Chief rabbi David Lau.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Following years of corruption allegations and charges of misconduct in the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut licensing system, Chief Rabbi David Lau has proposed reforms that, if implemented, could significantly reduce costs, eliminate the conflict of interests in the current system and improve the kashrut supervision service.
The proposals come against the background of tough criticism leveled at the Chief Rabbinate by the High Court of Justice in a February hearing on a case against the rabbinate’s legal monopoly over the kashrut licensing and supervision system.
The most crucial part of Lau’s proposal is a reform whereby kashrut supervisors would no longer be employed by the restaurant or business under supervision, as happens today, but would instead be employed by the local rabbinate.
According to Lau’s proposal, restaurants and other food businesses would be able to choose from two supervision options.
For the first option, they would have to agree to install an electronic system whereby cameras would be installed in the restaurant kitchen and the food preparations would be monitored from a remote location. At the same time, a member of the kitchen staff would serve as a kashrut “trustee,” appointed by the business manager with the agreement of the local municipal rabbi, who would carry out kashrut requirements such as sifting grains, washing vegetables and similar tasks.
His activities would be monitored remotely via the camera system, while kashrut inspectors would physically conduct spot checks at such businesses to ensure that kashrut standards are being maintained.
Lau believes that his model will help reduce kashrut costs by eliminating the need to employ a kashrut supervisor and designating his tasks to the remote supervisors and a serving member of staff.
Businesses not interested in this model would be able to use a system including the kashrut trustee idea without the camera system, but with a more intensive inspection regime by the kashrut inspectors, or a traditional kashrut supervisor. In these models, too, kashrut inspectors and supervisors would be employed by the local rabbinate.
A final reform would be to establish universal kashrut standards across the country to eliminate corrupt local practices and protections, and to allow national businesses to operate on the basis of one set of standards, thereby saving money.
These reforms have been transmitted to the High Court, which requested to see them as part of its deliberations on the petition against the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut monopoly. The tough criticism made by the justices led to fears within the rabbinate that the court could very well rule that the monopoly is unlawful.
Hashgacha Pratit, an independent Orthodox kashrut licensing authority that has challenged the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly by using legal loopholes to provide kashrut supervision, said in response to the proposals that it was its pressure that had brought about the suggested reforms.
“That which the Chief Rabbinate is saying they will fix in the future is something Hashgacha Pratit has already implemented on the ground from day one,” said Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, Hashgacha Pratit’s founder.
“We have heard [from] the rabbinate in the past declarations about reforms and we will be happy to see them implemented in practice, but the truth must be told: as long as there is no competition, the rabbinate will have no real interest in amending the failures in the kashrut system,” he continued. “Only by totally opening up the kashrut market to competition will the cumulative damage done by the Chief Rabbinate to kashrut in Israel be repaired, and we will therefore continue our activities with full force.”