Hashgacha Pratit founder Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz (right) presenting a supervision certificate to the Whisky Bar Museum in Tel Aviv. .
(photo credit: HASHGACHA PRATIT)
Independent Orthodox kashrut authority Hashgacha Pratit is threatening to sue for libel Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and an NGO for accusing it of slack kashrut practices.
A ruling by the High Court of Justice in September gave Hashgacha Pratit greater legal scope for its kashrut supervision service then had been previously permitted by law, and this was followed by a series of accusations by the Chief Rabbinate, Eliyahu, the Chotam organization and others.
Shortly after the ruling, the Chief Rabbinate issued a press release in which it alleged that a catering company that prepares food in a Palestinian village with non-kosher meat sold food to a restaurant under Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision, and that Hashgacha Pratit did nothing to rectify the situation.
Hashgacha Pratit stated however that it was the restaurant that sold to the catering company – not the other way round – and that the restaurant had never sold any food from the catering company while under Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision.
The organization also stated that it has various forms of evidence about the veracity of its version of events, which will be used in the libel suit.
Following the dissemination of the Chief Rabbinate’s claims to the media, Eliyahu and Chotam pounced on the story and denounced Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision as untrustworthy.
Eliyahu repeated the Chief Rabbinate’s allegations in a public lecture that the restaurant under Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision had sold non-kosher meat from the catering company, and Chotam disseminated Eliyahu’s claims on social media.
The Safed chief rabbi and Chotam have also publicly accused Hashgacha Pratit of being associated with the Reform movement on the basis of the organization formally being described in the NGO register as promoting “Jewish pluralism” in Israel.
Hashgacha Pratit said that this description meant pluralism within Orthodoxy, and that it has never received any support, financial or otherwise, from the Reform movement and that this claim too will be part of its libel suit.
Aside from these claims, the Chief Rabbinate also issued what appears to be an unlawful fine against the popular Pasta Basta eatery in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, the day after Hashgacha Pratit distributed newly worded supervision certificates to take advantage of the new legal situation following the High Court ruling.
And last week, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, one of the most senior national-religious rabbis and president of Chotam, also issued an attack on Hashgacha Pratit saying food in restaurants under its supervision was “suspected of being non-kosher.”
Hashgacha Pratit told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday that it was not interested in fighting with rabbis and neither would it respond “to every fabrication” made up against it.
“But we will not sit in silence and watch elements in the Chief Rabbinate dragging kashrut in Israel and the public into the depths of lies,” a spokesman for the organization said. “Anyone who disseminates lies against us will have to apologize in the end, admit to having severely deceived people, and pay.”
The spokesman said that it would not at this stage sue the Chief Rabbinate since it had worded its allegations in a more legally nuanced fashion than Eliyahu and Chotam, and because it would be taxpayers money that would be used to defend the Chief Rabbinate in a lawsuit.
In addition to these various allegations and denunciations, Bayit Yehud MK Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday wrote to the attorney-general and called on him to tighten enforcement against restaurants claiming to be kosher in contravention of the law, a reference to restaurants under Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision and its new supervision certificates.
The kashrut authority said it believes it is facing a coordinated campaign from elements in the conservative wing of the national-religious movement to discredit its supervision service, and to ward off the establishment of any other independent supervision authorities.
The Tzohar rabbinical association in particular has been considering establishing its own supervision service, with a decision expected in the coming weeks.
In the face of this multi-front attack on the organization from conservative elements of the national-religious community and the Chief Rabbinate, the more liberally minded Orthodox rabbinical association Beit Hillel issued a letter of support for Hashgacha Pratit’s kashrut supervision.
The organization said it was “saddened by the fierce attack against Hashgacha Pratit,” adding that it was headed by “extremely worthy and responsible people, expert rabbis in the field of kashrut with a great deal of experience in Israel and abroad.”
Neither Eliyahu or Chotam responded to a request for comment.