A Kashrut certificate hangs at the entrance to a bakery in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Kashrut supervisors who “work” 27 hours a day, nepotistic allocation of work hours by local rabbinates and the hiring of close family members by senior local rabbinate officials are just some of the many deficiencies the State Comptroller’s report highlighted in its section on the state’s kashrut system.
The report said that parts of the kashrut supervision system are so bad that in some cases, such as in Jerusalem, it is likely that the public is being misled into thinking that businesses are kosher.
Corruption allegations and evidence of malpractice within the kashrut supervision system operated by local rabbinates under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry have been all too common in recent years.
Indeed, one of the first observations of the comptroller’s report is that it published a report on the kashrut system in 2009 and noted that almost none of the recommendations for improving the deficiencies found then have been implemented.
One of the primary problems found by the report is the designation of kashrut supervisors to supervise restaurants and other food businesses for extraordinarily long working hours, leading the report to question if these supervisors are in actuality supervising at all.
Kashrut supervisors are paid directly by the businesses they supervise and so the more businesses they are designated to supervise by the local rabbinate, the more money they can make.
However, each business requires at least one hour of supervision per day, with many requiring more.
The report found that in the Jerusalem, Netanya and Rehovot, “a substantial number” of supervisors have 12 to 24 designated daily work hours. In Jerusalem, 10% of supervisors have at least 16 designated work hours a day, including 16 who have 20 to 24 hours.
In one instance, one supervisor had 18 businesses to supervise daily, which required a total of 27 hours of supervision, not including his required supervision hours for one of the hotels in the capital on Shabbat.
The report stated that these discrepancies “arouse the suspicion of false allocation of supervision hours” and that businesses were therefore paying for supervision hours “that could not have been carried out.”
At the same time, it was found that some kashrut supervisors in Jerusalem were allocated very few businesses for supervision, and have as little as one hour of work a day, with some of these supervisors complaining that the Jerusalem rabbinate is nepotistic in the way it allocated supervisors.
The report concluded that the findings “arouse a heavy suspicion that the situation is comfortable for all sides,” explaining that businesses pay for supervision hours that are only partially carried out, allowing the businesses “flexibility and convenience,” while supervisors “reduce the time they are supposed to be supervising businesses while enjoying a fixed and regular income for supervisory hours that were not carried out.”
In addition, only 35% of kashrut supervisors have actually passed a kashrut supervision exam.
Another serious breach of regulations in the kashrut system is the common practice of local rabbinate officials hiring close family members as kashrut supervisors, which is forbidden by ministry regulations.
In Even Yehuda, it was found that the municipal chief rabbi, Ya’acov Rosentzweig, has employed his son Uriel Rosentzweig as a kashrut supervisor and a kashrut inspector for the last 20 years.
In Jerusalem, three brothers, one brother-in-law and the father-inlaw of one of the senior officials in the kashrut department are all employed as kashrut supervisors.
Indeed, the Jerusalem rabbinate was singled out for particular criticism by the report, which said that the findings “indicate... blatant violation of kashrut procedures,” adding that it and its chairman “are participating in the severe and systematic violation of proper administrative procedures to the extent that there is a suspicion that businesses and the public that trusts in kosher food are being deceived.”
In summation, the report said that the findings “testify to a severe failing by local rabbinates, especially Jerusalem and Netanya, in everything relating to enforcing kashrut regulations.”
The Religious Services Ministry said in response that it is “limited in its ability to influence the kashrut system,” which it said is under the responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate.
The Chief Rabbinate said that it “views with great importance the implementation of the report’s recommendations” and called on “all relevant government bodies, chiefly the Religious Services Ministry, which is in charge of financing and regulating local kashrut departments,” to harness itself to such efforts.