Jerusalem Eatery Cuts Back on Female Help to Meet Kashrut Restraints

Haredi-owned restaurant to stop employing waitresses on nights when yeshiva boys patronize it; owner blames jealous competitors for kashrut supervisors' strictness.

A Haredi-owned Jerusalem restaurant will be restricting the working hours of waitresses in order to receive the strict mehadrin kashrut certificate.

The veteran eatery, Heimische Essen, in Rehavia, will cease employing waitresses on Thursday nights, a favorite time for yeshiva boys to patronize the eatery.

Heimische - Fattal - 14.3.12
Michal Fattal

Waitresses at the restaurant, which serves Eastern European specialties to a variety of people, are modestly dressed, although some of them are not Orthodox.

According to the owner, Haim Safrin, zealots, "who are jealous of the place's success," pressured the kashrut supervisors of the strict Agudat Israel high religious court, known as the Badatz, to stop waitresses from working on Thursday nights.

The Badatz is a private body which grants kashrut certificates and supervision over and above that provided by the Chief Rabbinate. The demand for waitress-free Thursday nights is unusual, but it is not unusual for bodies granting kashrut certificates, including the state-run Chief Rabbinate, to withdraw or threaten to withdraw a certificate for reasons that have nothing directly to do with food, such as the religious or spiritual affiliation of the owners or event halls that hold weddings for gay couples.

Be Free Israel, a group that advocates religious freedom and pluralism, called for a boycott of the restaurant, and says it plans to demonstrate in front of it tomorrow night.

Safrin, who says he has many non-religious and non-Jewish patrons, says the Badatz's instruction is not the end of the matter and he wants to find a compromise. "At most, we can move shifts," he said.

Safrin says the people who complained are mainly Hassidic young men who want to be served by a man. Safrin said that the Badatz's initial demand was harsher, "but I explained to them that more than 60 percent of my patrons are women, and everyone had to be served. My area is also modern Haredi, not extreme."

Safrin said the Badatz responded that he was right, but wanted to "give it a few weeks to check it out." He said that although he had received the instruction three weeks ago, waitresses continued to work on Thursday nights.

He said the boycott Be Free Israel has declared is not based on the facts. "My right as the restaurant's owner is to do anything I want."

He also said he had insisted on continuing to employ waitresses, and on the continued employment of the eatery's only Arab waiter. "Sometimes Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir come in," Safrin said, referring to two extreme-right wing figures. "They say 'get rid of the Arab, why do you emply Arabs.' I told them I wouldn't get rid of the Arab and that's what will be with the waitresses."