A Kashrut certificate hangs at the entrance to a bakery in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In what could be a significant step forward for reliable kashrut in Israel, the High Court of Justice issued an ultimatum to the Chief Rabbinate on Wednesday instructing it to end the practice whereby restaurants and other food businesses directly pay the salaries of kashrut supervisors by September 2018.
This phenomenon, which has led to sever malpractice and corruption within the kashrut industry, is one of the most egregious problems with the chief rabbinate’s kashrut supervision service and it is hoped that ending the business-supervisor nexus will lead to improvements in kashrut standards.
The severe criticism from the High Court and other sources led to the establishment of a special committee within the chief rabbinate to examine possible reforms, resulting in recommendations which, among other proposals, would end the practice of businesses paying supervisors.
These recommendations were adopted by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate last month.
In Wednesday’s decision, the High Court gave the Chief Rabbinate until June 2018 to implement its proposal whereby kashrut inspectors would be employed by the local rabbinate in who’s jurisdiction the business lies, and the business would pay a supervision fee to the local rabbinate.
The independent kashrut supervision authority Hashgacha Pratit which has fought against the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut monopoly described the decision as “dramatic” and that it demonstrated the lack of faith the High Court has in the Chief Rabbinate’s intent to implement its proposals.
“I invite the rabbinate’s people for professional training at Hashgacha Pratit,” said Hashgacha Pratit founder and Orthodox rabbi Aharon Leibowitz wryly.
“We from day one have had no employer-employee relationship between the restaurant and the supervisor, and we would be happy to teach the rabbinate how to establish a quality kashrut system in accordance with Jewish law without structural conflicts of interest ,” he continued sardonically.
“The next stage has to be the dismantlement of of the monopoly and opening the kashrut market to competition. Only then will there be a real interest to improve the level of kashrut and the quality of supervision.”
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who has also been a long-time advocate of kashrut supervision reform, said the ruling set a new precedent, but said that only by ending the chief rabbinate’s control over the kashrut supervision market could real change happen.
“It’s clear that just like with every monopoly, the only solution for the problems with the kashrut system is breaking apart the chief rabbinate’s monopoly, and opening the market to other kashrut providers,” said Azaria.
A spokesperson for Chief Rabbi David Lau, who has advocated for kashrut reform of late, warmly welcomed the ruling, saying that it would help harness relevant state agencies into helping implement the rabbinate’s proposed reforms.
“From our point of view, this decision is wonderful and it fits exactly what we have presented to the [kashrut reform] committee of the rabbinate and we believe it will help us advance our proposal,” said the spokesman.
The decision could also reduce the scope for opposition from the Religious Services Ministry controlled by Shas, which has already heard strong opposition to the proposals from the association of kashrut supervisors.
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah religious-Zionist lobbying group said the decision was “a significant step” in bringing about structural improvements in the kashrut system, and said that is was a shame that the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry had opposed such a system for so long.
“We call on them to support legislation which NTA is advancing together with MK Rachel Azaria to increase competition in the kashrut market in a way that will turn kashrut supervisors into employees of a kashrut association and thereby resolve the conflict of interests.”