‘We will find another loophole’ says independent Kashrut authority founder

Rabbinate starts handing out warning notices of legal action to restaurants using Hashgacha Pratit supervision services.

June 8, 2016 13:08
3 minute read.
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz

Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz. (photo credit: HASHGACHA PRATIT)

Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, founder of the independent Hashgacha Pratit kashrut authority, said on Wednesday that his organization will find another legal loophole to allow it to continue providing kashrut supervision to restaurants that do not wish to be supervised by the state rabbinate.

His comments come following a ruling of the High Court of Justice on Monday that restaurants and other food businesses cannot declare themselves to be kosher or even present themselves as kosher if they are not under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate.

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Leibowitz and Hashgacha Pratit have led an insurgency against the rabbinate’s kashrut licensing service in recent years because of the frequent problems that have come to light, such as allegations of supervisors not showing up to do their job, cronyism and similar issues.

The Law against Kashrut Fraud (1983) prohibits a restaurant or food business from declaring itself to be kosher unless it has a license from the local rabbinate.

Until now, restaurants have been able to present themselves as kosher without using the word “kosher,” but the High Court closed this loophole with Monday’s ruling, paving the way for the rabbinate to issue fines for those who contravene the law.

“This is a poorly designed law that creates a dynamic which is more about wielding religious power than serving the religious public,” Leibowitz, an Orthodox rabbi, told The Jerusalem Post.

“Up until now we were using a loop-hole. The recent ruling seals it off, but we can find another one. For example, business are banned from saying they’re kosher but other people can say they’re kosher. A neighbor can post the supervision certification on their premises in support of the restaurant next door.”

Another path to informing customers that the 26 – soon to be 27 – restaurants using Hashgacha Pratit’s services is through its website and on social media, the rabbi said.

Leibowitz also pointed to suggestions on the organization’s Facebook page, such as that of the Georgie Pitta restaurant in Jerusalem which turned its supervision certificate around and wrote on the back, “The rabbinate forbids me from showing you what’s written on the other side.”

Hashgacha Pratit director Ayala Falk told the Post that the organization is currently rewording the supervision certificate it gives to restaurants using its services, in order to comply with Monday’s ruling.

Leibowitz said that the kashrut of Hashgacha Pratit is “without a doubt” more reliable than the rabbinate’s, although he noted that some local rabbinates and individual supervisors who nonetheless do their work well and reliably.

“The problem is that many do not and the customer has no way of knowing which is which,” he said.

Leibowitz acknowledges that his independent kashrut authority requires consumer awareness and that should such authorities’ work be anchored in legislation, Israelis would have to be more knowledgeable about which authorities to trust and which to not.

“The reality today is that Israeli consumers aren’t informed, but they are under the illusion that they don’t have to be educated about the reliability of the service they receive,” he says of the rabbinate kashrut service.

“Those of us who know the situation know that this is an illusion.”

The rabbinate on Tuesday began distributing warning notices to restaurants using Hashgacha Pratit about impending legal action if they do not remove any presentation of being a kosher establishment, including removing the Hashgacha Pratit certificate.

The Chief Rabbinate on Wednesday compared non-rabbinate kashrut supervision to a non-state body issuing driving licenses or state ID cards and said that all kashrut certificates not issued by it would be seen as fraudulent.

“We recommend to the pirate kashrut bodies operating in contravention of the law to stop their crying and wailing about the warnings (and not fines) that were sent to them for breaking the law. The High Court ruling gave an additional rubber stamp to the law, which those who give out these kashrut certificates break. These certificates, apart from blinding the public, have nothing behind them.”

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