Religious tensions remained in Israel Thursday, July 16, after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a Jewish baker’s belief in Jesus Christ does not make her baked food unkosher.
In its verdict, the Court overturned a decision by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the country’s highest religious governing body, to remove the ‘kashrut‘, or Jewish dietary law, certificate because Pnina Conforti’s faith that Jesus is the Messiah.
Conforti, 51, said she was pleased with the decision. “I’ve been waiting for three years for this decision,” said Conforti, who added that without kosher certification her business had been failing. “Finally I won. This is my baby,” she told Israeli media.
Conforti said that when she opened her first bakery in Gan Yavne in 2002 she enjoyed impressive business success. But after her faith was publicized in an article in a Messianic Jewish magazine, she allegedly suffered from demonstrations outside her bakery and posters with her picture distributed throughout the city warning that she was a missionary.
As a result, Gan Yavne Chief Rabbi Meshumar Tzabari revoked her kashrut certificate. At the time she did not fight Tzabari, The Jerusalem Post news paper reported.
In 2006 she opened her second bakery shop in Ashdod. Initially she was granted a kashrut certificate, but when the Ashdod Rabbinate learned that she was a “Jew for Jesus”, also known as Messianic Jew, it also cancelled the permit.
Conforti appealed the decision with the Rabbinate, and was consequently invited for a hearing in which she was told that her kashrut certificate would be returned only if she agrees to employ a full-time kashrut supervisor who will get the keys to the business.
She was also not allowed to conduct missionary activities. Conforti argued that she did not actively proselytize. “But if someone shows an interest, I talk openly.”
Conforti petitioned the Supreme Court instead and claimed that her religious belief could not be used as a valid reason to revoke her kashrut certificate. The Rabbinate argued that since Konforti was an apostate, she cannot be considered trustworthy according to Jewish law.
In addition former customers and haredi anti-missionary groups began picketing her bakery. “I should be allowed to praise God in any way that I want,” said Conforty, who grew up in a traditional Yemenite family. “No one can force their religious beliefs on me.”
The Court agreed, apparently referring to a ruling handed down by the High Court two decades ago involving Ilana Raskin, an immigrant belly dancer from Philadelphia who enjoyed tremendous popularity in the late 1980s until Jerusalem’s chief rabbis ruled that food served in wedding halls and restaurants in which Raskin appeared was not kosher.
That High Court rejected the claim made by the Chief Rabbinate at the time that any owner whose immoral sensitivities were callous to the depravities of belly dancing could not be trusted to serve kosher food.
The Supreme Court ordered the Rabbinate to pay her 200,000 Israel New Shekels ($52,000) in legal fees and ordered the Rabbinate to issue Konforti a certificate as long as she adheres to the usual requirements.
“The Rabbinate’s conduct indicates that as far as it is concerned only Jews can receive this much coveted kashrut certificate,” the court said in a published ruling.
Her case has underscored concerns among Christians and rights watchers about growing tensions between minority Messianic Jewish believers and Orthodox Jewish groups. Several Messianic churches and groups have reported harassment in the country.