Is Jack Daniel's Whiskey Kosher? Depends Who's Importing It

Israeli online merchant claims Chief Rabbinate created absurd situation in which it can’t get a certificate for product already deemed kosher.

Bottles of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey.
Toby Talbot/AP

All Paneco wants to do is import Jack Daniel’s Black Label Tennessee whiskey certified as kosher, but it’s encountered a situation that even the sharpest rabbinical minds can’t seem to solve. And so the online seller of wines and liquors is hoping the High Court of Justice can provide some sober analysis.

Paneco was importing the premium whiskey (also known as Old No. 7) from the United States until last August. Then it received a notice from the Chief Rabbinate, which said its own investigation had revealed that OK Kosher Certification – the Brooklyn-based organization that certifies Jack Daniel’s whiskey as kosher – had never approved the bottles imported by Paneco, only those by rival importer M. Ackerman. The certificates were fake, it stated.

Furthermore, OK said it would not provide a certificate to Paneco, while the Rabbinate said it wouldn’t issue a certificate, either. It said Paneco could get certification from another provider, but Jack Daniel’s says it will only allow OK inspectors into its distillery.

As anyone who has seen Jack Daniel’s ads over the years knows, its whiskeys are made at a single distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, using locally sourced limestone springwater and more or less the same recipe concocted by Jack Daniel himself in 1866.

And so Paneco, contending that the situation created by the Rabbinate is unreasonable, is seeking a court order for the Rabbinate to restore its kashrut certificate.

“The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has created an absurd situation in which a single product, which is certified as kosher around the world and produced by the company at a single factory by a single company, can be sold in Israel as kosher only by one company and not by another,” said Paneco CEO Uri Zror.

Kashrut certificates are part of a larger battle the government is fighting to bring down the cost of living in Israel. It wants to make imported products cheaper under the so-called “cornflakes law,” which aims to lower barriers to multiple, or parallel, importers importing the same product.

Zror said the Rabbinate was contributing in its own way to the cost-of-living problem by countenancing only a single imported product as kosher. “It’s creating exclusivity, hurts the consuming public, contributes to the high cost of living and does nothing to serve the kashrut-observing public in Israel,” he said.

However, the Rabbinate says that at the same factory there are different production lines for the same product, and that only some of them are subject to supervision.

“The Rabbinate doesn’t always have the tools to ensure that a product imported by a parallel importer is in fact kosher,” it said, adding that it was exploring ways of removing obstacles to parallel imports.