(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Shas leader and Economy Minister Arye Deri has backed away from an amendment to the kashrut law his party was supporting and now appears set to allow the bill, which was scheduled for a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, to be withdrawn from the agenda.
The legislation is opposed by Kulanu and has twice been withdrawn from the committee’s agenda in the last two weeks. The Attorney General’s Office is also thought to have expressed doubts as to the legality of the proposed law.
According to a report in Haaretz, Deri wants to wait and see how the High Court of Justice rules on a petition regarding the legitimacy of independent kashrut licensing, which is currently before the court, before advancing the amendment.
Despite Deri’s apparent reticence to insist on bringing the bill to a vote, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni may still try to force the issue although the amendment will include significant changes from the initial draft even if it is brought to a vote.
Among Kulanu’s objections to the bill is Shas’s amendment to the Law Against Kashrut Fraud 1983, which would prevent any restaurant or catering service from presenting itself as kosher in any manner whatsoever if it does not have kashrut supervision from the Chief Rabbinate.
Under the current terms of the law, although the Chief Rabbinate is recognized as the only authority to give a certificate of kashrut, some restaurants with objections to various aspects of the rabbinate’s management of kashrut supervision have joined the Hashgacha Pratit association, which provides independent Orthodox kashrut supervision.
Such restaurants have declared themselves to be under rabbinic supervision without using the word “kosher” and although the chief rabbinate sought to fine these restaurants for infringing the law against kashrut fraud, the attorney-general recently ruled that since they do uphold kashrut standards they could not legally be fined for kashrut fraud since they are indeed kosher.
It is this ruling that has led the Chief Rabbinate and haredi parties to worry that the High Court of Justice, which is now considering a petition from two restaurants the chief rabbinate tried to fine for violating the Kashrut Fraud law, may end the chief rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut licensing.
Shas’s bill, initiated by MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, states explicitly that a restaurant without a kashrut certificate from the local rabbinate could not in any way present itself as kosher, as do Hasgacha Pratit restaurants at present.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria was a leading proponent of the Hashgacha Pratit system from within the Yerushalmim Party in the Jerusalem Municipal Council.
Aaron Leibowitz, an Orthodox rabbi who took Azaria’s spot on the Jerusalem Municipal Council after she was elected to the Knesset, is the founder of Hashgacha Pratit.
In addition to its attack on this independent kashrut licensing system, Shas’s law could damage a key reform proposed by Kulanu and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reduce the price of food.
The reform, known as the Cornflakes bill, would increase competition in the food market by allowing importers to bring in products made by a company and approved for import by Israeli authorities even if the actual products come from a factory outside the headquarters of that food producer.
Such companies produce food that is approved by a generally accepted kashrut-supervisory organization outside of Israel and bear the approval of the Chief Rabbinate when sold in Israel.
Shas’s law would mean that such food items would need re-approval by the Chief Rabbinate before they could be sold as kosher in Israel.
Opponents of the law say this would increase the chief rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut licensing and approval and damage efforts to lower food prices.