Jerusalem Space Week Evaporates Following Nonkosher Food Complaints

The week-long event to feature lectures, virtual-reality and stargazing was cancelled after Ultra-Orthodox leadership expressed concern about nonkosher food vendors

Northern lights over Earth
NASA

The Science, Technology and Space Ministry canceled events in Jerusalem scheduled for next week as part of Israel’s participation in World Space Week, after ultra-Orthodox Jews complained that some of the venues sell nonkosher food.

Lectures, movies, virtual-reality experiences and stargazing in planetariums will be part of the events of World Space Week around the country. A number of events were due to be held in a number of bars and restaurants in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market on Tuesday, but this week Yohanan Weizmann, a city council member representing United Torah Judaism, appealed to the ministry, which sponsors Israel’s participation in World Space Week together with the Israel Space Agency, and demanded their cancellation. Weizmann told Haaretz that the problem was that some of the venues lacked a business license.

“I’m in favor of Space Week, I go to these events myself, I only asked that it be held in a place with a proper business license,” Weizmann said, adding that he also was disturbed by the failure to comply with the city’s noise ordinance.

A secular protest opposite an ultra-Orthodox protest regarding Shabbat policies in Jerusalem on September 12, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

But Weizmann’s letter to Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, quoted in a report on the ultra-Orthodox news website B’hadrei Haredim, tells a different story: “As a member of the Jerusalem city council and as a resident of the nearby neighborhood of Mekor Baruch, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that ... one of the venues sells unkosher food and the others are not kosher. In addition, most of them don’t have a full business license, meaning that government resources will go to encouraging sales in places that do not operate in accordance with the law.”

The Science Ministry confirmed that in the wake of Weizmann’s letter, it decided to cancel the events in Jerusalem at the last minute. Responding in B’hadrei Haredim, the ministry said the space agency, which is part of the ministry, “thanks you for your attention to the issue” and confirmed the cancellations.

In an official response to Haaretz, however, the ministry said the Jerusalem events for World Space Week will take place as originally scheduled, in a different place that will be decided shortly and announced as soon as possible.

A number of local activists organized an “alternative space week,” setting up a series of lectures that will be held at popular Jerusalem places including Abraham Hostel, Mifletzet Bar & Cafe and Casino de Paris.