BALTIMORE, NOV. 23 -- The case started with the lowly hot dog. But if George Barghout has his way, it could be settled by a very high authority, the Supreme Court.

The issue, as he sees it, is separation of church and state. As city officials see it, the issue is false advertising stemming from non-separation of hot dogs.

Barghout, who sells hot dogs at his Yogurt Plus restaurant, was fined $400 in a city court last week after a food inspector said he defrauded the public by selling some hot dogs as "kosher" even though they had shared a rotisserie with non-kosher hot dogs.

Under traditional Jewish dietary law, as adopted by the Baltimore city code, kosher foods cooked with non-kosher foods become "contaminated" and thus lose their kosherness.

This, in turn, means any advertisement for commingled food as "kosher" is fraudulent.

That is where Barghout ran afoul of the law.

But to him, the issue is not whether he cooked Mogen David kosher hot dogs side-by-side with his deluxe non-kosher beef franks and then advertised them separately. The issue, he says, is whether a food inspector representing the city government should be allowed to enforce the laws of a religion.

"It is a violation of church and state separation" under the Constitution, Barghout said today. "I will appeal my guilty verdict," to the Supreme Court, if necessary, he said.

But wait. There's more. Barghout, 54, a Palestinian who came to the United States 31 years ago, said his prosecution by specially trained rabbinical food inspectors is an effort by "Zionists to drive me out of business."

Not so, responds Rabbi Mayer Kurcfeld, a member of the Baltimore city-county Bureau of Kosher Meat and Food Control, which enforces the food preparation laws observed by many of the 92,000 Jews in the Baltimore area.

He said Barghout was prosecuted "as a last resort" after more than a year of negotiating. He said Barghout repeatedly refused to take remedial action suggested by officials, such as cooking his kosher and non-kosher hot dogs in separate rotisseries or removing the word "kosher" from billboards at his restaurant.

"Of the 200 {kosher} violations I've cited in the last four years," Kurcfeld said, "he's the only one who contested it. That's why we prosecuted him."

He said most kosher food handlers correct violations "on the spot."

Calling an alleged Zionist conspiracy "a lot of baloney," Kurcfeld said he is even-handed in his justice. Last year, he prosecuted Caplan Bros., a Jewish-owned meat market, for falsely representing chickens as kosher. The owners were fined $500 each and ordered to serve 18 months' probation and perform 100 hours of community service.

Kurcfeld said state enforcement of Jewish food preparation laws has been challenged in the courts of other states "but has not yet been overturned." The purpose of the laws, he said, "is to protect consumers who want to buy a kosher item" and prevent fraud through misrepresentation.

Kurcfeld said many non-Jews, including Moslems, buy kosher food, not for religious reasons, but for cleanliness and taste, even though it often costs more.

Barghout said he should not have to buy a second rotisserie, costing $700, just to satisfy kosher rules. He argued that by cooking kosher and non-kosher hot dogs on opposite sides of his rotisserie, they are satisfactorily separated.

But Kurcfeld said grease from the two kinds of franks "drips one onto the other" as they turn.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. food inspection branch said there are no rabbis or other special inspectors on the city payroll checking for compliance with kosher laws.