Once, years ago, I attended a large get-together in a restaurant. The host ordered a bottle of wine and a waiter came to the table with the bottle. He started to open it, when suddenly someone shouted: “Wait, are you an Arab?” The waiter did not reply but his face fell. He withdrew in embarrassment and a hush came over the table. The public humiliation stunned all of us. I was ashamed to belong to the same group of people as the kippah-wearing man who shouted.
Two minutes later, a Jewish waiter came out, took the bottle and replaced it with another. But by then no one felt like drinking the wine, aside from that one religious guy, who felt very righteous. For according to the halakha, as soon as a goy touches a bottle of wine, it becomes “yayin nesekh,” which Jews are forbidden to drink.
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One wonders what would happen if, in a restaurant in Paris, a Jewish waiter would be treated the same way because of some 2,000-year-old religious rule. The cries of antisemitism would shake the rafters. But here there’s no problem with abusing a “goy” or a secular Jew, for that matter. According to that same ancient halakha, if you are a Jew who does not observe Shabbat, you, too, are prohibited from touching the bottle of wine, and from participating in the process of making the wine. How ludicrous.
The problem is that most vintners in Israel are secular. Therefore, they are not permitted to touch the grapes or to be involved in the wine production. They have to hire observant Jews who receive instructions from them from afar. The secular vintners are not even permitted to taste the wine during the production process – i.e., the biggest experts cannot use their expertise. Total insanity.
Most of the vintners surrender to these ridiculous rules, because otherwise they won’t be able to sell their products to the big supermarket chains, hotels, workers’ committees and banquet halls (See Ronit Vered’s article in the April 1 Hebrew edition of Haaretz). Only a small minority decided to rebel and manufacture non-kosher wine, for which the market is very limited. But wine isn’t the only area where this kind of abuse happens. It happens with fruit, too. According to the halakha, for the first three years after a tree is planted, its fruits may not be eaten and must be destroyed. The problem is that, for instance, the lifespan of a blueberry bush is eight years, so if the first three years’ worth of fruit is thrown out, the whole crop becomes economically unviable, especially because there is competition from abroad, where the halakhic prohibition does not apply and so the price of the imported fruit is lower.
Bottom line, the ossified and moldy kashrut rules cause heavy losses to manufacturers, force the public to pay higher prices and dent output and employment. But the Chief Rabbinate couldn’t care less.
The blueberry grower whose story was reported in TheMarker (“Rabbinate decides that blueberries grow on trees,” Tali Heruti-Sover, April 23) tried to convince the Rabbinate that blueberries grow on shrubs and not trees in order to avoid the prohibition regarding fruit that grows on trees – to no avail.
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The Rabbinate attacks from other directions too. It recently removed its kashrut certification from the venerable Jerusalem eatery Café Kadosh. It happened a month ago, when a kashrut supervisor from the Rabbinate appeared without warning and demanded that the owner place a “dairy” sticker on each croissant and also shape them as triangles because “triangular burekas are known to be dairy.” Now the Rabbinate has also become an expert in product design and branding.
Itzik Kadosh would not give in to the madness. He decided to forgo the Rabbinate’s certification and began using that of Tzohar, which also recently granted certification to two wineries, even though, heaven help us, secular vintners work there.
This is where a small chance at greater sanity lies. Apparently, in the talks in the “change bloc” between Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, agreement is emerging that on matters related to religion, kashrut and conversion, the arbiters will be the Tzohar rabbis and not the Chief Rabbinate. But if that happens, lightning will surely split the sky and send us all to hell.