The “Barkan Winery affair” is directing attention to the demands of (Badatz) Edah Haharedit kashrut certification from wineries around the country in order to receive its certification, and it turns out that these demands often do not necessarily concern a halakhic issue.
Colonel (res.) Erez Wiener is the CEO of the Jerusalem Wineries, and he also encountered the odd demands of Edah Haharedit. He spoke to Arutz Sheva about these demands and his response to them.
"The Badatz [Edah Haharedit] is a body that uses the commercial power it has accumulated in order to establish criteria that are not always halakhic and consistent. Many times they are meant to preserve the status of Badatz," says Wiener, and tells of his story with the members of the Edah Haharedit.
"I turned to them about a year ago and we wanted to examine a commercial possibility, because I do not have a kashrut problem. I have five kosher seals and I feel at peace and confident in drinking my wine and selling it as kosher, but this was a commercial consideration and we turned to them, we were in a sort of negotiation process over the large monetary demands and we had reached an agreement, and then they got into all sorts of demands to move people from their jobs, because this one is not religious enough and that one is doesn’t have enough fear of Heaven and all sorts of criteria that I did not like, and in the end I accompanied them politely to the door and gave up on this kashrut."
He said the issue was not only about the attitude towards the Ethiopian public but also about whether a knitted kippah (skullcap) is considered religious enough or not, and similar demands. "When they want to grant certification and have an interest, it’s different. I saw how, at a winery in Italy, the Badatz Beit Yosef [kashrut certification] came and did a long process of inspection and supervision, and then a supervisor from Badatz Edah Haharedit came, and because there it’s convenient for him, he relied on what the Badatz Beit Yosef supervisor did as having done the work for him. In others places, suddenly it’s different.”
Wiener noted the depth of research that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef did on the issue of the relation to Ethiopian immigrants, as well as on the relation to other issues. "After the Yom Kippur War there was a very difficult story of many agunot [wives ‘chained’ to their marriages because of an obstacle to receiving a bill of divorce from their husbands] of missing IDF soldiers, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef made the courageous move, and with painstaking work permitted the agunot [to remarry], and so as well in the case of the Ethiopians. I am certain that if he approved the matter, who are we to begin to question and raise doubts?"
"They are trying to establish themselves as a kind of elite, and it angered me at the time," says Wiener, referring to the demands of the Badatz Eda Haharedit. "They wanted to move certain people from their positions, even though the other kashrut authorities approved the process. They explained to me how good it would be for me commercially, but we preferred to stay with our truth and pass."
And what about the demand that non-observant people not be part of the process of wine preparation? Does such a demand, which also won’t sit well with the media, be acceptable to him? Wiener answered: "If the halakhic requirement of kashrut is that anyone who touches wine must be a Sabbath-observant Jew, as far as I'm concerned, this is the rule, like the rules of kosher slaughter, and it can be a Sabbath-keeping Jew from any community. But here, we’re talking about a distinction that goes beyond [halakhic requirements]. From what I saw, these are Ethiopians who keep the Sabbath in every way, people with kippot and beards, older people, and challenging their Jewishness is unacceptable to me. "