(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The fight over kashrut has escalated recently, evidenced by a letter from the director of the Hotels Association to hotel owners asking them to consider moving to an alternative kashrut provider should the High Court of Justice enable such a move.
The letter represents a significant threat to the huge income derived by the Chief Rabbinate and the local religious councils from kashrut supervision of hotels, and illustrates the level of frustration and dissatisfaction of the hotel industry with the body’s kashrut service.
Many restaurants, hotels and other food businesses have long complained of poor practices and even corruption within the rabbinate’s kashrut supervision service, and public pressure has built in recent years to remedy the problem.
The High Court, with an expanded panel of seven justices, is currently considering a petition by two restaurants, who have been joined by the Hotels Association and the Restaurants Association, against the monopoly afforded the Chief Rabbinate by law over kashrut supervision.
At the last hearing on Sunday, the justices, including the president of the court, Miriam Naor, spoke out sharply against the monopoly, giving hope to activists that the kashrut market may be opened up to competition.
In his letter to hotel owners a day after the High Court hearing, director of the Hotels Association Moaz Bar-Nir said Tzohar, a religious-Zionist rabbinical association and bête noir of the Chief Rabbinate, had decided to open its own kashrut supervision service, and asked if member hotels would be interested in switching to Tzohar’s service.
Tzohar does not in fact currently have its own kashrut supervision service, but has said that it would very likely start one should the market be opened to competition.
Bar-Nir described the rabbinate’s service as “extremist,” but said that at least 20 hotels would need to agree to move to a new kashrut provider for the idea to be feasible.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
, Bar-Nir said about 30 hotels had expressed interest in switching kashrut supervision, and such a step would be highly likely if it became legally possible.
Bar-Nir explained that the principle problem encountered by hotels was the localized monopoly of the regional religious councils, which are mandated by the Chief Rabbinate to issue kashrut licenses in their jurisdictions.
In many instances, kashrut supervisors demand that hotels under their supervision buy meat, fruit and vegetables and other food items from specific suppliers, when the same goods with the same rabbinate kashrut approvals can be obtained from other suppliers for cheaper.
On Wednesday, the Chief Rabbinate wrote a warning letter to Bar-Nir threatening legal action and fines against any hotel that uses an alternative, non-rabbinate kashrut supervision authority under the terms of the current Law Against Kashrut Fraud.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who helped start the Hashgacha Pratit independent kashrut authority – which operates through loopholes in the current law – said Bar-Nir’s letter was yet more evidence of the desire for competition in the kashrut sector.
“It started with small businesses and now the Hotels Association is also joining, and I welcome the initiative,” said Azaria. “Any effort to preserve the rabbinate monopoly only harms kashrut itself, the trust of the public and business owners.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and MK Bezalel Smotrich of the National Union party, a constituent of the Bayit Yehudi Knesset faction, wrote to Bar-Nir criticizing his idea as “damaging to the standing of the Chief Rabbinate” and said any necessary reforms should be conducted within the current framework.
“When [first Ashkenazi chief rabbi] Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook established the Chief Rabbinate he saw in his vision the need to give Torah and Jewish law official, national standing and to thereby form the Jewish character of the State of Israel,” they stated. “Harming the Chief Rabbinate would cause harm to his vision.”