Chief Rabbinate apologizes after its Facebook account used to post insults

Chief Rabbinate apologizes after its Facebook account used to post insults

Social media users who commented on official page about removal of cafe’s kosher permit were told their parents are ‘primitive’ or to ‘shut up’; rabbinate says posts ‘unauthorized’

Illustrative: The building of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem. (Flash90)
Illustrative: The building of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem. (Flash90)

Social media users who recently protested the removal of a kosher certification from a Jerusalem cafe, posting comments on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Facebook page, received insulting answers from the official account.

Among the responses were one that told a user his parents were “primitive” and another that advised a user to just “shut up.”

The rabbinate later said the responses were not authorized and deleted them.

Users were commenting on a post by the rabbinate last week announcing that it had removed the kosher certification from the Kalo cafe in southern Jerusalem. Media reports at the time highlighted the fact that a key issue was that the cafe employed an Arab cook; however, the rabbinate stressed that the problem was a religious technicality that relates to a certain type of kitchen equipment and its use by a non-Jew.

One user, who highlighted that he had completed his doctoral studies, commented, “You are racists under the auspices of the law.”

In response, the rabbinate’s official account wrote, “And we thought that doctors are supposed to be smart.”

Another woman, identified in the report only as Yaara, was accused of being “really desperate to get a response.” After going on to belittle her religious education, the rabbinate account wrote, “A tip for next time: When you know nothing about a subject you really, really, don’t need to respond; you can shut up and pull the keyboard out of the socket.”

Another user suggested the rabbinate adjust itself to the modern world. “It is about time that you understand that halacha is not Plasticine [a modeling clay],” the rabbinate author wrote, referring to the body of traditional Jewish laws that include the basis of kosher regulations.

One user called the rabbinate “primitive” and was told, “Call your parents primitive, they taught you to be so rude.”

In a subsequent statement the rabbinate wrote, “Unauthorized use was made of the account. The responses have been deleted. We apologize to those who were hurt by the responses.”

The problem was traced to a rabbinate employee who had access to the official Facebook page but, when writing the responses, thought he was logged into his own personal account, according to a report from the Srugim website, which caters to the Orthodox community.

According to the report, the employee was disciplined and his administrative privileges on the official rabbinate page were revoked.

Screen capture of a letter sent to the Kalo cafe in Jerusalem by the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem, June 29, 2020. (Facebook)

The uproar started last week, when Yaakov Ben Elul, the owner of Kalo on Jerusalem’s Bethlehem Road, said a kosher supervisor who arrived at the restaurant demanded that the cook stop making omelettes.

For regular kosher certificates, the rabbinate demands, based on halacha, that only Jewish workers light the fire on the stove, but non-Jews are not prohibited from further cooking.

However, the restaurant recently installed an induction stovetop, apparently prompting the rabbinate supervisor to say that cook Mustafa could no longer use it at all as the heating coil turns on and off each time a pan is placed or removed from the surface.

“He was disrespecting my employee and telling him he couldn’t work here… and that he wanted to take the certificate,” Ben Elul told Jerusalem’s Kol Hair paper. “I told him, ‘If you don’t show respect here, I can’t respect you. You need to respect the man you are speaking to at least.’ So he told me, ‘I’m taking the certificate.’

Following media reports of the incident the rabbinate posted a follow-up message on its Facebook page saying, “We very much regret that the writer who published the information didn’t contact the rabbinate or check what was in fact going on,” and noting the issue with the induction stove.

On social media, calls grew for the public to support Kalo in light of the supervisor’s actions, with many seeing it as another example of the rabbinate’s overreach.

Critics have long contended that the rabbinate’s kashrut supervision system is poorly managed and riddled with corruption and kickbacks, and constitutes a bottleneck that helps drive up the cost of food.

Many opponents of the rabbinate’s monopoly, from liberal Jewish streams to some Israeli municipal rabbis, have also argued that the ritual status of food is a religious matter over which different traditions may disagree, and that the rabbinate’s control over the very term “kosher” in the Israeli public space therefore amounts to religious oppression by the state.

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