Sunday, February 15, 2009

israel kashrus # 2

Shuk Machane Yehuda ReportStarted on:10 Shvat 5769February 4, 2009Completed on motzei Shabbos:Eve of 14 ShvatFebruary 7, 2009

This report will attempt to present a picture to you; one that I hope will clearly demonstrate the need to read teudot kashrut beforebuying, even in a store that is familiar. The “Shuk” as Machane Yehudah as come to be known, is a maze of stores and stalls, offering anarray of fresh and packaged foods, raw and cooked. Along with this enticing assortment of shopping possibilities, comes a complex reality of kashrut, which in my humble opinion leaves a lot to be desired.

Today, the “shuk” has undertaken its new Soho ambience with aselection of cafes, further complicating the eating scene.First of all, before you can go any further, you must realize that the idiom “everything in Israel/Jerusalem is kosher” is simply NOT amatter of fact. To my dismay, this is not a matter of kosher versesmehadrin, but in some cases, it is a matter of simple kosher versesnon-kosher. Let me begin with a brief introduction which will undoubtedly serve toassist in our journey into the shuk.

Rafi Yochai, who heads the Chief Rabbinate Kashrut Fraud Division, explained a number of things to me.For one thing, a store does not have to have a kosher certificationand as is the case, there are a growing number of stalls selling theirfoods without a kashrut from the Rabbinate. For as long as they do nothang any signs claiming to be kosher, they have not broken any laws.In fact, at least from my observations, they do not need to state“kosher” since shoppers make a general assumption and their businessesseem to be flourishing despite the fact that do not claim to bekosher. I live near the shuk so I see guys walking around without a yarmulke, some driving on Shabbos, yet when they are behind the counter at work, they wear a yarmulke.

My point is that seeing ayarmulke (kippa) is meaningless.Please understand, this is not a criticism but an informative effort.I am trying to tell you that if you do not see a teudah, the stuffbeing sold may not be kosher, and no one is breaking the law. Thatmeans for example, a store selling nuts and dried fruit does not haveto concern himself with selling items that are not violation of manylaws pertaining to Eretz Yisrael, including shmitah, orla, trumot andother tithes for example. The store own needn’t be concerned if theraisins he sells are coated with kosher or non-kosher oil, as is thecase for “100% pure California seedless raisins”.

I am told the oil prevents them from sticking and adds a shine, as is the case with many apples by the way. He can sell whatever he wants and no one will be the wiser.One of the regular occurrences that irks me to no end is seeing the‘stumbling blocks’ that repeat themselves daily. Take the Eli Chaim Sweets store on Agrippas for example. They regularly open bars of chocolate and leave them out, broken pieces; realizing passers-by will often take a taste and decide to make a purchase. He is correct. I looked at the open bars on several occasions and I can testify that(1) they are often imported (2) do not necessarily have a hechsher (3)if they have a hechsher may not be chalav yisrael. These are just small examples. I frequently go inside and browse and find chocolatesf rom Germany and other European countries for example with liqueur fillings.

These are items that are likely to present all kinds ofkashrut problems, not to mention plain chocolate without a filling,which also requires a hechsher. He happens to carry a large assortment of traif stuff and if you go a number of stores over, you will findthe newly-remodeled wine store that has his share of traif wines too! Anyway, let’s begin shopping and see what we find. First of all, thereare still stores [as of this morning] with the expired Rabbanut hetermechira(http://tinyurl.com/bv8mok) teudot that ran out at the end ofDecember.

From my perspective, that means such a store does not haveany supervision. The news certificates are out on display so theseguys are not operating under supervision.Then there are the stores with signs “mehadrin” and “badatz”(http://tinyurl.com/d92rfz) (http://tinyurl.com/dbr3cz) bothmeaningless terms if not backed up by a teudah.

Take Maadanei Bina(http://tinyurl.com/d92rfz) for example, located at the Agrippas endof Eitz Chaim St, [that’s the closed street]. His sign says “koshermehadrin” but he does not have any teudah, not regular or mehadrin. Making things worse, the salesman is bearded, with long peyot (sidelocks) and always dressed in traditional ‘black and white’ chareidigarb. Also another deceptive reality is that one of the two show-cases carried Badatz Eida Chareidit salads, giving the impression it issuper kosher. The other showcase contains an array of take away foods,meat, chicken, salads and side dishes.

When I asked what the hechsher is, I was told “don’t worry, it’s all glatt, Beit Yosef, mehadrin”. After questioning why he doesn’t have any certificate if he is so “mehadrin”, he pulled out a somewhat dusty yet framed certificate of good old bogus Keter Kashrut. I cannot even say if it was current. I did not look too carefully. It appears thatRabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger’s crackdown on the bogus agency has prompted him to hide the certificate under the counter. He did not have one from the Jerusalem Rabbinate, and it appears, business continues toboom despite this, as I pointed out above.I also saw people bringing prepared foods in pots from elsewhere on anumber of occasions.

