- I was never arested by the kashrut "police"
- they never contacted me in any way to tell me what to eat or not
- no one interfered during any of my meals regarding what I was eating or drinking
I suppose I knew that one day these issues would raise their heads and demand to be spoken. Because the issues are valid ones and do relate to what we eat and drink, they have their place here. I will therefore respond to Isi. Others may also want to respond. I request that all who desire to post on these issues maintain decorum in their demeanor and their talk and avoid any personal attacks. All thought out and even passionate arguments will be respected. What will not be respected and will probably wind up either being strenuously edited or deleted will be attacks of any kind. As we all know, it is possible to disagree on a friendly basis and it is precisely that kind of friendship and mutual respect for which I call.
Isi, you say that you were never arrested by the kashrut "police". Nor have I. Nor has anyone that I know. Although this is merely an expression it does indeed express its sentiments. Two small examples may help.
(a) I am fully certain that we all agree that opening a store featuring pork products in a religious neighborhood or even bordering on such a neighborhood would be a stupid, offensive and provocative act. I have, however, seen stores that offer pork products in thoroughly non-religious neighborhoods being picketed, the owners of those stores and their families spit upon and in several cases even having their store windows broken. Related to this, Eli Laudau (who together with chef Chaim Cohen writes a column for HaAretz) has just published a cookbook dealing entirely with the preparation of pork. At least one of the Orthodox movements has already threatened one of the major book chains, saying that if they put this book on their shelves they and their entire community will boycott their book stores. If that is not a kind of "policing", I do not know what might be so considered.
(b) The very fact that it is a criminal offense to raise pigs on state-owned land in Israel is rather a serious affair. Of course the way around this has been (i) to declare all pig farms as research stations and (ii) to have pig pens set not on the physical ground but on wood flooring. All rather silly but it satisfies "the law"
You also say that you have never been "contacted in any way to tell me what to eat or not". I have had many such contacts, some personal, some more global.
(a) I cannot purchase any foods or beverages on holidays such as Tisha bey'Av as all stores, kiosks and restaurants in the country must be closed on the eve of that holiday. It should be noted that this is a holy day that has meaning primarily to the Orthodox community and not to Conservative, Reform or other Jews in Israel.
(b) With only one exception, all of the foods in supermarkets must be kosher or the supermarket looses its license. I am not suggesting that the Orthodox eat bacon or other foods they consider treif
but there is something pathetic about a kashrut supervisors who insist that supermarkets can carry milk and dairy products simultaneously while not allowing the importation of a non-kosher peanut butter. Or, for that matter, the prohibition against having a separate section no matter how large or how small carrying non-kosher products in general.
(c) As to being told what not to eat, try bringing a ham and cheese sandwich into an Israeli hotel or onto an Israeli army base. In the case of hotels, giving such permission would be tantamount to losing their kashrut certificate even if the guest who brings in that sandwich is a Roman Catholic Archbishop. In the case of the army, that behaviour is quite adequate to earn one a court martial.
Finally, you say that no one has "interfered during any of my meals regarding what I was eating or drinking". Again, just a few examples of how that operates....
(a) On an army base on one occasion I went into the mess-hall after a particularly harrowing night and took a loaf of bread, a tin of loof
(the kosher equivalent of Spam), a packet of yellow cheese and a few containers of mustard. Recognizing and respecting that the kitchens and dining rooms of the army must maintain kashrut, I took my ingredients out of doors and there prepared several sandwiches of loof, cheese and mustard. One of the Orthodox soldiers on the base walked by, saw me, spit on me and told me in no uncertain terms that "I was not only not a Jew but worse than the goyim". We both had the same rank which was fortunate for him for had he been either senior or junior to me I would have called for a court martial.
(b) On one evening, some twenty years ago, in the very expensive and formal dining room of Jerusalem's King David Hotel (indeed in my opinion one of the best hotels in the world) diners were at their tables eating when one of the mashgichim
was strolling through the dining room and noticed that one of the fillet steaks au poivre had been prepared with green peppercorns. The mashgiach
flew into a rage, pulled the plates from the table and, in the midst of all present smashed the plates on the floor literally ranting at the top of his lungs as to how all there (including myself) were damned and double-damned. Indeed from that day on Madagascar green peppercorns are no longer offered at kosher restaurants because of the 16th century myth that in the heart of these peppercorns there might be the miniscule larvae of an equally miniscule worm. According to that myth in addition to being non-kosher these tiny little worms work their way through the blood, entering the brain and making us insane. Green peppercorns are permissible in hotel kitchens. Just so long as those are not from Madagascar.
(c) On several occasions world renowned chefs have been invited to prepare meals for special events within Israel, those meals kosher largely because they were either in hotels or in state-owned or funded institutions and/or because the paying guests wanted their meals to be kosher. All of which is fair enough. Among those, for example, was the meal celebrating the 3000th anniversary of the founding of Jerusalem. Quite often those chefs, few of whom are Jewish, are not familiar with the laws of kashrut and are thus paired with local chefs to guide them and prevent mishaps. Despite all of the precautions taken and despite the laws of common courtesy, I have seen great chefs (e.g. Robuchon, Troigros, Marchesi) insulted either to their faces or behind their backs by various of the kashrut supervisors. Indeed the epitome of ridiculousness in this area came when Gultiero Marchesi was preparing his world-famed risotto, a dish topped by edible gold leaf. The mashgichim
debated for hours over the use of the gold leaf but finally decided that it was indeed parve and no problem. The gold leaf could not be used, however, for the tissue thin leafs of gold had been separated by a brushing of vegetable oil and no one could provide a kashrut certificate for that oil.
(d) Too long to re-tell here but when anyone meets me ask about the kashrut adventure encountered by chef Jean-Louis Palladin while he was preparing goose liver at the Tel Aviv Sheraton Hotel. Or about the time a group of Israeli chefs were visiting and preparing a meal at one of the luxury Tel Aviv hotels and I, in all innocence, took them to a restaurant that specialized in game meat including wild boar. Because one of the employees of the hotel had rented the van that took us to our destination and then accompanied our group, the hotel was in severe danger of losing its kashrut certificate.
Indeed the orthodox and the non-orthodox and even the non-believer can live in comfort and side-by-side. That there are issues to be ironed out is undeniable. It is also possible that some of those issues will have no solution. Even that is acceptable but only on the condition that each side is willing to respect the needs and rights of the others and that each is willing at least to make moves in accepting and respecting the other.
I have no choice but to say that in Israel as in many other countries, there are some with whom dialogue is impossible. I see no coming together, for example of the Ultra-Orthodox "Haridim" and other major segments of the population. Nor do I see any way to open a dialogue with them on issues such as these. Here too, however, the answer too is quite simple – for those of us from the most orthodox to those who take a middle-road, to the non-observant and even to the non-believers to realize that every society has its fanatics and simply to realize that as we are outside of their world-view, so are they beyond ours. With fanatics of any kind there can be no dialogue. What must be avoided however is enmity and warring.
Wow…did I say all of that?