Rabbinate: Wine Made Under Conservative Supervision Isn't Kosher

The Chief Rabbinate is nonplussed at the Masorti Movement's attempts to challenge the Orthodox monopoly over the lucrative wine business.

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The Chief Rabbinate has issued a warning that wine produced by the first Israeli winery to be supervised by the Masorti Movement, as the Conservative Movement is called in Israel, is not kosher.

“The Conservative Movement is forbidden by law to authorize kashrut,” the Rabbinate wrote on the page devoted to kashrut updates on its website. “[These] Products ... should not be sold in stores under the supervision of the local rabbinates. Let the public know and be warned.”

A month ago, Haaretz published the story of Rujum, a tiny boutique winery in the southern town of Mitzpeh Ramon that had decided to challenge the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut supervision, and specifically, the very strict laws that pertain to winemaking.

Rujum does not claim that its wines are kosher by Orthodox standards; its wines do not bear the kashrut label of the Rabbinate, which is the sole authority recognized in Israel on the matter.

To obtain its certification, the Masorti Movement requires that all ingredients used in wine be kosher, and most of the commandments specific to produce grown in the Land of Israel – like ma’aser and terumah, or tithing, which according to halakha ‏(Jewish religious law) requires farmers to give away a portion of produce – be observed. Where the Masorti certification requirements part ways with the Orthodox is in determining who can be involved. Orthodox law prohibits anyone who is not religiously observant, not to mention not Jewish, from having contact with the wine or any vessel it’s stored in. The new Masorti specifications do not.

Rujum, which currently sells all its products in Israel, plans to begin exporting its products to Conservative congregations in the United States.

Responding to the Rabbinate’s warning, Rabbi Andrew Sacks, the director of the Masorti Movement Rabbinical Assembly in Israel said: “I am pleased to see that the Rabbinate has taken note of our efforts to establish higher standards for hashgacha [supervision]. Our agreement with those we serve demands that employees be treated ethically and paid a living wage. We also bar discrimination on the basis of religion in the employment of workers. We have been careful to adhere to the laws of the State of Israel (in addition to our adherence to Jewish law) in offering hashgacha. The claim of the Rabbinate to the contrary is fallacious.” Sacks continued, “Were the Rabbinate to serve the needs of those who feel that ethical kashrut cannot be separated from the technical aspects of kashrut (to which we adhere), and were the finances of the kashrut industry fair, ethical, and transparent - then there would be no need for an alternative. Sadly, this is not the case.”

A scene of harvest time at Rujum.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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