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Sunday, July 05, 2009

On the horns of another dilemma

This past Thursday I wanted to pick up a particular brand of beer for the weekend.  I drove all over Beer Sheva looking, first at the ShuperSol Supermarket where I normally shop... and then at the larger Mega.  But to no avail.  Nobody had it.

On a whim I went to the local upscale liquor store, and even they didn't have it... but the owner told me that he was 100% certain that the supermarket down the block carried what I was looking for.

However, the 'supermarket down the block' he was referring to was a national chain called Tiv Ta'am.  Unlike ShuperSol and Mega which carry exclusively kosher products and are strictly sabbath observant, Tiv Ta'am has gone out of its way to position itself as the store where you can get anything you want (including pork products) any day of the week (including Sabbath and holidays).

Here's the crazy part:

In the US I would have no problem going into a grocery store that carried a majority of non-kosher products in order to buy the products I knew to be kosher.  There was never a sense of 'Morat Ayin' (over-simplified definition: potentially misleading someone into thinking the place was 100% kosher by my shopping there). 

But here in Israel, I honestly had a feeling there might be something wrong with going into Tiv Ta'am... in spite of the fact that the overwhelming majority of products in the place are kosher.

I tried to call some of my 'go-to' friends for cultural/halachic questions... but everyone seemed to be busy.  In the end I went into Tiv Ta'am to look for my beer... and they did indeed have it.  However I was surprised by some of the things I noticed once inside the store.

First was the shock of seeing an actual bar & gill inside the supermarket.  Seriously, an actual bar where you can sit down, have a cold draught beer and even order a burger or steak while your better half does the shopping.

Next, although the meat and cheese counters were completely traif, the rest of the store was almost identical in layout and stock as the kosher Israeli supermarkets.  As I said before, the vast majority of packaged products were 100% kosher.  And it was every bit as clean and attractive (maybe more so) than any of the places I normally shop.  Just not a single kippah in the place (except mine, of course).  It was like shopping in Alabama or Montana.

Look, I took economics in college and I understand that where there is a demand, a supply will almost always follow.  Although roughly half of Israelis consider themselves 'traditional', that leaves a lot of people who are going to want at least occasionally access to a supermarket on Shabbat, and a somewhat smaller percentage who are actively looking for non-kosher products that are not available at other stores.

Now, as a kosher consumer, I have a vested interest in supporting businesses that go to the considerable extra time and expense of providing me with a product/service that is 100% acceptable to me.  But the question remains, am I doing something wrong by going to the non-kosher competition when I can't find something in my regular supermarket?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Any and all feedback is appreciated (so long as it does't attack or judge those who opt for one kind of shopping experience over another).

Posted by David Bogner on July 5, 2009 | Permalink

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David, this is an interesting question. As you know, I'm a more-or-less atheist but baptized Christian, so I am unqualified to answer the religious side of your question.

I feel an obligation to support local, non-chain businesses. However, sometimes those establishments don't carry what I need or want, so I have to go to a store that is part of a national chain.

So long as I spend 80-90% of my purchasing dollar on local businesses, the odd purchase at a chain store isn't wrong.

Posted by: Liz Ditz | Jul 5, 2009 5:54:18 PM

The Tiv Tam near us changed over to a kosher chain, so the issue is off the table now, but when I had the option to shop there, I wondered about how their prices, what the quality of the produce was, was it less crowded on Fridays if I needed something last minute etc.. When all was said and done, I couldn't quite bring myself to go in and see for myself and I was a bit surprised at myself for feeling that way.

Posted by: Rachel | Jul 5, 2009 6:13:40 PM

I think, in general, there is no problem with shopping for something that cannot be found elsewhere in a kosher store. But the "Maarit Ayin" could really be a problem, except perhaps in this case, if it is well known that the store is chazer traif.

But this introduces a much bigger issue. What is "kosher" when applied to a business? For example, is is permitted to do business with a company that operates on shabbat? Is it permissible to do business with a company that has broken the law in the past? Is it permissible to fly on a Jewish airline that operates on shabbat? Etc...

Posted by: Mark | Jul 5, 2009 6:18:40 PM

You don't shop there regularly, so the economic result of their marketing choice is clear to them-- as you said, yours was the only kippah, and the religious community has chosen to make it clear to them that their behavior is an afront to the Jewish identity of the neighborhood. The rare beer run can't be that big a deal.

Marit Ayin? Well, I remember we used to go into McDonald's for coffee in the years that it was the only choice, or get ice creams at Woolworths in the fifties, when it was assumed that ice cream was kosher. Nobody's going to assume you're buying a ham and cheese sandwich, and if they do despite seeing your kippah, they need their own head examined.

