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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rabbinate won't let women in the kitchen -- as kashrut supervisors

The national-religious women's organization Emunah will ask the High Court of Justice to intervene if the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize female kashrut supervisors by the end of the week, the organization said in a statement.

The first class of 13 female kashrut supervisors graduated on Thursday, but they are unable to work in their field because they have not received official recognition from the rabbinate.

"There is no reason in the world, neither halachic nor procedural, to excuse the fact that the kashrut department of the Chief Rabbinate has been shirking and avoiding our repeated requests," Emunah chairwoman Liora Minka said in the statement. "Over an entire year they were unable to find the time to respond to such a basic request that was made through the proper channels."

Meanwhile, Army Radio unearthed a protocol of a meeting of the Chief Rabbinic Council from six months ago, in which IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz vociferously objects to women serving as kosher supervisors.

Peretz is on record saying that if women become kashrut supervisors, the phenomenon will spread to the IDF and have "dangerous repercussions."

The protocol further states that the issue of women serving as kosher supervisors had come up several times in meetings of the Chief Rabbinic Council but that no decision was made.

In the protocol, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu from Safed, who is a candidate for chief Sephardi rabbi, said, "In Safed there are several women who serve as kashrut supervisors and I don't see a problem with it."

On the other side, Rabbi Yehuda Deri, who is also running for Sephardi chief rabbi said, "I think this could be a slippery slope, and I object to women serving as kashrut supervisors."

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger actually supported the idea and said that kitchens mostly populated by women "would be more modest."

But Peretz said, "I am afraid that if this is approved in the civilian world it will also reach the IDF, and I am strongly opposed to that. Until now our supervisors have only been men, and the repercussions of employing women supervisors under military pressure are dangerous."

Six months ago, it was decided to establish a committee to investigate the issue. Sources inside the rabbinate told Army Radio that it was not expected to come to any conclusions soon.

Two weeks ago, Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett sent a warning letter to the director of the kashrut division of the rabbinate, Rabbai Yaakov Sabag. The letter describes the kashrut supervision course, which was in strict accordance with the curriculum outlined by the Chief Rabbinate, and even more rigorous than the rabbinate's guidelines. 

The course was 160 hours long and covered every topic relating to kashrut: from kashering meat to food technology, from tithing to hard liquor, among others.

Thirteen women successfully completed the course, but are unable to take the test and gain official state recognition, as usually happens with their male counterparts. The Emunah women's organization first approached the rabbinate 14 months ago.

The kashrut division has appointed a subcommittee to look into the issue. Emunah claims the subcommittee never met and Army Radio was unable to get a response from the rabbinate as to whether the committee had met or not.

The chairwoman of Emunah, Liora Minka, says that discrimination against women contravenes "the law of equal rights for women and the law of equal opportunity in employment. This is gender discrimination pure and simple."

Emunah cited a related High Court verdict 20 years ago on the training of female advocates in religious courts. Back then the rabbinate also ignored the women's requests for recogntion, but in the end the course received formal recognition.

"Several years ago no one believed that there would ever be female advocates in the religious courts," Minka said. "Today it's such a common sight, so accepted and such a daily occurrence, that's its hard to understand to what extent and why it aroused opposition."

Leading religious Zionist rabbis -- including Yaakov Ariel and Dov Lior -- have given their blessings to the women's kashrut supervision course. 

These rabbis have clarified that according to the halachic ruling of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a God-fearing woman who has made a comprehensive study of the laws and issues in kashrut is permitted work as a kashrut supervisor.

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