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Induction Stovetop Causes Kashrut Outrage in Jerusalem

By Gldmeier @gldmeier
A new kashrut scandal hit the media yesterday when Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer reported that a Rabbanut mashgiach (actually fro the Jerusalem Moatza Hadatit) went in to the KALO restaurant, a restaurant that has been open and kosher for 25 years, and took away the teudat kashrut. According to the report, the mashgiach saw the Arab chef and insisted that the chef be fired. When the owner refused to fire the chef, the mashgiach threatened to remove the kashrut - the owner than took the certificate off the wall and handed it over.
 Right away this led to screams about chumrs and racism.
One claim was that the Rabbanut is changing its policy regarding bishul akum - non-Jews cooking. According to mehadrin standards, only a Jew can do the cooking, but according to regular Rabbanut standards a non-Jew can cook as long as the Jew lights the fire, in accordance with the halacha of bishul akum according to the Rama. This has been the situation until now, but suddenly the Rabbanut was disallowing it.
The second claim is that the Rabbanut is racist and just wanted the Arab chef fired. This claim seems extremely far fetched. Restaurants all over the place have Arabs employed as cooks, and if this was a new policy, it would not just be happening in one restaurant.
Upon further review and discussion, it turns out that the restaurant owner just recently bought a new stovestop for the restaurant. The new stovetop is an induction stovetop, and that is the source of the problem. I never really paid attention to the induction trend, as it seemed like a bother that was not worth it, but doing some research told me that induction works using magnets and whatnot and is not a traditional method of cooking. You need special pots that when place don the induction burner it "lights the fire", so to speak, as there is no fire. When the pot is removed it turns off.
This induction method causes all sorts of halachic difficulties. There are questions of bishul akum, along with questions of how to kasher, such as for Pesach, such ovens and stovetops. The major kashrut agencies in the USA seem to recommend staying away from induction cookers to avoid the difficulties.. It does seem to be a machlokes as to whether this is considered halachic cooking or not, as no fire is involved. The major USA kashrut agencies seem to be machmir and say it should be considered cooking and therefore bishul akum is a problem, as a Jew turning it on to start with does not help because every time the pot is picked up and put down it turns the stovetop off and back on, and that would be done by the gentile.
I did see a suggestion employed by the Orthodox Union in affiliated restaurants. They say a certian metal plate can be placed on the burner that would activate the magnets and keep the "fire" on. The pot would be placed on that metal plate for cooking. With the fire staying on because of the metal plate, this would avoid the bishul akum problem. I do not know if perhaps leaving the metal plate on the stovetop all the time and thereby leaving the "fire" on all the time would burn the stovetop out much quicker, or if it affects the cooking by having the metal plate there rather than cooking directly on the stovetop. I saw an opinion from the Star K that was not clear but seemed to say Rav Heineman allows cooking by a goy with induction ovens when no other solutions can be found as it is not actually bishul akum, but the article was not clear and I am not sure my understanding of what was written is accurate. The Tzomet Institute claims to have a solution for this as well similar to the OU using some sort of metal plate..
Clearly the issue is purely halachic because of the switch to using induction cooking, and is not an issue of racism or chumras. Just because there is a single opinion, not commonly accepted it seems, that allows it does not mean the Rabbanut must accept it and follow that opinion. Perhaps the Rabbanut could have been more sensitive and offered to work with the proprietor to find a solution, but what was done was based on halacha, not new chumras or racism.
A potential solution, beyond checking into the Tzomet Institute solution, would be for the owner to replace the induction stovetop with a gas stovetop as he used to have. Maybe put the old one back, if it still works, or get a new one. Maybe he can sell the induction stove, or return it, or write it off as a loss and a bad business decision. Losing the hechsher over the stovetop seems like a bad idea. Sure many people will heed the cry to rally behind KALO against the Rabbanut, but that won't really last more than a few days, or a couple of weeks. Then people will get back to routine, and he'll still have his restaurant  with no teudat kashrut that many people won't in.
sources: Kol Ha'ir Jerusalem, INN
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