Posted by: Barzilai | Jul 5, 2009 6:33:27 PM

Hey David,

Interesting story. I have similar crises of conscious, albeit usually on a smaller scale, here in Jerusalem. It seems that some markets in more secular or "traditional" neighbourhoods will go to the trouble of stocking some products only without heksher.

I don't know the halakhic answer, but I'd suspect that since you were wearing a kippah it would be pretty clear to the onlooker that you weren't going in there davka for pork chops.

I personally would use your economic reasoning to justify it by saying, if the kosher marts aren't going to carry the product I want, they're not going to get my business. Here, I shop mostly in Yesh, which is supply & demand in action. It's streamlined for the frum family with simple taste, lacking many interesting products that are better but probably sell less.

Perhaps it's worth it now to tell your kosher mart that you'd like to see that brand of beer in their store, and that you had to go to Tiv Ta'am, which you'd prefer not to do. This is what I do at my local makolet sometimes, and they often accommodate.

Cheers,
Michael

Posted by: Michael Eliyahou | Jul 5, 2009 6:33:31 PM

My answer is purely theoretical since I usually find myself in the situation you describe at the beginning of your post.
... I would have no problem going into a grocery store that carried a majority of non-kosher products in order to buy the products I knew to be kosher. There was never a sense of 'Morat Ayin' (over-simplified definition: potentially misleading someone into thinking the place was 100% kosher by my shopping there).
I think it would depend how badly I needed the item in question. In other words, if I could do without I'd probably not go but if I needed it I'd go.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jul 5, 2009 7:41:59 PM

If you want a store to carry that brand of beer you need to give them a reason to do so.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 5, 2009 7:59:03 PM

If the still, small voice doesn't have the answer when I am faced with such difficulties, I like to rely on a talk given by Rabbi Yisrael Miller many years ago. He is a small man, with perfect diction, and what he calls "his shark smile." He said to us: "Don't poskin for yourself. Everyone needs a rav to go to hell for him." And then he flashed his famous shark smile. That wisdom has kept me out of a lot of scrapes.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jul 5, 2009 8:13:11 PM

By the way, why don't we just organize a beer run to the Dancing Camel Brewery, and end the madness? I still think a few cases could be moved each month in the Gush.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Jul 5, 2009 9:08:06 PM

interesting dilemma. couldnt it be said that by you wearing a kipa and shopping in this store that you were displaying appreciation for all of the KOSHER products sold there, and that by patronizing them they might bring more kosher products in etc. besides, as it is not a restaraunt-( albeit the bar and grill you mentioned) why is there an issue of maarit ayin? If anything , you might be concerned of transgressing the prohibition of "lifnei iver.." (causing a blind man to stumble-in a halachic sense) but that would only apply to fresh or non packaged goods. Bottom line- hard for me to find a reason NOT to buy a nice , tall cold one!

Posted by: shabtai | Jul 5, 2009 9:11:27 PM

David,

Sorry I was busy (if having 40 twelve-year-old girls in the backyard qualifies as busy). I would have told you to go for it.

B

Posted by: Ben | Jul 5, 2009 9:18:28 PM

Here, 'Tiv Taam' is a synonymous substitution for "pork products". I sneaked into one near Gan Shmuael one time and it was like Ikea: vast aisles. Crammed with imported food, in some aisles Cyrillic labels dominated. Checked some price tags, seemed astronomical to me.
It's true that many of these products are kosher, or are available in a kosher line of products if they are imported from the US. Yet, the store was packed full of people who where enjoying more like the non-kosher options. There are also Kibbutzim that exclusively supply cheese and meat products to Tiv Taam, among other local shops.
When the already long forgotten Arkadi Gaydamak threatened to by Tiv Taam, everyone was up in arms. Yet, it is nothing special there. You can see much weirder and more treife things on sale in Shuk haCarmel or in Haifa.

Posted by: Abu Zibby | Jul 5, 2009 9:29:58 PM

I think a lot would depend on HOW badly you needed the item. I would try to go without.....

Posted by: rickismom | Jul 5, 2009 11:13:40 PM

I don't know about the pure halacha here, but here's my take:

I do not shop in stores that are open on Shabbat. I live in Rehovot, our mall and all our shops in the city are closed on Shabbat. We have "Bilu Center" just over our border where all the stores are open on Shabbat (except for one felafel stand). I will not buy there. The stores employ Jewish salespeople and I will not be part of it. That means I go to local hardware stores for things I'd really like to go to Ace and HOme Center for. But you know what? I have managed. I also buy in Nupharm now because all their stores are closed on Shabbat (as opposed to Superpharm which is open as a 'duty' pharmacy supposedly for 'emergencies').

