Ministers: Cafes Opening on Shabbat Can Still Be Kosher

Proposed bill calls for kashrut certificates to be granted for weekday food, even if business is open at weekend.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A kashrut certificate on display.
A kashrut certificate on display.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A proposal to grant limited kashrut certification to restaurants and cafes that are often blocked from securing rabbinic certification because they are open on Shabbat, even if the food they serve is completely kosher, won the coalition’s support on Sunday.

The bill, backed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, would base certification only on the food itself and allow such establishments to receive a kashrut certificate for weekdays only.

“The bill, based on rulings by important religious Zionist rabbis, will enable many more restaurants to be kosher, thereby presenting a Judaism that unites rather than rejects,” said MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah), who sponsored the bill, which still requires Knesset approval.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) voted against the bill, while another committee member from his party, Pensioner Affairs Minister Uri Orbach, absented himself from the vote.

Though Stern framed the bill as a liberalizing influence, MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) attacked it from the left.

“MK Stern may intend to make things easier, but in effect he is causing an increase in religious legislation,” she said.

“The State of Israel needs a separation of religion and state, not more religious legislation in state laws. State law does not have to decide what is kosher and how, nor what is religiously permissible on Shabbat. MK Stern and Habayit Hayehudi are causing the law to determine these things and are thereby turning us into a more religious country rather than a less religious one.”

Though there are some restaurants, especially in the north, that have kashrut certification despite being open on Shabbat, the rabbinate in many areas will not allow such places to officially call themselves kosher.

Habayit Hayehudi is trying to decide whether to appeal the committee’s decision on the bill, which is expected to come up for a preliminary vote Wednesday.

So far, the party has made do with calling for changes to the proposal, such as requesting a prominent notation stating that the business is open on Shabbat. The party has also said that though restaurants with the limited certification will be allowed to open their doors on Saturday, they should not be allowed to cook food, in violation of the Sabbath.

Instead, they would be allowed to serve food prepared ahead of time, as the Chief Rabbinate allows Israel’s hotels to do.

Supporters of the existing bill said such a change would render it meaningless. “If you can’t prepare the food on Shabbat, the law loses its significance,” said one.

The Kashrut Fraud Prevention Law stipulates that only dietary laws should determine whether or not a dining establishment receives kashrut certification. But because the term “dietary laws” is ambiguous, kashrut supervisors regularly deny certificates to restaurants that are open on Shabbat or that host events the rabbinate considers “immodest.”