Since the Tzohar rabbinical association announced the launch of its own kashrut authority last month, it has been subject to heavy criticism from within its own National Religious community.
Among those critics is Rabbi Haim Druckman, perhaps the most senior and influential rabbinical leader in the community, who says that Tzohar’s initiative could undermine kashrut reliability in the Jewish state.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Druckman said he does not oppose Tzohar’s kashrut authority per se, but rather the whole idea of independent kashrut authorities separate from the Chief Rabbinate.
“This phenomenon will harm kashrut, because tomorrow anyone will be able to establish his own separate kashrut, and who knows what type of kashrut it will be,” argued the rabbi, saying essentially that less scrupulous kashrut authorities will enter a privatized market where sufficient oversight will be impossible.
Druckman said that he was of the opinion that food in restaurants under Tzohar’s supervision would be kosher, but that this was beside the point since it would open the path for untrustworthy bodies to start their own kashrut supervision services.
And the rabbi also argued that religiously traditional people who want to eat kosher but are not strictly observant will be unfamiliar with the new situation, and will not be able to discern which independent authorities are trustworthy or not.
“We have a lot of traditional people who watch television on Shabbat but eat kosher. Such a person doesn’t need to educate himself about what is kosher, he just needs to know that the rabbinate is kosher,” Druckman said.
The rabbi conceded that problems exist within the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut authority, but insisted that such problems should be rectified instead of abandoning the old system, arguing that “many government ministries and departments are subjected to criticism” but are not replaced.
“We cannot abolish the Chief Rabbinate. It is essential to religion in the State of Israel. Any injury to the Chief Rabbinate is an injury to religion,” said the rabbi.
He also noted that he and other National Religious rabbis are working on a bridging solution to the problem between the Chief Rabbinate and Tzohar, although would not divulge details.
RABBIS FROM within Tzohar have also been critical of the new kashrut authority.
One such figure is Rabbi Moshe Biegel, the chief rabbi of Meitar, who initiated a petition within Tzohar of rabbis who oppose the kashrut initiative, although he has declined to say exactly how many Tzohar rabbis have signed the petition.
Speaking to the Post, Biegel said that the perspective of the dissenting rabbis was that kashrut licensing needs to be done on a national basis, within one unified and transparent body.
Critically, he argues that if kashrut licensing is not under a state department or body, it is impossible to implement proper oversight and inspection.
“That is why I only trust a state body where there is oversight. If they have never been inspected and checked, then how do you know it’s kosher,” Biegel said.
“The rabbinate is the only body where there is oversight and which can be supervised, and which can be fixed. All the private organizations and independent kashrut authorities, no one can supervise them because they are private bodies, so go and try to carry out oversight over them.
“They won’t let you and you have no idea of the problems they have. Because it is not a state body they have no responsibility to give an accounting to you,” he said.
Biegel also argued that reforms to the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut authority which were announced in May last year and are supposed to be enacted this year will more than address the criticisms that have been leveled at its kashrut service in recent years.
Tzohar co-chairman Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein said that he understood Druckman’s concerns, but pointed out that it was not Tzohar which has brought about the ability for independent kashrut authorities to be established but rather the High Court of Justice.
In September, the High Court ruled that although independent kashrut authorities could not declare businesses under their inspection to be kosher in writing, they could however delineate the kashrut standards which are observed at a particular establishment.
This was the legal opening that has allowed Tzohar to open its kashrut authority, called Pikuah Mazon or “Food Inspection.”
Feuerstein said with or without Tzohar’s kashrut authority, other, less reliable, bodies could still enter the market.
Asked whether the law should then be changed to prevent this, the rabbi said that Tzohar is in favor of a change to the law, but in a way which would make the Chief Rabbinate an industry regulator, and where independent kashrut authorities, such as Tzohar’s, would operate under the rabbinate’s oversight.
Feuerstein also said that the very fact that Tzohar was entering the market would act as a disincentive to other groups since they lack Tzohar’s reputation and positive image with the general public.
And Feuerstein rejected Biegel’s argument, saying that for all the oversight and inspection available to the state there has been little improvement in the rabbinate’s kashrut standards despite frequent reports of poor practice and corruption, including by the state comptroller in 2017.
Since announcing the establishment of its kashrut authority, Feuerstein says that Tzohar has received applications from 150 restaurants seeking to sign up for its services, including 50 restaurants that are currently not kosher.