When I asked where the food was being cooked Iwas reassured again. In the meantime, who gives supervision to the place? I guess Sami Mizrachi, the guy who runs the bogus Keter Kashrutwho is now suing the Chief Rabbinate in the Supreme Court is the mansupervising the place!We enter Eitz Chaim Street walking towards Jaffa Street and on theleft we see the humus store (http://tinyurl.com/d48bhv), whichdisplays a bogus expired hechsher [see the photo, inside on the wall,to the left of the soda refrigerator].

The hechsher is from NachlatYitzchak (a fake) and it expired in Elul, Rosh Hashanah time. Nocertification from the Jerusalem Rabbinate and even his fake teudah isexpired. Quite pathetic but he knows no one bothers to look at the date – usually willing to see a sign in Hebrew and then asking for amenu.Almost directly opposite is the Pilas Bakery(http://tinyurl.com/d5mp7c) , selling burekas and cakes. He has a regular Jerusalem Rabbinate teudah, and shows a photocopied letterindicating the frozen cakes and burekas are under the supervision ofChatam Sofer.

This DOES NOT represent a supervision from Chatam Sofer.I see the frozen boxes come in at times, and from what I have seenthey are under the Chatam Sofer supervision, but you cannot reallyknow this from the photocopied letter since without a teudah, there isno mashgiach to make sure. That is what a reliable supervision isabout, doing the worrying for us. Anyway, the major problem here is that if someone brings you his bakedgoods, his red-colored plastic shopping bags say “mehadrin” Rav Landau(Bnei Brak) and Chatam Sofer (I have reported this to Rafi Yochai inthe Kashrut Fraud Division of the Chief Rabbinate (I have reportedthis to Rafi Yochai in the Kashrut Fraud Division of the ChiefRabbinate and was told he will take action and was told he will takeaction).

This would lead you to believe [rightfully so] that the storehas those supervisions, which it does not. He used to also have boxeswith an Eida Chareidit seal from another bakery, but at least thoseare gone for now.I can easily go on for pages but I cannot review each store, and theyfrequently change ownership so you, the shopper, must learn to seekout what is an acceptable kosher certificate. Yes, we may lament thefact that the Rabbinate is not ‘doing the job’ for a number ofreasons, but at the end of the day, we are responsible for what we putinto our bodies. I know parents who shop for children with differentfood allergies.

They never rely on the store but read ingredients. Whynot become accustomed to doing the same with kashrut teudot?Let’s looks at Birchat Yonatan’s store (http://tinyurl.com/brvbpb),who sells Shamir salads, the sign reads “Mehadrin – Badatz”, onceagain, possibly a meaningless claim made by the store unless there arecurrent valid teudot inside attesting to the statement. The buzz words“badatz” stand for Beit din Tzedek. “Badatz” alone means ZERO . There are many legitimate badatz agencies and shoppers may select whatever works for them. Some examples would include Rabbanut mehadrin, Belz, Agudat Yisrael, Sheirit Yisrael, and Eida Chareidit.

Let’s now overlook Pitzuchei Shimshon [located between Eitz Chaim St.and Machane Yehuda St] (who paid extra money to have the words BADATZprinted in large bold fonts on his sign (http://tinyurl.com/dbr3cz).Sorry folks, he did not have any supervision when I was there, not theJerusalem Rabbinate or anyone else, just his large sign. Now, outside on the open street, Machane Yehuda Street, we find Boneh,who sells salads by the kilo and packaged; as well as olives, picklesand cold cuts. I buy here from time-to-time, but most of what he sells does not work for me.

The point however - look at his sign – the placehas an emblem of most major mehadrin supervisions (http://tinyurl.com/bxlxqq).What does it mean, not a thing but I believe it is intended to deceiveshoppers, and it works. That does not mean his packaged Tzabarcontainers of humus are problematic, but it does not do much for manyof his other items. He does have a Rabbanut hechsher, and if the itemshe sells are ok, then enjoy but the point is why the display with allthe emblems of kashrut organizations? You tell me!Directly opposite is a similar store and his yellow sign with redlettering(http://tinyurl.com/bp7htr) assures you the olives are Rav Landau orBeit Yosef. Meaningless once again since the sign is his, not that ofa kashrut agency supervision. Who stands behind the statement?

