Rabbinate, Health Ministry in Kashrut Food Fight at Central Israeli Hospital

Ministry and hospital accuse Rabbinate of scaremongering, but Rabbinate says the hospital is operating without valid kashrut certificate.

A food label indicating the product is Kosher.
Tal Cohen

The Chief Rabbinate is waging a dangerous war at the expense of hospital patients, the Health Ministry and Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Tzrifin, said after the Rabbinate announced over the weekend that the hospital is operating without a valid kashrut certificate. The hospital and ministry fear that observant patients may, as a result of the announcement, refuse to be taken to the medical center or refuse to eat hospital food.

“For two months there has been no rabbi employed by Assaf Harofeh Hospital,” the Rabbinate announced in a statement. “At this time, there is no kashrut certificate for the hospital kitchens or the food businesses operating in the complex.” What was not made clear in the Rabbinate’s announcement was why the hospital’s rabbi, Eliezer Malka, is no longer there. He was caught forging his hospital attendance reports, was tried by a civil service tribunal and was recently fired.

The rabbi and another hospital employee had been clocking in for each other for a lengthy period, rendering both their attendance records fraudulent. In addition, the rabbi would not clock out when he left the hospital two or three times a week for prayers lasting an hour at nearby Kfar Chabad. He was severely reprimanded by the tribunal, dismissed immediately, and barred from working for the Health Ministry for five years.

While the hospital has employed a kashrut supervisor, that’s not sufficient for the Rabbinate, which is also demanding the appointment of a rabbi.

The Rabbinate’s announcement infuriated the hospital and Health Ministry, which said it was liable to put patients at risk. Assaf Harofeh is the hospital that serves Kfar Chabad, whose residents are extremely strict in kashrut matters.

“The Chief Rabbinate’s announcement is very strange, deceives the public and could possibly endanger the lives of patients who refuse to eat, or of injured religious people who refuse to be evacuated to the hospital because of the misrepresentation that supposedly the hospital has stopped being supervised [by the Rabbinate],” said the Health Ministry, in an exceptionally harsh response.

“Assaf Harofeh Hospital is strict about kashrut and supervised by a kashrut supervisor of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The hospital was forced to end the employment of the hospital’s rabbi some two months ago, after he was tried by the disciplinary court of the Civil Service Commission and found guilty of serious offenses. The hospital has continued to be supervised at all times by a kashrut supervisor of the Chief Rabbinate and the acting hospital rabbi. It is unbelievable that the Rabbinate decided to release such an announcement because of a rabbi who went bad,” said the ministry.

Dr. Benny Davidson, the director of Assaf Harofeh, added, “It is shocking that the Rabbinate decided to publish such an irresponsible announcement in an attempt to force the hospital to return a rabbi suspected of criminal acts to his position.”

Nevertheless, the Chief Rabbinate has refused to back down. “There’s a kashrut supervisor at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, but that isn’t enough to ensure that the site is kashrut,” a Rabbinate official said. “One supervisor isn’t enough to supervise the kashrut of a kitchen that supplies three meals a day – both meat and dairy – to a hospital with some 800 patients, on top of several food businesses that operate on the site with no connection to the hospital’s own kitchen. Given this, our position is that until a rabbi is appointed to certify the kashrut, it’s not possible to trust the kashrut there.

“The Chief Rabbinate’s announcement was published after lengthy and intensive discussions with the Health Ministry bore no fruit,” he continued. “An announcement of this sort is a last resort, after every possibility of ensuring the kashrut by other means has been exhausted. The Chief Rabbinate’s responsibility is to ensure that the kashrut-observant public can eat kosher food, and we cannot refrain from informing it in a situation, like this one, where there’s a fear of it being misled. We expect this problem to be resolved quickly, and are at the Health Ministry’s disposal over any issue that would lead to a solution.”

Rabbinate officials said they have no complaints regarding the reasons for the rabbi’s dismissal, and do not intend to demand his reinstatement. Nevertheless, they said, the hospital’s kashrut situation has been problematic for several months, and has become even more so in the past few weeks.

“We repeatedly suggested holding an urgent meeting with the Health Ministry, because we have a concrete proposal that would enable the crisis to be resolved immediately,” said the official. “Unfortunately, the Health Ministry is refusing to meet with us.”

Uriel Sinai