landwer café, Jerusalem’s secular residents will soon be celebrating another victory: In two weeks’ time, a Yes Planet movie complex with 16 theaters is set to open and will operate seven days a week.
Nir Hasson contributed to this report.
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