Israeli Hotels Can Serve Food on Shabbat and Be Kosher, but for Restaurants It's Too 'Risky'

Rabbinical council rejects petition by a Jerusalem restaurateur, arguing eateries would be 'tempted' to violate religious law when the number of diners exceeded estimates

The Bab al-Yemen restaurant in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019.
Jonathan Vadai

An appeal by a Jerusalem restaurateur to end the contradictory policies of the Chief Rabbinate that allow hotels with a kashrut certificate to serve food to guests on Shabbat, but bars restaurants from doing the same, failed this week.

The Chief Rabbinical Council rejected a petition by Yehonatan Vadai, who owns the kosher Bab al-Yemen restaurant in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, to operate on Shabbat.

Working with an attorney through the Neemanei Torah v’Avodah Movement, Vadai had said he would serve food under the same conditions as hotels to avoid violating Shabbat restrictions. That would have meant preparing meals before the start of Shabbat and collecting payments either before or after Shabbat.

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However, the council said it rejected the plan out of concern that restaurants would be tempted too often to violate the rules and cook food on Shabbat when the number of diners exceeded estimates.

“The restaurant business is characterized by uncertainty because a restaurant cannot estimate in advance the number of diners who may come over the course of the day. This phenomenon creates, from the perspective of the rabbi granting a kashrut certificate, a real risk that work prohibited on Shabbat concerning food by the business,” the council said.

It reject Vadai’s claim that if kashrut certificates are being given to hotels that serve food on Shabbat, restaurants must be given the same right. The council said hotels prepare such huge quantities of food that there’s no fear that they may break Shabbat rules to prepare more.

The council also cited another difference between restaurants and hotels. The latter provide a room over Shabbat for the mashgiah (kashrut supervisor) to supervise the kitchen continuously. Restaurants, it said, don’t have that option.

“Even if Jewish law provides rules ways that one can heat and prepare food on Shabbat, by which Jews who observe the mitzvot act in their homes, that doesn’t mean that the Chief Rabbinate, which works to ensure kosher food for consumers who keep kosher, can allow this by restaurants and other big businesses that have kashrut certificates,” it said.

In response, Vadai noted that the council didn’t categorially reject the idea of restaurants operating on Shabbat from the perspective of halacha (Jewish law). “Nevertheless, the rationale in the rabbinate’s response has no bearing on reality,” he said, saying its decision would encourage some restaurants to dispense with kashrut certification altogether.