I didn't come to Israel to find kosher products in the supermarket. I came here to find Jews acting like Jews. I will patronize stores that aren't open on Shabbat, whether because they want it that way or because the city ordinances forbid it. Because they stay shut on Shabbat I will give them my money during the week.

Maybe nobody notices but at least I know that I am not encouraging Jews to work on Shabbat.

So,about your dilemma, I won't go in to Tiv Ta'am because it's treif, but because it's open on Shabbat.

Posted by: Risa | Jul 5, 2009 11:31:40 PM

Not that the guidance of the Apostle Paul should be your guide, but I find it interesting that a very similar dilemma is addressed in First Corinthians chapter eight (where the issue was buying meat that had been offered to idols). Paul's conclusion: Idols are nothing and you have the right to do whatever isn't explicitly forbidden, but wisdom sometimes requires not exercising ones rights. Don't violate your own conscience, and don't cause anyone else to be led astray.

That advice has kept me out of both bars and Roman Catholic Churches. But I can envision circumstances in which I might visit either or both (especially if there were a tavern in a Catholic Church that serves my favorite beer).

Posted by: Bob | Jul 5, 2009 11:59:09 PM

B"H

Is this beer really worth supporting this business? ...especially when the government continually tries to chip away at the Torah and its authority.

You have to ask yourself if you are collaborating with them, by supporting a treif selling, mehallel Shabbath business.

I believe that you would be, albeit unintentionally.

Look at the Supreme Court's recent decisions to force the Rabbanuth to grant a heksher on a certain meat {last year} and now the bakery of an apostate.

At the very least, I do not believe that you would be helping the situation by shopping there, not even to buy one bottle for a special occasion.

Posted by: Ben | Jul 6, 2009 1:27:52 AM

That's Ben-Yehudah, BTW, not "Ben."

Posted by: Ben-Yehudah | Jul 6, 2009 1:28:50 AM

I won't speak to the halachic issues (there are many, but go to a Rav for that), but I'd be interested if the kosher markets would understand if you talked to them about the superior shopping experience that can be found in that other store that has nothing to do with halacha? There is nothing halachicly wrong with carrying the products you want, having a bar and grill in the store, etc.

It reminds me of the difference between Los Angeles and New York kosher: in New York the answer is "it's kosher, shut up" and in LA the answer is "we have that in organic as well". That is that in LA, as it is more good places that happen to be kosher and in NY it is kosher places that have existed since the dawn of time and have found no reason to change because they have a captive audience that doesn't demand more.

Note; I know this is a generalization, Medici 56 was a fantastic 5-star restaurant that just happened to be kosher, but as a generalization I've gotten better service from west coast than east coast.

I'd think in Israel where there is a mix of people and backgrounds that a store that tried to provide good service that happened to be kosher would be phenomenally successful.

So why not try to get the store that you'd prefer to shop provide the experience that you liked in the store that has some issues with shopping there? The kosher markets would only increase their sales and customer satisfaction by using some of the innovations that are quite common in America and, clear, in that competing store.

I'm guessing that there are some genuine halachic issues with shopping in the treif store. So I'd make the claim that any taste you want can be found kosher by seeing if you can get your kosher stores to improve.

Posted by: Shamir | Jul 6, 2009 1:55:38 AM

The question is for your rav. However, generally what you describe is not maarit ayin. It has a specific halachic definition and what you have described is not it. I am not a Rabbi and I don't play one. Your mileage may vary.

However, I like that your question hits the sweet spot between halacha, philosophy (hashkafa) and community politics.

It is entirely possible that it is halachicly permitted (matir) and hashkafically permissible and still not a good idea, but that is community politics.

For those who suggest that your feelings or conscience should be your guide, you expose a facet of Judaism to the world that I don't think is generally understood. That is, that your conscience is not good enough. You have an interest in the matter (nogea b'dvar) and that is why you have the question.

In the end I think the answer is less important than the question.

Posted by: lrg | Jul 6, 2009 2:29:59 AM

Sam Adams, eh?
I also try to make kiddush on it when the 4th of July falls out on Shabbat (or Corona for Cinqo de-Mayo or Guiness for St. Patty's day).

BTW - I'd have no qualms buying at a place like Tiv Taam in this kind of circumstance.

Posted by: ADDeRAbbi | Jul 6, 2009 3:54:26 AM

Risa - I didn't come to Israel to find kosher products in the supermarket. I came here to find Jews acting like Jews. I will patronize stores that aren't open on Shabbat, whether because they want it that way or because the city ordinances forbid it. Because they stay shut on Shabbat I will give them my money during the week.

Maybe nobody notices but at least I know that I am not encouraging Jews to work on Shabbat.

So,about your dilemma, I won't go in to Tiv Ta'am because it's treif, but because it's open on Shabbat.

