Sunday, February 5, 2012
I'm a little behind (2 or 3 weeks or so) on writing about this one but I couldn't resist. As reported in the Jerusalem Post on January 10, 2012, The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has issued a ruling stating that Häagen-Dazs ice cream is no longer Kosher in Israel. The ruling states that if stores and outlets with Kosher certification carry the products, they could risk losing their Kosher certification. As a result, many stores, including major Israeli supermarket chain "Shopersol," have pulled their Häagen-Dazs products in compliance with this edict.
I have to point out that I have been trying to eat very limited quantities of ice cream (not for any Kosher-related reasons...). If I do feel like some super premium ice cream, I would probably rather have some of Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk or Cherry Garcia. But others might prefer Häagen-Dazs, which is not only supervised by the OU - the largest American Kosher certification body - but has been sold in Israel for many years, as Kosher, without any difficulties.
The Rabbinate's Kosher department claims that since the milk used in Häagen-Dazs ice cream is real milk and it is not supervised at all times by Jews, there is a risk that other impermissible products (such as pig's milk or other additives) might have been added to the milk. Yet the OU and most other authorities accept the fact that with very stringent government regulation of milk in the United States, Häagen-Dazs only uses pure cow's milk. Further, this ice cream has been sold in Israel for years, while being manufactured the very same way. Strangely enough, the Israeli Rabbinate is fine with the use of powdered milk rather than real milk, which, for some inexplicable reason, does not create the risk of the same problem.
What is this really about? Who knows. Perhaps there was some dispute between General Mills and the Israeli Rabbinate over fees. Or perhaps some large Israeli dairies and ice cream producers got to the Rabbinate and "suggested" this ban. Or it could simply be part of a trend of the radicalization of Rabbinical rulings in Israel in a number of different areas, ranging from women's singing, to green vegetables to conversions.
Tellingly, when asked what Häagen-Dazs ice cream lovers in Israel should do if they crave their favourite ice cream, Rabbi Rafi Yochai of the Kosher departement responded that Israelis should "love God more than ice cream." What he really should have said is that Israelis should be willing to love the Chief Rabbinate of Israel more than ice cream - to jump whenever they say jump and to ask "how high?." After all, there is really nothing to suggest that God has suddenly developed a problem with Häagen-Dazs.
In my view, this is related to the type of stringencies that other communities have put in place regarding green vegetables as covered so nicely in David Kraemer's book, Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages. It is a further effort by the Chief Rabbinate to extend its authority and control over a wider range of Israeli society.
If the ice cream is deemed to be Kosher but not "mehadrin" or some higher level of Kosher, Israeli consumers should be left to make their own determination as to whether "Kosher" is good enough. The product can be sold as Kosher but not "Chalav Yisroel" as it is in other places. But this is apparently not good enough for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
What is needed in Israel to prevent this type of abuse of authority is competition. For one thing, Israel should disband the office of the Chief Rabbinate as a government arm. This should apply to the regulation of weddings (where the Chief Rabbinate also currently enjoys a monopoly), funerals, brit Milah, divorces and other areas, including conversion. Secondly, Israel should allow for competing Kosher certifying bodies which can set their own appropriately strict standards. Those consumers who only wish to buy ingredients that are under the highest level of supervision and the strictest possible interpretation can make all of their purchases in Mea She'arim or B'nei Brak. The rest of us should be free to purchase reasonably supervised Kosher products throughout Israel. Leave it to us to decide whether we have to agree with some rabbi's latest, strictest possible, newly dreamt up basis for banning a currently available food item.