Shuk Machane Yehuda Report

Shuk Machane Yehuda Report

Started on:
10 Shvat 5769
February 4, 2009

Completed on motzei Shabbos:
Eve of 14 Shvat
February 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 before buying, even in a store that is familiar. The “Shuk” as Machane Yehuda has come to be known, is a maze of stores and stalls, offering an array 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 a selection 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 a matter of fact. To my dismay, this is not a matter of kosher verses mehadrin, but in some cases, it is a matter of simple kosher verses non-kosher.

Let me begin with a brief introduction which will undoubtedly serve to assist 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 certification and as is the case, there are a growing number of stalls selling their foods without a kashrut from the Rabbinate. For as long as they do not hang 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 businesses seem to be flourishing despite the fact that do not claim to be kosher. 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 a yarmulke (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 stuff being sold may not be kosher, and no one is breaking the law. That means for example, a store selling nuts and dried fruit does not have to concern himself with selling items that are not violation of many laws pertaining to Eretz Yisrael, including shmitah, orla, trumot and other tithes for example. The store own needn’t be concerned if the raisins he sells are coated with kosher or non-kosher oil, as is the case 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 chocolates from Germany and other European countries for example with liqueur fillings. These are items that are likely to present all kinds of kashrut 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 find the 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, there are still stores [as of this morning] with the expired Rabbanut heter mechira (http://tinyurl.com/bv8mok) teudot that ran out at the end of December. From my perspective, that means such a store does not have any supervision. The news certificates are out on display so these guys are not operating under supervision.

Then there are the stores with signs “mehadrin” and “badatz” (http://tinyurl.com/d92rfz) (http://tinyurl.com/dbr3cz)  both meaningless terms if not backed up by a teudah. Take Maadanei Bina (http://tinyurl.com/d92rfz) for example, located at the Agrippas end of Eitz Chaim St, [that’s the closed street]. His sign says “kosher mehadrin” but he does not have any teudah, not regular or mehadrin. Making things worse, the salesman is bearded, with long peyot (side locks) and always dressed in traditional ‘black and white’ chareidi garb. Also another deceptive reality is that one of the two showcases carried Badatz Eida Chareidit salads, giving the impression it is super 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 that Rabbi 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 to boom despite this, as I pointed out above.

I also saw people bringing prepared foods in pots from elsewhere on a number of occasions. When I asked where the food was being cooked I was reassured again. In the meantime, who gives supervision to the place? I guess Sami Mizrachi, the guy who runs the bogus Keter Kashrut who is now suing the Chief Rabbinate in the Supreme Court is the man supervising the place!

We enter Eitz Chaim Street walking towards Jaffa Street and on the left we see the humus store (http://tinyurl.com/d48bhv),  which displays a bogus expired hechsher [see the photo, inside on the wall, to the left of the soda refrigerator]. The hechsher is from Nachlat Yitzchak (a fake) and it expired in Elul, Rosh Hashanah time. No certification from the Jerusalem Rabbinate and even his fake teudah is expired. 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 a menu.

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 letter indicating the frozen cakes and burekas are under the supervision of Chatam Sofer. This DOES NOT represent a supervision from Chatam Sofer. I see the frozen boxes come in at times, and from what I have seen they are under the Chatam Sofer supervision, but you cannot really know this from the photocopied letter since without a teudah, there is no mashgiach to make sure. That is what a reliable supervision is about, doing the worrying for us.

Anyway, the major problem here is that if someone brings you his baked goods, his red-colored plastic shopping bags say “mehadrin” Rav Landau (Bnei Brak) and Chatam Sofer (I have reported this to Rafi Yochai in the Kashrut Fraud Division of the Chief Rabbinate (I have reported this to Rafi Yochai in the Kashrut Fraud Division of the Chief Rabbinate and was told he will take action and was told he will take action). This would lead you to believe [rightfully so] that the store has those supervisions, which it does not. He used to also have boxes with an Eida Chareidit seal from another bakery, but at least those are gone for now.

