McKosher: McDonald’s in Israel

Kosher McDonalds Sign
Kosher McDonald's Sign
There was an obvious question about Israeli McDonald’s I had before I entered the country: were they kosher? I had read that there were non-kosher McDonald’s Israel. In fact, the Internet told me, most of the McDonald’s in Israel were non-kosher. During my entire time in Israel I did not see a single non-kosher McDonald’s. Part of this might be due to where I’ve seen them: in a mall in Eilat, in a mall in Beer Sheva, at the bus station in Beer Sheeva, in Jerusalem, at the Ramat Aviv Mall in Tel Aviv, on the beach in Tel Aviv and the Ben Gurion Airport. All of these have been kosher McDonald’s. It could be that I just saw the ones in popular locations and those happen to be kosher. That’s just fine, because for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to focus on the kosher ones because they are the most interesting.

McDonald’s in Israel, especially the kosher ones, are some of the most unique in the world. For starters they are the only McDonald’s in the world (other than Argentina) that cooks their burgers over charcoal instead of frying them. I have no idea why they are allowed to do this, but as far as I know, there are no dietary laws that would prevent frying. The signage and branding of McDonald’s in Israel is different than the rest of the world. Some of the kosher stores are allowed to use a blue background instead of a red one. They don’t serve cheese in the kosher McDonald’s and don’t even serve ice cream in the same area. They have a small door which separates the dairy from non-dairy sides of the restaurant. In the Ramat Aviv mall, I noticed that the girl working the ice cream machine was Muslim.

Unlike McDonald’s I’ve seen everywhere else in the world, the menus were not in English. Usually they are in both English and whatever the local language is, but in Israel they were only in Hebrew. I had no clue what was on the menu until I saw the McDonald’s at the airport where it was in English as well. They have a McKebob sandwich which looks very similar to the McArabia I saw in the rest of the Middle East. It was a regular hamburger bun wrapped in flatbread.

McDonalds Sign in Eliat
McDonald's Sign in Eliat

I had the opportunity to be in Israel during Passover and was able to observe some of what observant Jews go through to keep kosher for Passover. I’m a gentile from the Midwestern United States. My knowledge of kosher laws consists of “don’t eat pork”. I knew there was a special kosher for Passover, but I had no idea what it was. It was just another symbol you’d sometimes see on food packages. I also didn’t know much about Halal dietary rules in Muslim countries before I arrived in the Middle East. I made it my mission to find out what all these rules were about.

I should make it perfectly clear up front that I’m not a student of Jewish or Muslim dietary laws. I think I’ve managed to figure out the gist of it, but I’m sure there are some details that I might miss or get wrong. If that is the case, please feel free to correct me in the comments.

So pork isn’t kosher. I knew that, but I didn’t know why. According to Jewish law, an animal (not including birds or fish) is only kosher if it a) has a cloven hoof, and b) chews the cud. Pigs are eliminated on the basis that they do not chew the cud. However, there are a host of animals which also fall under this umbrella that I never thought about. Horses aren’t kosher because they don’t have cloven hooves. Rabbits aren’t kosher either. Basically the only mammals which are kosher are cows, goats, sheep and deer. I also read that a group of rabbis also declared that giraffes are kosher, not that anyone is going to be eating them anytime soon. Bison are also kosher by the same rules.

All reptiles and amphibians are not be considered kosher, so no frog legs. Also, with the minor exception of a particular species of locust, insects are not kosher, so escargot is off the menu. Fish is OK so long as it has fins and scales. This means clams, oysters, shrimp, octopus, squid, and every other good thing you can get at a sushi restaurant is right out. There is also some debate as to the kosherness of catfish, because they don’t have scales. Birds are all right so long as they are not predators. Chicken, duck, goose and turkey is acceptable but if you want to grill an eagle for the 4th of July, forget about it.

This house is a chometz free zone
This house is a chometz free zone

Outside of meat, the other big kosher no-no is mixing dairy and meat in the same meal. That means no cheeseburgers, no chedarwurst, no milk with dinner, and no ice cream for desert. There is some debate as to how long you have to wait until you can eat dairy products. I’ve read between 1 and 6 hours depending on how strict you want to be. That is why they keep the ice cream machine in separate area at McDonald’s.

If a utensil comes in contact with something non-kosher, it is considered unclean and makes anything it comes in contact with non-kosher. This can set off a whole chain of events rendering food which is normally kosher to be non-kosher. The solution is to have a kosher kitchen, so you have a self contained area where everything non-kosher is kept out. There is much more to being kosher than what I’ve outlined including removing all blood from meat, the condition and health of the animal at slaughter, and the method of slaughter. However, I think those are the major parts of keeping kosher.