No onethat represents a kashrut agency so perhaps his sign maker can assistyou, I honestly do not know. Pardon my cynical remark but I amgenuinely disgusted the painful situation, perhaps exacerbated by thelack of enforcement by the Rabbinate. Are you beginning to get the picture? There is a difference between alegitimate sign informing you that a kashrut agency is being paid toworry for you, or a store owner using deceptive practices inmisleading you into making a similar assumption while this is not thecase. Perhaps more insulting is the guy without any supervision ischarging you the same as a store with a supervision and a mashgiach,paying the extra money to do the right thing while the scam operatorsare pocketing the extra money since they are not even selling theirgoods any cheaper.

You are being ripped off as is your neshama!Not everyone with a yarmulke, black, knitted or any type necessarily knows enough of the laws to run a proper place. When there is a signattesting to a proper supervision, the mashgiach of that agency isresponsible to do all this checking for us. Perhaps we can look at ateudah as a spiritual license to operate a food business.I dare say that if you were highly allergic to nuts as many people are, you would never purchase a cake without first running some basicquestions by the salesperson, rightfully so I might add. G-d forbid,some people with serious allergies may suffer an anaphylactic reactionto the smallest quantity of nuts. That is no joke.Well let’s look at kashrus for a moment. Are you embarrassed to askquestions? If so why? If G-d forbid we eat something that is not whatwe believe it to be and it is something below our standard or worse,not kosher, isn’t that a type of spiritual anaphylactic reaction forour neshama? I am serious. It amazes me how we at times can go togreat lengths to protect our bodies while the neshama is dragged alongas an unwilling participant.

I will list a few more examples here with cross references to URLs tophotos to drive the point home. I reiterate here that I am neither arabbi nor a Torah scholar, just someone who is truly fed up seeingpeople being duped into eating things they would ordinarily not eat,with an emphasis on visitors from abroad, who in many cases have theadditional challenge of navigating the Hebrew signs. People work onthe assumption that store owners are all honest, all know theintricacies of kashrut, and would never deceive us. If this assumptionwas not so, we would all be looking for the teudot, perhaps exhibitingan increased vigilance regarding kashrut.

Take the new Aroma Café in the shuk at the corner of Machane YehudaStreet and Agrippas. It has a teudah from the Jerusalem Rabbanut,regular not mehadrin(http://tinyurl.com/bq897n). See the photo – how well displayed theteudah is? More like a “Where’s Waldo” operation. What is the name ofthe store on the certificate, the date of expiration, anything. YouCANNOT SEE!I checked and learned exactly what it says but if you want to know, gothere and say “Can I see the teudah please?” I promise you they willpoint to the barely visible laminated document and then you must say,“I cannot see it. Please take it out”. If enough of us do that, theywill stop hiding it.A Few More Points:Chachmat Burekas of Haifa (http://tinyurl.com/d94yts), located onMachane Yehuda Street, the open street, near Aroma. If you ask mostpeople who eat there, they will tell you it is mehadrin. See theJerusalem Rabbinate teudah (http://tinyurl.com/cuocrb) on the leftside, the yellow one, it is legitimate.

The letter on the right states that “sealed baked items are parve and dairy, under our mehadrinsupervision”. The photocopied letter is presumably from the factorywhere they but their frozen stuff but you don’t know that, and I toodo not. It also says the certificate, whatever place it applies to,only applies to sealed items in boxes and “does not apply to anyopened packages”. In short, a meaningless photocopy from Chatam SoferPetach Tikvah. NOT A KASHRUT HECSHER!Their bags, paper and plastic (http://tinyurl.com/dfb75y) by the way,do say “mehadrin – Chatam Sofer” which in essence, they are not! Theyare Jerusalem Rabbinate regular, and if that is cool with you, fine,but realize, it is not mehadrin and that makes a big difference tosome.

Some other little points if you are wondering if the place isregular of mehadrin, what difference can this make. Well, the burekasand pastries, their ingredients regarding chalav Yisrael, siftingflour and on and on. There is also the milk used for coffee, mehadrinor regular. I asked and the mint (nana) leaves for tea are generallynot Gush Katif. Do you like bugs in your tea? I prefer not. Then thereis the matter of the charif and techina made in the place. Whatingredients, mehadrin, regular? Shmitah, heter mechira. The list islong and this is just one example of a place that does minimum cookingon the premises, all dairy and parve – we are not even dealing withmeat which is far more complicated.I cannot leave out my friend Jerusalem Steakhouse located at 101Agrippas Street. It appears to be owned by a nice French fellow, whofrequently is in the same mincha and maariv minyan with me. That isthe point, he davens, wears a kippa, but has a bogus hechsher. Hisplace advertises “mehadrin” (http://tinyurl.com/bddvvh) but inactuality, has a regular Jerusalem Rabbinate teudah with a bogus onenext to it. That means he is regular kosher and no one ensuresanything mehadrin about the place.

