Chief Rabbinate in fierce opposition to change in control over kosher certification

Some restaurant owners say Chief Rabbinate supervision "illogical."

April 16, 2015 18:02
4 minute read.
Food [illustrative]

Food [illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Ministry of Justice convened an internal meeting on Thursday to deliberate its stance regarding a petition to the High Court of Justice against the exclusive authority of the Chief Rabbinate to describe a restaurant or other establishment as kosher.

The petition has been brought by the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement in Israel on behalf of two restaurant owners who decided to stop receiving kashrut supervision from the Chief Rabbinate, but said that they abide by the laws of kashrut in the restaurant and continued to advertise themselves as kosher establishments on the internet.

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The restaurant owners, Yehonatan Vadai of Carousela in the capital’s Rehavia neighborhood and Shai Gini, owner of Topolino on Agrippas Street, said they chose to stop their supervision because of “illogical demands” from the kashrut supervisors and due to their feeling that “there was no value to the supervision.”

Five years ago Vadai decided not to continue with his dairy 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,” an initiative of the Yerushalmim municipal political party together with Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, an Orthodox rosh yeshiva of the Sulam Yaakov yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Such restaurants declare themselves to be kosher, and the network utilizes one kashrut supervisor and several volunteers to oversee the restaurants and ensure they are conforming to kashrut practices.

Topolino and Carousela were fined for continuing to advertise themselves as kosher establishments without the rabbinate kashrut supervision, but both owners submitted a request to be tried in court regarding the fines. They were however never summoned for a hearing and a request to annul the fines was denied by the Chief Rabbinate’s department of kashrut fraud, although they have not been paid.

“We are asking the court to cancel the fines that were imposed on these restaurant owners, and in addition to instruct the Chief Rabbinate not to employ the law against kashrut fraud against these restaurants, which are in fact operating in accordance with the laws of Kashrut but do not have a rabbinate certificate,” said IRAC attorney Riki Shapira regarding the High Court petition, which is due to be heard next month.

IRAC argues that the ban on restaurants from using the word “kashrut” because they do not have a kashrut license from the Chief Rabbinate is “not proportional,” and says that the rabbinate cannot have a monopoly on the the word.

The organization is arguing in court that the law against kashrut fraud is not applicable since the two restaurants in question do abide by kashrut laws and are therefore not deceiving the public since they acknowledge they do not have a certificate from the rabbinate.

“When restaurant owners clarify that they do not have a kashrut certificate they are not deceiving the public and therefore there is no reason to fine them. The Chief Rabbinate is acting out of paternalism and obligates everyone to accept only its kashrut,” added Shapira.

IRAC also states that the law harms the freedom of restaurant owners to employ whomever they chose.

The advocacy group is therefore asking that clause three of the Law against Kashrut Fraud, 1983 be annulled since it contravenes freedom of employment.

Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef
, fearful that the Ministry of Justice may accept some of the claims made in the petition, sent a letter to the Attorney General on Wednesday outlining their objections and requesting that the State Attorney's Office adopt the Chief Rabbinate's position when it argues the case in the High Court.

“Accepting the demands of the petitioners would constitute a mortal blow against the kashrut observant public, the majority of Jews in the state,” wrote the rabbis.

“If the petition is accepted then it is reasonable to assume that businesses will request to present themselves as kosher without the statutory kashrut certificate, and therefore there is a serious concern that the public will be deceived if in actuality these businesses do not follow kashrut requirements whether through deceit or negligence of their owners, or of they simply or unaware of kashrut requirements which are a complicated topic within Jewish law.”

The chief rabbis argued that it is in the interests of restaurants to declare themselves to be kosher because of the added value of attracting kashrut observant patrons and noted that the Chief Rabbinate's department for kashrut fraud frequently deals with the phenomenon of fraudulent kashrut certificates, adding that this phenomenon could increase if the Ministry accepts the arguments in the petition.

The Ministry of Justice stated on Thursday that it was formulating its position on the issue and was examining the different claims brought up by the petitioners, including the position that the law is not constitutional. The Ministry said however that the deputy Attorney General had not yet decided what position will be adopted.

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