This is an excellent policy. However, I wonder how it can be implemented in reality. For example, do you use a law firm that has lawyers that sometimes work on shabbat? Or a much more complex situation, do you shop at a supermarket (that is entirely closed on shabbat) that used a law firm whose lawyers work on shabbat? And how do you even know in the first place? And if you do know, to what extent do you go to avoid having a Jew encouraged to work for you on shabbat? Take the airline example again. Should we never fly on motzai shabbat in the summer because it is almost doubtless that someone (a Jew) was working to prepare the flight before shabbat ended?

And what about other, more necessary, and everyday things, like the Chevrat Chashmal (Electric Company)? How careful are they to ensure that the minimal amount of absolutely required work gets done on shabbat? [they have a strong union, so they are probably pretty careful, but then again, union members like the high shift differential on weekend days!].

Posted by: Mark | Jul 6, 2009 5:56:24 AM

Couldn't you compromise on the beer and get a different product?

At least write to the other store chains and complain that they didn't stock it. One short Hebrew letter sent to all.

Posted by: Batya from Shiloh | Jul 6, 2009 7:02:20 AM

I agree with Risa - by buying there you are unintentionally putting Jews in a position where they have to work on Shabbat. I remember once I picked up a few things on a Friday morning at a Superpharm in Petach Tikva. The cashier asked me when Shabbat came in (she did not wear the "uniform" of a religious woman, and I assumed from her question that she was traditional). She complained bitterly that she had to work until 4:00 in the afternoon on Friday, and that she would not be able to get home in time to do her cooking before Shabbat came in. Profits dictate policy. I try to shop at Nupharm now, because I remember that woman and her legitimate complaint.

Posted by: westbankmama | Jul 6, 2009 1:25:34 PM

What type of beer?

Posted by: OOS | Jul 6, 2009 1:27:29 PM

@Risa from Rehovot: Home Center here is operated by Arabs and Russians and it's open on Shabbat. They also have something like 'service' and 'customer care" which is otherwise totally unknown in Israel.

Posted by: Abu Zibby | Jul 6, 2009 7:09:59 PM

"I wonder how it can be implemented in reality. For example, do you use a law firm that has lawyers that sometimes work on shabbat?"

ADDeRAbbi: Yes, I do try my very best. I don't have much to do with lawyers but as a matter of fact the ones I have used have all been shomrei shabbat. As for many of the other examples you give, I do try my best. The taxi company I call first is one of the two shomer shabbat ones we have in Rehovot (Remez & Gordon if it means anything to any of you). I haven't deliberately not flown on Saturday night but then I don't fly that often.

As to the electric company, I can't be a mashgiach and for this I rely on the established heterim and hope that the people in charge are keeping watch. This is similar to the trust I put in kashrut supervision. They do the checking because I can't.

Posted by: Risa | Jul 6, 2009 11:42:30 PM

xxx

Posted by: Sarah Phillips | Jul 7, 2009 5:47:37 AM

As a card carrying Tiv Tam member, I find it interesting that you would have this view. Tiv Tam makes no attempt to appear kosher and is the only place to find many items from places all over the world. When I lived in Bat Yam and within walking distance of both a local supermarket and a Tiv Tam, I would shop at Tiv Tam once monthly for specialty items and once weekly (or more if needed) at the local shop.

Posted by: Seth | Jul 8, 2009 2:12:51 PM

Absolutely fascinating discussion. All the more so because I have a slightly different perspective then most here. We are a small microbrewery in Israel (don't know if we're the beer that started the discussion) and at one point we sold to Tiv Taam. We also happen to be certified Kosher LeMehadrin, and our brewery and pub are closed on Shabbat. We sold to Tiv Taam because their customer base is a population that enjoys our beer and that is unlikely to be found in the myriad boutique wine shops and liquor stores that also carry our beers. I did not have any issues selling to Tiv Taam because of their policies - I don't know of any business that limits its sales to places that are Shomer Shabbat.

As to Tiv Taam itself - we don't sell to them anymore because we were not happy with the way they were handling our product - if you bought a bottle there recently, know that the last time we sold to them was 1 year ago. All beers we sold to them had an expiration date of January '09 which should tell you about the freshness of the beer you bought. There are much better places to find our product where you are guaranteed to find bottles that are fresher. We have heard many other stories (some documented in newspapers) of other questionable practices and conditions at their stores and therefore decided that, despite the appearance of an upscale, well-run specialty supermarket, it wasn't a good fit for us.

As to the discussion about getting our beers to the Gush, please contact me directly - we're trying to get into every Kiddush Club and Rambam group in the country :-)

Cheers.

David

Posted by: David Cohen | Aug 2, 2009 7:53:27 AM

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