I can easily go on for pages but I cannot review each store, and they frequently change ownership so you, the shopper, must learn to seek out what is an acceptable kosher certificate. Yes, we may lament the fact that the Rabbinate is not ‘doing the job’ for a number of reasons, but at the end of the day, we are responsible for what we put into our bodies. I know parents who shop for children with different food allergies. They never rely on the store but read ingredients. Why not 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”, once again, possibly a meaningless claim made by the store unless there are current 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 BADATZ printed in large bold fonts on his sign (http://tinyurl.com/dbr3cz). Sorry folks, he did not have any supervision when I was there, not the Jerusalem 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, pickles and 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 place has 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 deceive shoppers, and it works. That does not mean his packaged Tzabar containers of humus are problematic, but it does not do much for many of his other items. He does have a Rabbanut hechsher, and if the items he sells are ok, then enjoy but the point is why the display with all the emblems of kashrut organizations? You tell me!

Directly opposite is a similar store and his yellow sign with red lettering (http://tinyurl.com/bp7htr) assures you the olives are Rav Landau or Beit Yosef. Meaningless once again since the sign is his, not that of a kashrut agency supervision. Who stands behind the statement? No one that represents a kashrut agency so perhaps his sign maker can assist you, I honestly do not know. Pardon my cynical remark but I am genuinely disgusted the painful situation, perhaps exacerbated by the lack of enforcement by the Rabbinate.

Are you beginning to get the picture? There is a difference between a legitimate sign informing you that a kashrut agency is being paid to worry for you, or a store owner using deceptive practices in misleading you into making a similar assumption while this is not the case. Perhaps more insulting is the guy without any supervision is charging you the same as a store with a supervision and a mashgiach, paying the extra money to do the right thing while the scam operators are pocketing the extra money since they are not even selling their goods 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 sign attesting to a proper supervision, the mashgiach of that agency is responsible to do all this checking for us. Perhaps we can look at a teudah 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 basic questions by the salesperson, rightfully so I might add. G-d forbid, some people with serious allergies may suffer an anaphylactic reaction to the smallest quantity of nuts. That is no joke.

Well let’s look at kashrus for a moment. Are you embarrassed to ask questions? If so why? If G-d forbid we eat something that is not what we believe it to be and it is something below our standard or worse, not kosher, isn’t that a type of spiritual anaphylactic reaction for our neshama? I am serious. It amazes me how we at times can go to great lengths to protect our bodies while the neshama is dragged along as an unwilling participant.

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

Take the new Aroma Café in the shuk at the corner of Machane Yehuda Street and Agrippas. It has a teudah from the Jerusalem Rabbanut, regular not mehadrin (http://tinyurl.com/bq897n).  See the photo – how well displayed the teudah is? More like a “Where’s Waldo” operation.  What is the name of the store on the certificate, the date of expiration, anything. You CANNOT SEE!

I checked and learned exactly what it says but if you want to know, go there and say “Can I see the teudah please?” I promise you they will point 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, they will stop hiding it.

A Few More Points:
Chachmat Burekas of Haifa (http://tinyurl.com/d94yts), located on Machane Yehuda Street, the open street, near Aroma. If you ask most people who eat there, they will tell you it is mehadrin. See the Jerusalem Rabbinate teudah (http://tinyurl.com/cuocrb) on the left side, the yellow one, it is legitimate. The letter on the right states that “sealed baked items are parve and dairy, under our mehadrin supervision”. The photocopied letter is presumably from the factory where they but their frozen stuff but you don’t know that, and I too do not. It also says the certificate, whatever place it applies to, only applies to sealed items in boxes and “does not apply to any opened packages”. In short, a meaningless photocopy from Chatam Sofer Petach 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! They are Jerusalem Rabbinate regular, and if that is cool with you, fine, but realize, it is not mehadrin and that makes a big difference to some. Some other little points if you are wondering if the place is regular of mehadrin, what difference can this make. Well, the burekas and pastries, their ingredients regarding chalav Yisrael, sifting flour and on and on. There is also the milk used for coffee, mehadrin or regular. I asked and the mint (nana) leaves for tea are generally not Gush Katif. Do you like bugs in your tea? I prefer not. Then there is the matter of the charif and techina made in the place. What ingredients, mehadrin, regular? Shmitah, heter mechira. The list is long and this is just one example of a place that does minimum cooking on the premises, all dairy and parve – we are not even dealing with meat which is far more complicated.

