The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which is recognized by the Jewish State as the supreme authority in matters of Jewish customs and spirituality, ruled that Israel’s hotels may now display Christmas trees without incurring sanctions by the religious body. The rabbinate issues certificates attesting to the kashrut (kosher) status of establishments such as hotels and restaurants to show compliance with traditional Jewish dietary and other customs. Until the ruling was made, the rabbinate could rescind the kashrut certificate if a Christmas tree is displayed in an Israeli hotel, played music or operated elevators on the Sabbath. The rabbinate made the decision after consulting with Hiddush, an Israeli movement that promotes freedom of religion.
Shahar Ilan, vice-president of Hiddush, explained that the kashrut law pertains to food only, while adding that the rabbinate have imposed restrictions that are sometimes absurd. According to TLV1-Israel, Ilan said “The reality in hotels in Israel is that events – for example, conventions, or organized groups that are gathered on Shabbat cannot use audio, cannot use video, cannot photograph themselves, and cannot use music. The question is whether the Rabanut (ed. note: Rabbinate) is allowed to decide, for example, in weddings, that there would not be belly dancers because it’s not kosher.”
The former media relations director at the Chief Rabbinate, Ziv Maor, said that the letter of the law ignores broader halakhic questions. Halakhic can be translated as “Jewish Law,” and guides not only religious practices and beliefs, but many aspects of day-to-day life of pious Jews. “There is halakha that says that a religious observant person cannot be in a place where idolatry is being conducted. And the Christmas tree in itself is an element of idolatry. So the regulation of the Chief Rabbinate, until now, didn’t allow for a kosher place to have a party with food served in it and a Christmas tree. If you had done it a separate room without food, so there’s no reason for the mashgiach to be there, there wouldn’t have been a problem.” Maor expressed the concern that a change in the law could prove confusing to religious Jews seeking a kosher experience at hotels.
For his part, Shahar Ilan of Hiddush says that most Jews distinguish between kashrut and the observation of Sabbath rules. “Only 20 percent of Israelis are keeping the Shabbat. Many more Israelis – I think about 50 or 60 percent but I’m not sure – want kashrut. A very big part of the Israeli public – and I think not only Israelis, also Jews in the world – want kosher food and don’t keep the Shabbat.”
But they both agree that at the end of the day, the law that was passed by the Knesset – a secular legislative body – doesn’t fully correspond to the requirements of the Jewish law. Said Ilan, “The Rabbinate has to decide: If they want monopoly based on Israeli secular law, they have to act according to the secular law. If they want to decide what’s kosher and what’s not kosher according to religious, let’s cancel the kosher law and decide that it will be a private area. Everyone will can sell kashrut like any other product, and the government won’t interfere.”
According to Religion News Service, Rabbi Uri Regev said of the decision, “The importance of our victory is twofold,…First, it will finally give the numerous Jewish and non-Jewish groups that visit Israel the freedom and respect which has been denied them,” and second, “it is an important lesson in the development of the rule of law in Israel, which emphasizes that the Chief Rabbinate is bound by Israeli law and is not above it.”
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