JERUSALEM (Compass Direct News) – For three long years a Jewish believer in Christ struggled to keep her bakery business alive after the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the country's highest religious governing body, annulled her kashrut (Jewish dietary law) certificate because of her faith.
Pnina Conforti, 51, finally gave a sigh of relief when the Israeli Supreme Court on June 29 ruled that her belief in Jesus Christ was unrelated to her eligibility for a kashrut certificate. While bakeries and restaurants in Israel are not required to obtain such a permit, the loss of one often slows the flow of customers who observe Jewish dietary laws and eventually can destroy a business.
Conforti said that the last three years were very difficult for her and her family, as she lost nearly 70 percent of her customers.
"We barely survived, but now it's all behind us," she said. "Apparently, many people supported us, and were happy with the verdict. Enough is enough."
Conforti, who describes herself as a Messianic Jew, had built her Pnina Pie bakeries in Gan Yavne and Ashdod from scratch. She said her nightmare began in 2002 with an article about her in "Kivun," a magazine for Messianic Jews in Israel.
"Soon after, the people of the Rabbinate summoned me and told me that my kashrut certificate was annulled because I do not profess Judaism," she said.
Food prepared in accordance with kashrut guidelines is termed kosher, from the Hebrew kasher, or "fit," and includes prohibition of cooking and consuming meat and diary products together, keeping different sets of dishes for those products, and slaughtering animals according to certain rules. News of the faith of owner of the Pnina Pie bakery in Gan Yavne spread quickly, soon reaching extremist organizations such as Yad le'Achim, a sometimes violent Orthodox Jewish group.
"They spread around a pamphlet with my photo, warning people away from acquiring products from my business," Conforti said. "One such a pamphlet was hung in a synagogue. However, I refused to surrender to them and continued working as usual."
Four years later, in 2006, Conforti decided to open another patisserie in Ashdod, near her original shop in Gan Yavne, in southern Israel. The business flourished, but success didn't last long.
"A customer of mine, an Orthodox Jew from Ashdod, visited his friends and relatives in Gan Yavne," she said. "There in the synagogue he came across a pamphlet from 2002 with my photo on it. In addition to boycott calls, I was also described as a missionary. My customer confronted me, and I honestly told him I was a believer."
Soon thereafter the Rabbinate of Ashdod withdrew the kashrut certificate from her shop there, she said.
"Pamphlets in Hebrew, English and French about me begun circulating around the town," Conforti said. "They even printed some in Russian, since they saw that the customers of Russian origin continue to arrive."
The withdrawal of the certificate from the shop in Ashdod in 2006 was a serious blow to her business. Conforti decided to take action, and her lawyer appealed to Israel's Supreme Court. Judges Yoram Denziger, Salim Jubran and Eliezer Rivlin ruled that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel overstepped its authority.
"The Kashrut Law states clearly that only legal deliberations directly related to what makes the food kosher are relevant, not wider concerns unrelated to food preparation," the panel of judges wrote.
In response, the Chief Rabbinate accused the judges of meddling in religious affairs.
Soon after she petitioned the Supreme Court, Conforti said, the Chief Rabbinate had offered her a deal by which it would issue her business a kashrut certificate but with certain restrictions, such as handing the keys of the bakery to a kashrut supervisor at night. Conforti declined.
Tzvi Sedan, editor-in-chief of "Kivun," said the Supreme Court verdict was paramount.
"It's important not only for Messianic Jews, but also for every other business owner who has to suffer from the arbitrariness of the Rabbinate," Sedan said. "But I still want to see this decision implemented fully in reality."
At press time Conforti still hadn't received the certificate. She was waiting for a team of inspectors from the Rabbinate to inspect the business prior to issuing her the certificate.
A Jew of Yemenite origin, Conforti said she was raised in religious family but came to trust in Christ following her encounter with a Christian family during a visit to the United States.
"There I found Christ and embraced him as my personal Savior," she said. "I do not engage in [evangelistic] activity, but if someone starts a conversation about my faith, I will speak openly about it."