I once read a blog post by an American on an extended visit to Israel, raving about how much easier it is to keep kosher in Israel than in the US. True, a variety of kosher food is available just about everywhere in Israel. But keeping kosher in Israel is far from simple.
Lately we have been shopping at Aleph, one of the haredi chains. They tend to focus more on basic items and family-sized packages. The disadvantage is that meat and dairy products with a mehadrin/haredi supervision are much more expensive. But a few years ago Aleph added a selection of meat and dairy products under the supervision of the Israeli rabbinate.
Another issue with products under haredi supervision is that they often contain more fillers and sugars than those with the standard supervision, in order to make the price attractive to haredi families with less disposable income. Examples include “Danuba” mehadrin yogurt, which contains added starch, and Telma Shefa Cornflakes, which contain more sugar than Telma Cornflakes. It pays to read labels.
The brakes on our car began acting up during Pesach, and we are awaiting a replacement part by airmail. My husband takes the bus to work and I avoid carpool arrangements on principle, but shopping is a hassle. Last week I took the bus to one store only to discover, at the checkout, that they don’t deliver. Fortunately I ran into a neighbor who gave me a ride home. The other day I put out an SOS to some friends and E. replied that she was planning to go shopping and would be happy to take me along.
Since E. once referred to me as someone who “writes a blog for new olim (immigrants),” I guess it’s appropriate to use our trip to share some examples of unusual things a kosher consumer might find in an Israeli supermarket.
E. took me to a large chain store that I used to visit regularly. Because some items were much cheaper than at Aleph, I used to alternate between the stores every few weeks to stock up on cheaper items. But at one point I stopped because the price on those items came down in Aleph. I see now that that was a mistake; canned goods, for example, are significantly cheaper at the store we visited this week.
Since I was last there, the store, along with most of the city’s supermarkets, lost its rabbinic supervision. The local rabbinate, known for its zealousness (it refuses to certify restaurants for Passover if they serve legumes), withdrew supervision for any store selling a popular brand of meat. The rabbinate claimed to have found serious irregularities in the factory. This has since been resolved, but the rabbinate also refuses to certify stores that rely on the heter mechirah during this sabbatical year. Some of the fresh food counters did have a kashrut certificate, and most products come in packages sealed by the manufacturer. But there are still issues.
Take this package of chicken wings. It looks like the frozen pieces were taken out of a box, placed on a tray, and wrapped in plastic. The Tnuva sticker was almost certainly slapped on by a store worker. And without supervision on the store itself, I have no assurance that the chicken came from where the label says it does.
Here’s another concern for the kosher shopper. Note this sign on the freezer display:
The animal from which this cut of meat was taken has been slaughtered properly according to Jewish law, but not “kashered.” Kashering meat involves soaking, salting and rinsing the meat in order to remove the blood. Hardly anyone soaks and salts meat at home; I’ve never done it, because the kosher butchers and meat-packers take care of it. Presumably the people buying it here prefer it because it’s cheaper than kashered meat, and they don’t keep kosher anyway.
This pitfall has nothing to do with kashrut:
The label reads “GROUND CHICKEN: From superior ground chicken meat.” The smaller letters read, “With the addition of vegetable protein.” If you want to know what percentage is meat, forget it. The label won’t help you here. Instead, a notice warns consumers to eat the product only when fully cooked; I saw this on other products as well. I’m guessing this is a new well-meaning law on the books, like the one requiring every product containing gluten to be labelled as such. That law backfired, because companies afraid of lawsuits by the gluten-sensitive public began putting the labels on everything.
Then I went to look at the frozen vegetables. My husband still doesn’t like me to buy “heter mechirah” produce (sigh) so I had to read the fine print here too:
The one on the left says it is kosher “according to heter mechirah” and the one on the left says that it’s “yevul shishit,” meaning that it comes from the produce of the sixth year. (It also has an extra “Badatz” kashrut symbol.) I once noticed a similar sign on a can of tomato paste several years after shmittah. it must have been the second or third year of the sabbatical cyle, so I thought the product was a few years old. Later realized that I wasn’t meant to take the mention of the sixth year literally; it simply indicated that the produce was not from the problematical seventh year of the sabbatical cycle.
At that point E. reminded me that we needed to check that the store had sold its chametz. One may not eat leavened foods that were in the possession of a Jew over the Passover holiday. There are some products I generally buy in the shuk (open-air market), such as burgul (bulgur) wheat, but not immediately after Pesach; I only buy burgul, flour, pasta, and oats in a store that has sold its chametz. So while E. finished up her shopping I located the following sign:
This assures the customers that the chametz was properly sold. However, the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) emphasizes that he cannot vouch for the kashrut of the store or any of its products, either on Pesach or year-round.
I half-expected a store worker to ask me why I was taking pictures. After all, this store used to have a sign at the entrance warning customers against writing down prices. But no one seemed to care.
I’ve only touched superficially on some of the kashrut issues and I hope that my less knowledgeable readers were able to follow.
Many thanks to E. for shlepping me and my groceries, and for vicariously contributing to this post. And join me in wishing her mazal tov on marrying off her oldest son.