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Disgruntled Belly Dancer Says Her Art is Kosher

June 15, 1989

JERUSALEM (AP) _ An Israeli belly dancer has gone to court to defend her shimmies as kosher, claiming Orthodox rabbis are shaking her financially by threatening to rescind the kosher certificates of places where she dances.

Philadelphia-born Ilana Raskin argued in a Supreme Court petition that food - not dance - should be the only basis for issuing ″kashrut″ licenses certifying hotels and restaurants as kosher.

Ms. Raskin, 35, said that even if dance was a criterion, her own Middle Eastern variety meets standards of modesty set by Orthodox Jewish rabbis.

″It’s a very sensual dance, but it’s not immodest,″ she told The Associated Press on Wednesday. ″It’s a proud and beautiful dance. I’m living in the Middle East. It speaks to my living here.″

Ms. Raskin, who has also worked as a counselor and has a master’s degree in education from Hebrew University, started dancing six years ago.

She said she was dancing regularly for parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs, but found beginning in November that she was getting fewer and fewer engagements.

Neta Ziv-Goldman, a lawyer for the Israeli Association of Civil Rights who is representing Ms. Raskin, said her petition submitted to the court Monday maintains the drop in business followed threats to hotels and restaurants from Jerusalem rabbis.

Officials for the Jerusalem rabbinate were unavailable for comment, but spokesman Eitan Aizman of the chief rabbinate of Israel contended that ″belly dancing is not modest, it is erotic.″

Rabbi Shlomo Goren, a former chief rabbi, was emphatic in declaring that belly dancing was ″tref,″ a Yiddish word meaning non-kosher.

″It’s tref, tref ... so tref,″ he said. ″Belly-dancing is against Judaism. It’s against the Jewish ethic. Belly-dancing inflames the feelings in your body. Belly-dancing exposes them.″

He argued that not only food in restaurants should be considered when issuing kosher certificates, but said he expected trouble from the court on the issue.

″I think the Supreme Court ... wants to concentrate the powers of the rabbinate in the kitchen,″ he said. ″Outside of the kitchen they don’t want us to do anything.″

Amihud Bahat, the spokesman for the Ministry of Religion, said kashrut certificates were not issued conditionally, but that the ministry frowns on the idea of belly-dancing in kosher hotels.

″If you come from abroad looking for a kosher hotel in Jerusalem, you’d expect a little Yiddishkite (Jewishness), not a yeshiva, but certainly not belly-dancing either,″ Bahat said.

″It’s very natural that public places in Jerusalem have a little different atmosphere from New York. Jerusalem shouldn’t look like Times Square.″

The belly-dancing issue is just another collision between Orthodox rabbis and non-observant Israeli Jews. The rabbinate has made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to halt movies and sports event on the Sabbath.

Ziv-Goldman said rabbinical authorities also have used the kashrut certification in the past to pressure for compliance with religious norms.

″The problem does not start or end with belly-dancing in Jerusalem,″ she said.

The court has not yet set a date for a hearing on the case.

Ms. Raskin said she was pursing the case as a matter of principle as well as to regain her main source of income.

″I love to dance and I love my work and when I can’t do that, it makes me sorry,″ she said.

Next motion.

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