Imagine the following: Government inspectors are empowered to dress in uniforms and carry a shield. They may demand entry into a privately owned business. They may confiscate samples from the business. They may investigate the owner for fraud if they so decide. They may confiscate property if they believe that fraud has been committed. All of this without a police warrant.
Sounds Orwellian. Or maybe policy in a police state. But under a new law proposed by Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Ben Dahan a cadre of “Kashrut Police” will be so empowered in the State of Israel. They will join the ranks of the (unofficial) Modesty Police who see to it that women dress in keeping with some convoluted definition of modesty.
A primary intent of the law is, according to Ben Dahan, to put a stop to those businesses that claim to be Kosher but are not under the supervision of the official Rabbinate or its agents.
More and more restaurants and coffee shops are challenging the Rabbanut on the issue of Kashrut. Originally, laws relating to who would be allowed to certify a business as Kosher were intended to prevent fraud and to assure the public that a product was really Kosher. Only the Rabbinate or its agents could supervise. This could have allowed the Israeli public to avoid a scene so often seen in the States. You know what I am talking about. Two customers bent over the freezer section in a grocery store discussing which rabbis they hold by and which are Pas Nisht.
But the system is broken. It is rife with corruption. All sorts of Zealously Orthodox agencies have entered the field – jacking up prices with no assurance of heightened supervision.
As an educated consumer – I too am stymied. I get it when a pizza shop is under the supervision of the Rabbinate and is certified as Kosher. I even get Mehadrin/Kosher. But what in the world is Mehadrin Min HaMehadrin? And why should the consumer pay for this?
One Jerusalem restaurant, Hamishe Essen, was forced to fire all of their waitresses last year when it was pressured to obtain Mehadrin supervision. That is correct – in order to be so certified women were barred from waiting tables. (I wonder if such gender based discrimination is even legal).
Kashrut supervision does not come cheap. One must pay for the certification - a sign or the symbol on the product – and for the Mashgiach. Sometimes one must pay for a second Badazt (read:Haredi) certification and Mashgiach. Even more outlandish is that the Rabbinate now has its own Badazt certification.
Supermarkets located in “secular” towns are forced to sell only Glatt Kosher meat products thus forcing the consumer to spend more on a product they do not need and to fill the coffers of the Haredi Kashrut organizations.
Businesses pay the Mashgiach (Kashrut supervisor) directly thus setting the ground for possible corruption. How many businesses see the Mashgiach but once a month – on pay day? While official statistics may not be available – asking around reveals that it is quite common. Are all taxes being paid by the Mashgichim on the payments? Are any of the supervisors “studying at Yeshivot” – thus receiving a reprieve from military service – but nonetheless earning this money in violation of the law? Again, statistics are hard to come by.
It is owing to the disgrace of such corruption and abuse of the system that the Masorti Movement has entered the field of Hashgacha. Please note that I did not write that we certify an establishment as Kosher. The law prohibits us from doing so. We certify that a product has been prepared under the supervision of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel in keeping with the legal understanding of the Masorti Movement. We demand not only adherence to the basic laws of Kashrut but that all workers must be paid fairly and all finances be above board.
The Rabbinate has already declared the wine produced under our supervision to be not-kosher. That is fine by me. We have not requested nor do we seek their approval. Let the free market determine if there is a need for an alternative to the Rabbinate. It has already done so in the area of marriage, conversion, burial, the Kotel, and more.
Only in our state, with its bizarre mix of religion, state, and politics, would those suspected of corruption be assigned to police the very industry from whose teat they suck.
So allow me to make it easy on the Kashrut Police. Most days we can be found in the offices of the Masorti Movement in Israel. We will not ask for a warrant or even to see your newly issued badge. You can arrest us and others in our Movement. You can intrude on businesses. The Kashrut Police can take people into custody, they may confiscate property, but they will not stop an idea whose time has come.