Tourist Tip #81 / Keeping Kosher in Israel, Part I

Israel offers a plethora of dining options for those that observe Jewish dietary laws. But not all kosher certifications are made alike. Part I of our series looks at the basic level of 'Kosher Rabbanut.'

Kosher eaters, rejoice: Israel, being the Jewish homeland, is an absolute wonderland for kosher cuisine with mashgiach-certified restaurants of every shape, size and sampling available for your gastronomic delight.

Jerusalem has the widest variety of kosher eateries but in recent years secular-leaning Tel Aviv has stepped up its game and now offers kosher varieties of pizza, sushi, and fine dining as well.

For a visitor from abroad, however, decoding Israel's system of kosher certification can be so tough, you'll work up an appetite just puzzling over it. Unlike many countries in the Diaspora, where “Kosher” is a catch-all, standardized phrase referring to an eatery that prepares its cuisine under rabbinical supervision, in Israel there are many levels of kashrut, each with their own names, certificates, and card-carrying restaurants.

Put simply, kashrut in Israel can be broken down into three tiers, the first and most basic of which is “Kosher Rabbanut.”

Every city in the Jewish State has its own rabbinical court, or rabbanut, which rules over issues such as marriage, divorce, burials, conversion, and the food on your plate. If a restaurant seeks basic kosher certification, they apply to their local rabbanut, which will then send a mashgiach – kashrut inspector – who will ensure that the site follows kashrut guidelines to the letter. These include strict separation of milk and meat, stringent cleansing of produce, inspection of all dry and wet ingredients to assure that they, too, are kosher, and more. All restaurants that are classified as Kosher Rabbanut are also, of course, closed on Shabbat and all Jewish holidays.

For most religious Jews, seeing a “teudat kashrut,” or kosher certificate, signed by the local rabbanut is sufficient. Some Jews, however, are even stricter in the way that they eat, and look for a higher certification. To learn about those, check back tomorrow for the second installment in our three-part series on how to nosh kosher in Israel.