Messianic baker still fighting for rights, even after court ruled in her favor

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 |  Adv. Michael Decker - Guest Legal Commentator

On the 9th of November 2009, Ms. Pnina Komforti, a Messianic Jewish believer from Ashdod, finally could breath a sigh of relief, as Justice Dorit Beinisch rejected the petition of the Chief Rabbinate of Ashdod for an additional hearing in regards to the court decision that was given on the 26th of June 2009, which ordered the Chief Rabbinate of Ashdod to grant a Kashrut license to the bakery that is managed by Ms. Pnina Komforti, as her religious beliefs have no effect on the food being kosher or not.

The Supreme Court ruled that section 11 of the Kashrut Fraud Prohibition Act authorizes the relevant authorities to deny a kashrut license based on "kashrut issues" only, and no other considerations. Furthermore and based on previous Supreme Court rulings, Justice Eliezer Rivlin ruled that section 11 of the Kashrut Fraud Prohibition Act is only relevant to "hard core" kashrut matters, i.e. the kashrut of the food that is being served, and not the entities' religious beliefs and/or actions.

It is important to mention that additional hearings are only granted in very extraordinary situations, according to section 30 (b) of the Courts Act, which states that the Supreme Court may agree to perform an additional hearing if the ruling that was made is contradictory to previous Supreme Court rulings, or if the Supreme Court ruling deals with a very difficult and important new interpretation of a precedent.

According to Justice Dorit Beinisch, the decision that was made by Justice Eliezer Rivlin on the 26th of June was coherent with many previous Supreme Court decisions and does not justify an additional hearing. In light of the above, it is very surprising to me that the state attorney's office joined the petition of the Chief Rabbinate of Ashdod in requesting an additional hearing, and raises questions in and of itself. However, I am thankful that the Supreme Court in Israel (the judicial authority) is independent from the executive and the legislative authorities, who unfortunately tend to make decisions based on political agreements which do not collaborate with the basic values of Israel's founding fathers, such as, the basic principle of religious freedom in Israel.

In Israel, any person (citizen or foreigner), who has been mistreated by the Israeli government, can petition against such a government decision and question it in the various administrative courts, and these courts are independent to rule without fearing the other existing government authorities. This, in my opinion, is one of the key factors that maintain Israel as a strong and thriving democracy within the Middle East, and I hope that various factors within the Israeli society that are attempting to limit the judicial authority will not succeed.

UPDATE: Following the publication of Mike Decker’s article, Pnina Conforty’s attorney, Eliad Shraga, petitioned the Supreme Court to find the Chief Rabbinate of Ashdod in contempt of court for failing to comply with its earlier rulings. Six months after the original ruling, Mrs. Conforty is still waiting for her kosher certificate, and is losing business as a result.

Unfortunately, the usual fear of upsetting Israel’s Orthodox establishment too much was evident in the court’s response to the petition. On Monday, Israel’s Supreme Court said that its earlier rulings still applied, but that Mrs. Conforty would have to comply with the rabbinate’s request that she file a new kosher certificate application.

Shraga called the request a stalling tactic by the Chief Rabbinte of Ashdod, which he believes has no intention of ever granting a kosher certificate to Mrs. Conforty.

Religious sources acknowledged that Conforty will not receive the kosher certificate unless she agrees to have an Orthodox kosher supervisor that she must pay the salary of present at her bakery at all times. Conforty rejected that condition when it was raised earlier, and won the court’s backing.

Michael Decker has a B.A. in law and is a licensed attorney in Israel. Michael also works at the law offices of Yehuda Raveh & Co. and serves as Senior Legal Advisor to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice.

For further inquiries regarding the issues mentioned in this article, please do not hesitate to contact Michael Decker at decker@yraveh.co.il.

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