‘Campaign of persecution’ against independent kashrut

“These fines are not actually fines, but rather extortion via threats."

By
December 14, 2017 23:41
Kosher certificates

Kosher certificates. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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The alternative, Orthodox kashrut authority Hashgacha Pratit has faced an onslaught of hostile activity from the Chief Rabbinate and conservative National Religious NGOs in the past six weeks, and the organization’s employees received a barrage of harassing calls and messages.

In September, the High Court of Justice ruled that restaurants can delineate in writing what kashrut standards they observe without declaring themselves to be kosher in writing, constituting a serious blow to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut supervision.

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Ever since, the Chief Rabbinate and other organizations backing state-controlled kashrut supervision have been fighting a rearguard action to shore up the monopoly.

As a result, at the end of September the Chief Rabbinate issued a fine to the Pasta Basta restaurant in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehudah market the day after Hashgacha Pratit changed its written kashrut declarations, which are hung in restaurants under its supervision, to conform to the High Court ruling.

However, it appeared that the fine was unlawful since Hashgacha Pratit’s written declaration closely followed the High Court ruling regarding what is and is not acceptable to put in writing.

Eventually, the Chief Rabbinate received instructions from the State Attorney’s Office stating that the fine was indeed unlawful and ordered it to be rescinded, which it was on November 2.

Denied the ability to fine restaurants using Hashgacha Pratit’s kashrut supervision under the present circumstances, it appears that the Chief Rabbinate decided to continue its campaign by fining restaurants who had Hashgacha Pratit supervision before the High Court ruling.

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On the same day that the Pasta Basta fine was rescinded, the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut enforcement division sent a fine of NIS 2,000 to the La Cucina restaurant in Ramat Gan for the alleged violation of presenting itself as kosher without rabbinate supervision four months earlier, on June 28.

And later in November, a series of seven fines were sent to the Little India restaurant in Beersheba, totaling NIS 8,000, for one date in April and six dates in August.

And the campaign has taken different forms as well. On October 3, the Chief Rabbinate issued a press release with erroneous claims about a non-kosher catering company that they had alleged mistakenly sold food to a restaurant under Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision.

Chief Rabbi of Safed and member of the council of the Chief Rabbinate Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu pounced on the story and, together with another conservative group called the Hotam Organization, denounced Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision as untrustworthy.

Eliyahu then wrote to the Tzohar rabbinical association, which is itself considering opening an independent kashrut supervision service, denouncing Hashgacha Pratit, and then repeated his claims on a radio program on Galei Yisrael that he hosts.

Hashgacha Pratit has now initiated a legal suit for slander against Eliyahu because of these claims.

On October 22, Bayit Yehudi MK and staunch proponent of state-run kashrut Bezalel Smotrich wrote to the attorney-general, calling on him to “increase enforcement” against kashrut fraud.

On October 23, Hotam issued a statement alleging that some Hashgacha Pratit restaurants are open on Shabbat, something which the organization said is totally false.

On October 24, restaurants under Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision began receiving harassing phone calls from anonymous callers, accusing the owners of serving non-kosher food and deceiving their patrons.

The Chief Rabbinate then began issuing verbal and written warnings of fines to Hashgacha Pratit restaurants, including the Shraga Cafe in Jerusalem on October 31 and the Abaleh restaurant in Beersheba on November 1. Restaurant owners in Ashkelon received more telephone harassment, as did the kashrut supervisor in that city.

The Veggies Bar restaurant in Jerusalem received a verbal warning of a fine on November 5, after the State Attorney’s Office had told the Chief Rabbinate that fines against Hashgacha Pratit restaurants were unlawful.

On November 4, Rabbi Oren Duvdevani, an expert in the laws of kashrut who formerly worked for the Chief Rabbinate but switched recently to Hashgacha Pratit, received a wave of harassment from anonymous callers and similar messages via Whatsapp.

“Duvdevani is evil,” wrote one individual. “You should be ashamed of yourself [for] causing the masses to sin,” said another.

On November 14 there was another wave of harassment via phone calls and messages, including one received by the rabbi of a congregation that is attended by Hashgacha Pratit’s Ashkelon supervisor. The rabbi was told if the supervisor did not stop working with Hashgacha Pratit, notices would be published denouncing the supervisor as being Reform.

A similar call was received by a cousin of the supervisor.

On November 23, the Liba Center, another conservative National Religious group, published a document on Hashgacha Pratit, which made erroneous claims about the organization’s supervision process and tried to cast aspersions on it because it has received funding from the UJA Federation of New York, the Lishtag Federation and the Shusterman Foundation.

On November 30, an organization called the Lavi Center for Human Rights published its own document, pointing out that one of the seven members of Hashgacha Pratit’s executive committee is also a Conservative rabbi.

Hashgacha Pratit pointed out that the executive committee has no connection to the kashrut standards of its restaurants, and that Duvdevani directs kashrut policy and oversees the kashrut supervisors who work in strict accordance with Orthodox Jewish law.

Yonatan Peleg, the spokesman for Hashgacha Pratit, described these various attacks as “an organized campaign of persecution” against the organization and the businesses using its services.

“These fines are not actually fines, but rather extortion via threats, and all these activities we have seen since the High Court decision reflects the Chief Rabbinate’s great fear of competition,” said Peleg.

“By trying to preserve the sources of power in their hands, they have abandoned kashrut and chosen to persecute business owners in an illegitimate and unworthy manner.

“This is how the Chief Rabbinate lost the trust of the public in the first place,” he said.

The Chief Rabbinate did not respond to a request for comment.

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