Monday, December 20, 2010

Kosher Conversations: Among Friends & Family & a Falafel Chef

  Kosher stamps indicate rabbinical approval. These are printed on every food item in Israel. Only a small percentage of the food consumed in Israel is sold without Kosher approval.  

Kosher food conversations hover in the background here in Israel. Hover because the definition of what is kosher means different things to different people. Hover lightly not heated debates, not bitter complaints, just a faded blurt "that's how it is". In it's core, Israeli food is kosher, for secular Israelis as much as for Orthodox Israelis. The conversations hover because of what kosher has become in a modern Jewish state (it is strange and bristly issue.) To secular Jews kosher means not eating pork and keeping milk and meat separate. How separate one keeps the two is one topic of conversation. Kosher also means rabbis inspecting restaurants and shops assuring milk products are not stored together or mixed in cooking with meat. Kosher inspection is a big business for the rabbinical inspection authorities. Tamir, a small falafel stand owner started out paying 300 shekels a year for his Kosher certification. That was eight years ago. Then he sold Falafel and coffee. Basically nothing that needed inspection. He added schnitzels (fried chicken breast) to his stand, which increased his income three fold. (previously he did not have meat or milk, just vegetables which are called "parve".) The kosher inspector raised his inspection fees by 50% every year, now reaching over 8,000 shekels a year. Tamir, pays the fees without any official complaints, what else can he do? He estimates that 15% of his clients come because he has a kosher certificate. The inspector has not shown up at his stand for five years. Even if he did show up in a surprise inspection, nothing would cause the old Falafel stand to lose it's kosher certification.