I cannot leave out my friend Jerusalem Steakhouse located at 101 Agrippas Street. It appears to be owned by a nice French fellow, who frequently is in the same mincha and maariv minyan with me. That is the point, he davens, wears a kippa, but has a bogus hechsher. His place advertises “mehadrin” (http://tinyurl.com/bddvvh) but in actuality, has a regular Jerusalem Rabbinate teudah with a bogus one next to it. That means he is regular kosher and no one ensures anything mehadrin about the place. This is a meat place, with many many fresh salads, lots of bug inspections to do, lots of rice inspection, lots of making sure of the meat and so on and so forth. I can only say I for one am pained that all the bogus signs write “mehadrin Beit Yosef meat”, which means nothing from them and perhaps compromises the true hechsher of the Badatz Beit Yosef, under the supervision of Maran Rav Ovadia Yosef Shlita, one of the leading Torah giants 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 store selling 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 following shmitah (http://tinyurl.com/bcvxcz)

Agudat Yisrael for a fruit stand – (http://tinyurl.com/ct5soz). Notice the 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 his sign, which is only valid because of the kashrut certificate to its right.

And now my dear friends, one of my favorites, a place that has absolutely NO KOSHER SUPERVISION whatsoever but if you know someone who goes there, they will tell you he is “Eida Chareidit” or “Beit Yosef”. The meaningless photocopy of a Beit Yosef is gone for now, but the Eida Chareidit one remains. This guy makes me sick—always changing his scam but never paying for a Jerusalem Rabbinate or other hechsher.

Nisan’s Café, located at 119 Jaffe Street, between Machane Yehuda and Eitz 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 Eida Chareidit  (http://tinyurl.com/ahsy4o).The sign reads as follows.

“Chazara Teva products are certified mehadrin only if the Badatz Eida Chareidit symbol appears on the closed boxes. They were checked and approved by our rabbis for use during the year, not Pessach. One must inspect 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 by weight, not in closed packages.
4.    How good is you eye? Enlarge the photo and take a look at the font on the line showing the expiration date. The Elul “5769” is a different font. Quite honestly, I am not that sharp but a few weeks ago, I took a photo, which I since lost so I cannot show you for comparison but my wife, Sharon, was with me and she was shocked when I showed her the bogus letter was not even current, expiring two years ago. They since changed the date to make it good for an additional few months, but the fonts of the letters of the Hebrew year do not even match 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 no kosher 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 get you to believe he is super kosher. This guy is out big time. The photocopied 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 and Jews are buying there, thinking they are eating kosher.

For me, this report is a major downer. The “shuk” has become a trap for the well-intended kosher consumer. It really is a maze and one must remain vigilant, always checking signs with each purchase. There is no easy way here.

Please, do not misinterpret this report. Eat whatever level of kosher that works for you but shop and eat as an informed kosher consumer. Do not let stores dupe you into something or mislead you into believing they are kosher certified when they are not — or mehadrin when they are not. You are paying prices for kosher and mehadrin, and should not settle for anything less. Start making noise and start buying at the legitimate 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 from Eretz Yisrael. The day is about a realization of the abundance of marvelous things that all come from Our Creator, a recognition of the wonderful bounty we enjoy in this world, but how much more significant when we make that bracha on something grown in Eretz Yisrael, in adherence to Jewish Law.

Shavua tov from Jerusalem,
Respectfully,
Yechiel Spira
Jerusalem Kosher News
Jerusalemkn@gmail.com

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