Observant have little appetite for Israels kosher McDonalds

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JERUSALEM — The Big Macs were kosher, but there was hardly a kippah in sight Wednesday of last week at the opening of the world's first kosher McDonald's.

At the Harel shopping mall in Mevasseret Zion, just outside Jerusalem, the illuminated menu on the McDonald's wall looked much like those in the other 18 outlets the American fast-food chain has opened throughout Israel — except that this menu listed no cheeseburgers, milk shakes or sundaes.

According to Omri Padan, McDonald's Israeli licensee, all the Israeli outlets use kosher ingredients. At Pesach, buns are made with potato flour and Chicken McNuggets are coated with matzah meal.

However, that has not deflected the constant stream of criticism the chain faces for its failure to observe kashrut, especially in Jerusalem; for introducing so-called "American" cultural values; and for erecting a restaurant at the Golani Junction war memorial.

The existence of Israel's non-kosher McDonald's outlets did not deter Rabbi Yossi Sarid, head of the Mevasseret Zion Religious Council, from issuing the kashrut certificate. Sarid stressed that both the certificate and the signs read "the kosher McDonald's" to differentiate it from the others.

Other food chains in the country have both kosher and non-kosher outlets, Sarid said, and one of his conditions was that McDonald's cannot open any non-kosher branch within the religious council's jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Padan said he intends to open additional kosher outlets in Rehovot and Ra'anana outside Tel-Aviv. The chain also plans to open a kosher outlet in Jerusalem, he added, and the only obstacle is the Jerusalem Rabbinate's refusal to let a kosher McDonald's operate in the city together with its existing non-kosher branch. But Padan said he has no plans to make the existing eatery kosher.

After Sarid and Padan cut the ribbon opening the branch, swarms of children and adults approached the food counter, grabbed balloons and donned McDonald's hats. However, while several obviously religious families came to look, none of them seemed to want to buy. At least one kippah-wearing onlooker expressed worries about the influence of such a restaurant.

"I'm not sure it's suitable for the Israeli cultural environment," said Menachem Goldstein of Ma'aleh Adumim, who came to see the new mall with his daughter Michal, 3.

Sarid did not eat either, although he insisted he has no objection in principle to eating any of the products at the kosher McDonald's.

"Ask me next week. This week I won't eat here, because they don't have a sukkah," Sarid said.