The Religious Services Ministry announced Monday a series of reforms to the provision of kashrut services and supervision, saying the current system is poorly regarded by the general public.
Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and Chief Rabbi David Lau said at a press conference in Jerusalem that they were “bringing order” to the regulations and practices that have been in place until now, in order to strengthen public trust in the kashrut certification provided by the rabbinate.
But the coming shake-up was not unanimously welcomed, with restaurateurs and others saying that the changes were cosmetic and preserved the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut licensing.
According to the reforms, the rabbinate will establish a single, unified set of kashrut guidelines. Three standards of kashrut certification will be created: Basic, Mehadrin, and Mehadrin min HaMehadrin.
In addition, the current situation, in which the establishment being supervised pays the kashrut inspector, will be terminated. Instead, special oversight companies will be created around the country.
This reform was lauded by Bennett, Lau and Ben-Dahan as one that will create greater transparency and reliability in the provision of kashrut inspection.
The oversight companies would be funded by the income received from businesses requiring kashrut licensing, and the cost of inspection will be defined by the hours of supervision and inspection.
A digital database will be created in order to provide up-to-date, detailed information for the public on any business or restaurant with a kashrut certificate and enforcement will be tightened to prevent establishments without a kashrut license from claiming they are kosher.
Despite the enthusiasm of Bennett, Lau and Ben-Dahan for the changes, Yehonatan Vadai, the owner of the Carousel dairy cafe in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood was unimpressed.
Four years ago Vadai decided not to continue with his cafe’s rabbinate kashrut license, owing to his objection to the work practices of the kashrut supervisors, and instead declared it to be kosher but without a kashrut license.
Carousela, along with several other restaurants and eateries in the capital, joined together in 2012 to promote themselves as “kosher without certification.”
“Instead of dealing with the main problem, which is the rabbinate’s monopoly of kashrut in Israel, they are trying to fix the issues [that come as a result] in a cosmetic fashion,” Vadai told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
He said the idea to sever the connection between the restaurant and the supervisors was positive, but insisted that the best solution would be to open up the market for kashrut licensing.
“Why can’t we state that we are kosher? If someone wants to sit down at our restaurant and eat then they can do so and if not they are free to choose not to.
“Why am I forced to use a service I don’t want and that my customers might not want either,” he asked.
Hiddush, the religious freedom lobbying group, was also unimpressed with the reforms announced on Monday. “This is not a revolution but a further retreat,” said Hiddush Deputy-Director Shahar Ilan.
“Instead of the state doing away with the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut, which generates so much public hatred towards Judaism, it is strengthening it,” said Ilan.
“Instead of the state encouraging a free market for kashrut, including kashrut for secular, reform and conservative that would enable everyone to eat kosher according to his beliefs, it is supporting zealotry.”