This is a meat place, with manymany fresh salads, lots of bug inspections to do, lots of riceinspection, lots of making sure of the meat and so on and so forth. Ican only say I for one am pained that all the bogus signs write“mehadrin Beit Yosef meat”, which means nothing from them and perhapscompromises the true hechsher of the Badatz Beit Yosef, under thesupervision of Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef Shlita, one of the leading Torahgiants of the generation.Here are some of the legitimate signs you may see in the shuk,hopefully to assist you to become familiar with them and thereby,making you a bit keener and sharper to the fakes.Rav Machpud Shlita – Mehadrin Yoreh Deah. This one is from a storeselling nuts and dried fruits. (http://tinyurl.com/dkvpfc)Belz – Badatz Machzikei Hadas mehadrin from the Belzer Rebbe Shlita –from a Levy Shwarma on Agrippas, opposite Jerusalem Shwarma. (http://tinyurl.com/d2b6qq)Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate regular kosher for fruit stands followingshmitah(http://tinyurl.com/bcvxcz)Agudat Yisrael for a fruit stand – (http://tinyurl.com/ct5soz). Noticethe mashgiach comes in daily, and changes the date to keep it current,informing us, the consumer that he has taken trumot and ma’asrot.

There are also Badatz Sheirit Yisrael (from Bnei Brak) (http://tinyurl.com/cth53z) and Badatz Eida Chareidit of Jerusalem (http://tinyurl.com/d843tr) , in this case, with the Eida store, showing hissign, which is only valid because of the kashrut certificate to itsright.And now my dear friends, one of my favorites, a place that hasabsolutely NO KOSHER SUPERVISION whatsoever but if you know someonewho goes there, they will tell you he is “Eida Chareidit” or “BeitYosef”. The meaningless photocopy of a Beit Yosef is gone for now, butthe Eida Chareidit one remains. This guy makes me sick—always changinghis scam but never paying for a Jerusalem Rabbinate or otherhechsher.Nisan’s Café, located at 119 Jaffe Street, between Machane Yehuda andEitz Chaim St. by the shuk (http://tinyurl.com/ar5afh) .

Look at his handy work, the latest attempt to deceive you, the kosher consumer,into believing he is under the supervision of the Badatz EidaChareidit(http://tinyurl.com/ahsy4o).The sign reads as follows.“Chazara Teva products are certified mehadrin only if the Badatz EidaChareidit symbol appears on the closed boxes. They were checked andapproved by our rabbis for use during the year, not Pessach. One mustinspect the product prior to use to make certain there are no bugs.This certificate is valid until Elul 5769.”

What is wrong?
1. It is a photocopy and therefore meaningless.
2. What does the ‘Chazara Teva’ company have to do with Nisan’s Café?
3. Even if he sells their stuff, it refers ONLY to closed packages,not the endless assortment of dried leaves and teas he sells byweight, not in closed packages.
4. How good is you eye? Enlarge the photo and take a look at the fonton the line showing the expiration date. The Elul “5769” is adifferent font. Quite honestly, I am not that sharp but a few weeksago, I took a photo, which I since lost so I cannot show you forcomparison but my wife, Sharon, was with me and she was shocked when Ishowed her the bogus letter was not even current, expiring two yearsago. They since changed the date to make it good for an additional fewmonths, but the fonts of the letters of the Hebrew year do not evenmatch the rest of the words in the line.You may now ask, “So what’s wrong with a cup of coffee here?”

There can be a lot wrong but for me, enough that the guy first of all has nokosher certification, so how can I drink anything here? In addition,he is trying to pull the rug out from under your feet by trying to getyou to believe he is super kosher. This guy is out big time. Thephotocopied letter used to say Beit Yosef but that one is gone now.There are stores in the shuk that have non-Jews operating them,perhaps owners too, I do not know, lacking any kosher supervision andJews are buying there, thinking they are eating kosher.For me, this report is a major downer. The “shuk” has become a trapfor the well-intended kosher consumer. It really is a maze and one
must remain vigilant, always checking signs with each purchase. Thereis no easy way here.Please, do not misinterpret this report. Eat whatever level of kosherthat works for you but shop and eat as an informed kosher consumer. Donot let stores dupe you into something or mislead you into believingthey are kosher certified when they are not -- or mehadrin when theyare not. You are paying prices for kosher and mehadrin, and should notsettle for anything less. Start making noise and start buying at thelegitimate stores.

Perhaps the others will catch on.Let’s try to end on a positive note!Enjoy Tu B’Shvat and try to get something to make a bracha on fromEretz Yisrael. The day is about a realization of the abundance ofmarvelous things that all come from Our Creator, a recognition of thewonderful bounty we enjoy in this world, but how much more significantwhen we make that bracha on something grown in Eretz Yisrael, inadherence to Jewish Law.Shavua tov from Jerusalem,Respectfully,Yechiel SpiraJerusalem
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