Kosher for Passover basically involved avoiding leaven bread. That sounds simple, but in addition to not eating it during Passover, you can’t possess it. You can’t have any crumbs in your house, so you have to really clean everything before passover starts. Many restaurants and Israeli institutions like prisons and universities give power of attorney to a rabbi for all their leaven bread (called chometz) who then sells it to a Muslim Arab for the duration of Passover.

This means that every bakery and pizza parlor pretty much shuts down for the 9 days of Passover in Orthodox neighborhoods. McDonald’s that I saw did not keep kosher for passover and sold hamburgers with buns. Burger King, however, is very kosher and was certified kosher for Passover. Their menu was very limited selling only fries, salads, chicken wings and hamburger patties without buns.

Muslim halal rules are much simpler than kosher laws. Pork is excluded by name in the Koran, so most non-kosher meats could be considered Halal. The biggest part of halal is the method of slaughter, which requires the animal to be killed by slitting the throat with a sharp knife while saying a prayer. For the most part (depending on which Muslim scholar you listen to) kosher food would also be halal, but the opposite is not true. The biggest example of this would be camels. Many Arab countries will occasionally eat camels, but they they are strictly non-kosher because of the hoof/cud requirements.

So if you are ever in the Middle East and go past a McDonald’s give a few seconds of thought to what goes into making it kosher/halal. Keeping a kosher ain’t easy.

20 thoughts on “McKosher: McDonald’s in Israel”

  1. Interesting. I found this because I was interested if they use non kosher meat, some offal is not kosher, fat is not clean according to Torah. I’m a Christian ho loves the Torah. I don’t keep rabbinical laws though. I don’t find it hard. It is an adjustment meaning a lot of cooking from scratch which is what humans should be doing for health anyway! But definitely not hard, there is such an abundance of clean things to eat that aren’t the insects of the deep, or vermin or scavengers.

  2. I was finding out as to whether Muslims eat at McDs in Israel/Palestine. If its kosher, Muslims can eat it just not kosher wine – because Muslims cannot consume alcohol. Beef slaughtered by Jews are okay, because they worship the One God, even though Muslims can eat Christian food as well, but most Muslims can’t eat un-slaughtered meat, animals in the west are mostly bludgeon or zapped to death, even if they do – they would not slaughter in God’s name or they would instead use Jesus’s name which won’t make the meat kosher or halal.

  3. i have kept kosher all my life and i believe that it is simple as well as healthy to eat kosher food. i have also waited 6 hours before having dairy.

  4. You are misinformed, every McDonalds that i went to in Israel, told me they were not kosher. Further more, McDonalds’ own website specifically states that only seven of their restaurants are kosher.

    • 1) we went to different McDonald’s

      2) The ones I visited were kosher. I have photos to prove it. It was some of the seven, which are in the high profile locations: Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport, etc.

      3) They have been making more kosher and there are now more than 7.

  5. A fascinating read I must admit. Thanks for the insight into Kosher ways of preparing and eating food. I would like to know more about the why’s of these practices, does the koran specify why or does it just lay down the rules?

  6. McDonald’s really does go out of its way to bring cultural diversity to regions of the world (like the McRice Burger in Thailand).

    I didn’t notice that they were kosher in Israel…probably because I try my best to avoid eating there at all times.

    I’m pretty sure the KFC at the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, China, was Halal–I’m certain the Carrefour next door was.

  7. Delightful post, Gary. So enlightening to see how you’ve penetrated the depths here with kashrut. I’ve crossposted.

  8. I’m pretty sure it’s the ‘Koran’ not the ‘Korean’ too, but cool article.

  9. A few comments:

    Paragraph 7 you say: “insects are not kosher, so escargot is off the menu.” Of course snails aren’t insects, so how does this relate?

    Paragraph 10 (I think) you say: “but in addition to not eating it during Passover, you can possess it.”

    I’m pretty sure you mean you can’T possess it.

    Thanks for the article. Enjoyable as always.


    • I supposed I should have used a more generic term like “bugs”. Biologically snails are not insects. Neither are spiders. I don’t think the ancient Israelites had such a distinction. They along with worms and other creatures fall under the category of “loathsome, crawling creatures” from the Torah, which would include snails.

      So the prohibition which covers insects also covers snails, but snails are obviously not insects. Poor word choice on my part.

  10. I was in Marrakech last week, but sadly, we didn’t venture into a McDonald’s. I wanted to…just to see how different it was. I guess, it’s not a stringent as a kosher McDonald’s because at least Muslims eat beef, no?

  11. I wonder if all this was a condition before McDonald’s first built restaurants in the region, or if it was a forced change later. It sounds like a lot of work to keep to code, but I guess this is the norm for them.

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