(photo credit: REUTERS)
The High Court of Justice struck a significant blow to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut licensing on Tuesday, giving restaurants and other food businesses broad scope to describe the way in which they observe kashrut standards without actually using the word kosher or similar terms.
The ruling has given succor to the Hashgacha Pratit independent and Orthodox kashrut licensing authority, which has challenged the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly in recent years, and gives it greater scope to provide legal kashrut supervision of businesses that are not interested in the rabbinate’s services.
The decision could also pave the way for the establishment of more independent kashrut authorities, as some groups such as the national-religious Tzohar rabbinical association have said they intend to do.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said the Law Against Kashrut Fraud was designed to guarantee that food is presented truthfully regarding its kashrut status.
She ruled therefore that the law holds that “a food establishment which does not have a kashrut certificate [from the rabbinate] cannot present itself as kosher, but this does not prevent it from giving a true presentation in writing which details the standards it observes and the way these standards are inspected.”
She and the other justices added, however, that such a presentation must include an explicit clarification that the business in question does not have a kashrut certificate from the rabbinate.
And they wrote that the words “kashrut” “in accordance with Jewish law” and “kashrut supervisors” could not be used.
In a telling comment aimed at the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly, Naor wrote that “the choice of whether or not to eat at such a food establishment should be in the hands of the consumer. Each person [can act] in accordance with his own preference and the level of stringency he chooses.”
Since its inception, Hashgacha Pratit has used loopholes in the Law Against Kashrut Fraud to provide kashrut supervision for restaurants and other food businesses that were fed up with the often substandard and corrupt rabbinate service.
Such loopholes included not describing its documentation as a kashrut certificate and avoiding using the word kosher, instead using words associated with kashrut such as “supervision” and other such phrases.
However, a decision in June 2016 by the High Court tightened these loopholes and put greater restrictions on Hashgacha Pratit’s operations. The organization nevertheless adapted its documentation even further, merely alluding to kashrut standards in order to continue operating.
Tuesday’s decision restores the situation to what it was before the June 2016 ruling, and will give Hashgacha Pratit much greater scope to inform potential patrons and customers of restaurants and food businesses that the food on offer is kosher.
Hashgacha Pratit founder and Orthodox rabbi and yeshiva dean Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz said the decision gave a tailwind to his organization’s struggle against the “failing and fraudulent kashrut monopoly” of the Chief Rabbinate, and that it would change the kashrut market in the country.
“Anyone who knows the field knows that long-term, quality kashrut is only possible when there is competition,” the rabbi said.
“Hashgacha Pratit arose from a grassroots demand of customers for whom it was more important that food be truly kosher than that the logo of the Chief Rabbinate be on the wall. After decades of deterioration in the level of kashrut in Israel, the High Court has recognized today the supremacy of kashrut over a certificate from the Chief Rabbinate.”
The Chief Rabbinate decried the decision, saying that it would harm kashrut consumers who were not expert in the required standards of Jewish law to ensure food is kosher.
“We are obligated to warn that allowing businesses to present themselves as observing the principles of kashrut without appropriate inspection or an authorized regulatory body opens the way for largescale, severe and complex kashrut fraud which no body can enforce, and with no one to guarantee to the consumer that ‘a true presentation’ is done in accordance with Jewish law,” responded the Chief Rabbinate.
Chief Rabbi David Lau said that “as an institution trusted on the issue of kashrut, the Chief Rabbinate will continue to provide the highest quality kashrut for the Jewish people.”