Grocery Shopping in Israel by Rabbi Edward Davis
I hope you enjoy Rabbi Davis’s unique perspective of grocery shopping in Israel.
This article will take into account politics, kashrut, economics, and a sociological view within a Torah outlook. My wife and I are blessed with 4 children who have made Aliyah; two of them married with four children each. Part of my grandfatherly duties that I have taken upon myself has been going food shopping for the 2 families that live very near each other in the Yishuv of Chashmonaim, where I stay and eat with all of them on Shabbat. So the first decision is to decide where to shop.
Across the road from Chashmonaim is Kiryat Sefer, the Chareidi, ultra-Orthodox community, which offers two large grocery stores, Yesh and Shefa Shuk, both of which are subsidiaries of larger companies, created specifically to cater to the ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel. Yesh is a subsidiary of Super Sol, and Blue Square owns Shefa Shuk. Blue Square also owns AM:PM stores which are open on Shabbat. Therefore a Chareidi Rabbinic group called for a boycott of Shefa Shuk several years ago. So there is some controversy across the road.
Five minutes down the road in the other direction is Rami Levi, a chain grocery store, which was started and still run by Rami Levi himself. he must be a marketing genius or a true Baal Chesed; probably both. When Arab terrorists killed most of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar, Rami Levi went to the Shiva house and stocked the home completely with groceries. When asked, he identified himself and pledged to send groceries every week until the youngest orphan, currently two years old, turns eighteen. Rami Levi got my vote.
When the Nof Zion apartment complex in the Talpiot area of Yerushalayim was in trouble financially and it jeopardy of an Arab takeover, Rami Levi put his money in it and saved the neighborhood for Jewish development. Further legend has it that he recently went into one of his stores on a late Friday afternoon and saw large lines of people trying to check out. He closed the cash registers and sent everyone home with their groceries, free, because he did not want to be responsible for any desecration of Shabbat. After the Gaza flotilla incident, Rami Levi stopped trading with Turkey. He also made announcements in his stores for everyone to go outside to better hear the siren on Yom HaZikaron with respect.
So I shop at Rami Levi.
The most international section of the store is the display of cold cereals. Israel produces some of its own. The USA is represented with the Post cereals, Quaker products, and the varieties of Cheerios. Beyond that, how about: Nestle’s Trix-Mexico, Fitness Cereal-France, Kellogg’s Frosties-London, Special K-Germany, Cocoa Rice Crispies-England, Nestle’s Nesquik cereal-Poland, and other countries that Israel does do business with.
Fruits and vegetables. Being Eretz Yisrael, there is the unique Halachah of Teruma and Maaser, the tithing requirement of these items. So you need to check that this is done. (In Yerushalayim, all the tithing fruits and vegetables are handled in a special way. The Biblical Zoo sells all of its animals to a Kohen, thereby permitting all the Terumah produce to be given to the Kohen’s animals. I love it!)
During the Shemmitah year of 2008, Rami Levi sold the produce through the Hetter Mechirah. the Chareidi population preferred either eating Arab produce or a newer system of Otzer Beit Din. Political right wingers, like me, prefer not buying Arab produce. During regular years like now, produce is not identified as to where it came from. Everyone now does eat Arab produce because it is not marked. I heard, for example, that most of the cucumbers are Arab produce.
Minchah, Minchah. Around 3:00 p.m., you can find a Minchah Minyan at Rami Levi. Nice touch.
I still haven’t fully mastered English-Hebrew translations. I asked someone this week how do you say Croutons in Hebrew. Krootonim. Silly me.
Barley in Biblical Hebrew is Se’orah, but in the grocery store, barley is Grissin. maybe the change is warranted. Consider: Our Sages stated that barley is food for animals; wheat is food for humans. the Sotah/Suspected Adulteress brought a barley sacrifice. She committed an act of an animal and therefore she offered a sacrifice of animal food. Today, in our times, many people do not view barley as an animal food. Therefore maybe a different word should be used, even if the word currently used is not a modern word. It does suit my Jewish way of thinking.
My American taste buds are not fully satisfied with Israeli fare. The Diet Coke definitely has a slightly different taste than what I am used to. The deli is sub par. Cream cheese is poor when you can find it, and lox…well you get the picture. In the local Makolet (small grocery) in Chashmonaim, more American products are offered, but $11.50 for a box of eight fozen Entenmann’s chocolate donuts is a bit much.
Yet, I don’t need to add that most vegetables in Israel taste better, so I don’t complain.
Identifying the reliability of the various rabbinic supervisions can be complicated. For example, Tenuva offers many chicken products, and I found 4 different rabbinic Hashgachot among the Tenuva chicken products. The meat and deli: Mehadrin, not Mehadrin. Some of the issues are kashrut issues and some are rabbinical politics.
Grocery shopping in Israel is not easy, even for the veteran shopper, but I highly recommend it even if you are here only for 2 weeks. It is informative, and it can be entertaining, especially if you come with plenty of money and patience.
Rabbi Edward Davis received smicha from Yeshiva University (YU) in New York City, where he studied under Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l. Rabbi Davis graduated with a BA in Mathematics and an MS in Jewish History from YU, and studied Operations Research in the Masters program at New York University. He also pursued post graduate education at the Netzach Israel Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, Israel.
Currently serving as the morah d’atrah of the Young Israel of Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale, Florida since 1981, Rabbi Davis previously served as the Rabbi of Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, Virginia. A lecturer par excellence, Rabbi Davis first taught Bible and Talmud in Lincoln Square Synagogue’s adult education program,the Joseph Shapiro Academy, in New York City. At the Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia, he taught subjects including Biblical Hebrew, Advanced Biblical Literature, Rabbinic Judaism, History & Theology of Modern Jewish Denominations, Holocaust: Theological Responses, and American Jewish History. He continues to give lecture series throughout South Florida and beyond.
A leader in the area of kashrut, Rabbi Davis worked with the Orthodox Union and founded the ORB (Orthodox Rabbinical Board) of Broward and Palm Beach counties. The ORB is one of the largest local vaads in the country, with over 100 places under its hashgacha.
Rabbi Davis, together with his beloved wife, Meira, have proudly raised nine children, three of whom now reside in Israel. Grandparents to a constantly growing number of grandchildren, Rabbi Davis and Meira are extremely grateful to Hashem for their wonderful and close family.