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No Such Thing As Anti-Zionist Kashrus

Aryeh Ehrlich

The striped Jerusalemite garb, long beards, and flowing peyos are in stark contrast to the cutting-edge technology of the gadgets they oversee. A trip to the offices of the Vaad HaKashrus of the Badatz Eida HaChareidis, Israel’s largest private kashrus agency, whose logo is one of the most easily identified kashrus symbols in the world, revealed a surprising combination of age-old Yerushalmi values with twenty-first century technology.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The regional kashrus coordinator picked his head up from the samples he was analyzing when he heard a “ping.” The sharp sound startled him so that it almost knocked the burning cigarette — a trademark of veteran Yerushalmim — out of his hand. He walked over to the window and cautiously parted the old, brown-striped curtain, just as another pebble arced straight to the window of his office on the upper floor of the Eida HaChareidis’s “Zupnik” building complex on Strauss Street in Jerusalem.

Down below, demonstrators were clashing with police. Nu, a normal scene in these parts. While the Eida leaders eschew violence, over the past year, many zealots have ignored their declarations for peaceful demonstrations and taken action on their own. The kashrus coordinator, himself a member of one of Jerusalem’s most extreme subgroups, looked on in dread. We’re all going to pay for this, he thought.

Yet despite his fears – and despite a boycott campaign spearheaded by Nachum Barnea, a leading secular columnist in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot -- the Badatz’s kashrus operations have continued full force. Even in a tumultuous year, when many associated the image of the uncompromising Badatz with demonstrations and intolerance, the ornate Badatz kashrus symbol maintained its unquestioned respect throughout Israeli society – and the world.


Between Zealotry and Kashrus

On the first floor of the Eida headquarters in Jerusalem’s Zupnik building, kana’us, zealous fervor, is disseminated. But although the ideological leadership of the Eida is inseparably linked to its kashrus certification arm, that kashrus department stays conspicuously out of politics.

Even if every grave in Ashkelon will, chalilah, be dug up, and Eida HaChareidis rabbis will be arrested in Yaffo, the Kashrus Committee will continue to produce kashrus, not kana’us. “We are a kashrus agency only, in the full sense of the word,” the Eida heads are careful to tell potential mashgichim who might think the job has more action than work. Zealotry, they say, must be reserved for other venues.

For example, the Eida recently affixed its hechsher to a special run of Bamba produced in honor of Israel’s Independence Day. Similarly, a picture of the “Zionist” flag appeared on a package of plastic cups emblazoned with the Eida logo. How could the Badatz affix its seal to a package flaunting the flag?

Rabbi Gavriel Pappenheim, executive director of the Badatz, said he ignored the Zionist symbol based on a ruling by Rabbi Gershon Stemmer, z”l, the former hard-line chairman of the board of the Eida HaChareidis who gave the Badatz its reputation for kana’us during his years at its helm. When the question of the cup packaging arose, Rabbi Stemmer, who headed the Badatz until his passing three years ago, was told that packaging worth half a million shekels had already been produced. “If so, then it’s bal tashchis to destroy it,” Rav Stemmer ruled, although his objection to the State and its symbols was among the most extreme.

Since Rabbi Pappenheim has taken the reigns of Badatz in his hands, the kashrus agency has become one of the most profitable financial enterprises in the country. The network, which in years preceding his arrival was managed poorly, has been transformed into a commercial company that turns over millions of shekels a year —  and every shekel is reported to the Israeli tax authorities, ideological opposition notwithstanding. “You won’t catch them breaking a single tax rule,” one secular warrior against the Eida HaChareidis grudgingly concedes.

“We contribute millions of shekels a year to the state,” one staffer says as he walks down the hall. “Show me another chareidi entity that pays so much in taxes to the State.”

The proper management regulations are so strictly enforced that — in accordance with Zionist laws — a yungerman who does not have an active army deferment will not be hired as a mashgiach. Some young men who have the more basic yeshivah student deferrals have decided to do short army stints in order to be accepted as mashgichim in the anti-Zionist organization.


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