(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Shas’s controversial kashrut law, designed to outlaw independent kashrut authorities, was passed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday for a preliminary reading in the Knesset. But it included an agreement that it would require Finance Minister and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon’s approval before any further progress.
The compromise secured by Kulanu – which strongly backs independent kashrut licensing – means that after the bill’s approval in its preliminary reading, a new draft will be created requiring Kahlon’s approval and subsequent re-approval in the ministerial committee before it goes to the Knesset for its first reading.
The current law states that only the Chief Rabbinate or a local municipal rabbinate are authorized to issue a kashrut certificate with the word “kosher” on it.
In recent years however, several restaurants in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have dropped their rabbinate supervision – due to objections to various practices of rabbinate kashrut supervision – in favor of an independent Orthodox kashrut licensing authority called Hashgacha Pratit. In order to get around the law, Hashgacha Pratit does not use the word “kosher” on its certificates but instead states that the restaurant has rabbinical supervision.
Hashgacha Pratit has become increasingly popular in recent years and Shas proposed a law at the beginning of the current Knesset that would explicitly ban a restaurant from presenting any allusion to being kosher, such as displaying a certificate with the words “rabbinic supervision” on it, in order to outlaw independent kashrut licensing authorities.
Kulanu, particularly MK Rachel Azaria, objected strongly to the bill leading to a protracted dispute over the law for the last month.
The text of the bill approved by the Ministerial Committee on Sunday states that a restaurant will be not be able to indicate in any way that it is kosher, even if it does not use the word “kosher” and even if it states in its alternative kashrut certificate or sign that its supervision is not from the chief rabbinate.
The one concession in the bill itself to independent kashrut licensing authorities is a cause stating that a restaurant could display a prominent sign written and authorized only by the restaurant itself and no other body saying that the establishment is “self-inspected and without any supervision.”
Kulanu and Azaria argue however that because the bill approved on Sunday in the Ministerial Committee includes the provision that a new draft approved by Kahlon must be agreed upon before the bill’s first reading, the severe restrictions on a restaurant presenting itself as under independent kashrut supervision inherent in the bill will not be implemented.
“I am happy that we have succeeded in preventing the original kashrut law proposed by Shas since it was Draconian and injurious to businesses and to those who observe kashrut,” said Azaria. “We will continue to follow this bill closely to ensure it does not harm importers or restaurants as has been agreed by the coalition partners after prolonged negotiations that have lasted for more than a month.”
Shas chairman and Economy Minister Arye Deri welcomed the approval of the bill, stating that he was “happy the bill passed and we were thus able to protect the status of the rabbinate.”
However, during a hearing of the High Court of Justice earlier on Sunday on a petition regarding the legality of independent kashrut authorities, representatives of the Attorney General’s Office described the proposed legislation as “extremist.”
Their statements mean the Attorney-General’s Office is unlikely to defend any petition brought against such legislation should it become law.
The High Court hearing was for a petition brought by two restaurants asking for the cancellation of fines that were imposed against them by the chief rabbinate for displaying kashrut certificates from Hashgacha Pratit, and that the current law against kashrut fraud allow restaurants to present themselves as kosher even if they do not have a kashrut certificate from the rabbinate.
These two restaurants, Carousela and Topolino, elected to stop receiving supervision from the Jerusalem Rabbinate several years ago and instead adopted the kashrut supervision of Hashgacha Pratit.
The restaurants made this decision because they claimed that the rabbinate’s kashrut supervisors made unreason able demands and did not perform their supervisory duties adequately.
The Chief Rabbinate is vehemently opposed to formalizing the status of independent kashrut authorities as requested in the petition, arguing that wide spread kashrut fraud could be perpetrated as a result.
They have argued that there would be a serious concern that the public will be deceived and misled if restaurants and other food businesses do not follow kashrut requirements either through deceit or negligence of the independent licensing authority and the business owner.
The Chief Rabbinate argues that it is in the interests of restaurants to declare themselves to be kosher because of the added value of attracting kashrut observant patrons and noted that the Chief Rabbinate’s department for kashrut fraud frequently deals with the phenomenon of fraudulent kashrut certificates, adding that this phenomenon could increase if the ministry accepts the arguments in the petition