The unprecedented criticism of the rabbinate’s kashrut system made in the State Comptroller’s Report published on Tuesday has highlighted the growing split in the National Religious community over the future of kashrut supervision in the country.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association, said the severe defects of the rabbinate’s kashrut system underlined the importance of privatizing the kashrut system, while Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a leading figure on the conservative wing of the National Religious community, argued that the rabbinate is capable of repairing the current system.
Among some of the worst findings of the State Comptroller’s Report were “heavy suspicions” that significant numbers of kashrut supervisors do not perform their supervision services; a conflict of interests inherent in the fact that kashrut inspectors also serve as kashrut supervisors; and 65% of kashrut supervisors not having obtained a kashrut supervision qualification.
Speaking to the Post, Aviner expressed confidence that the rabbinate has tackled and will continue to tackle deficiencies in the kashrut system, which he said are a natural occurrence in any large enterprise.
The rabbi said that although he acknowledges the flaws and forms of malpractice highlighted in the report, the rabbinate’s kashrut can still be relied on since the majority of supervisors and food businesses are still trustworthy.
Despite his confidence in the rabbinate’s kashrut, Aviner declined to answer whether he would eat in a restaurant under rabbinate supervision, saying his personal decisions are not relevant to the issue.
Aviner also rejected the idea of allowing independent kashrut authorities to operate, which he said would create mass confusion among consumers.
“There are deficiencies in the IDF and the police as well, but we would not privatize them – and the same applies to kashrut,” said the rabbi.
“We would see fraudulent kashrut organizations saying they are kosher when they are not, we would have Reform kashrut, and in the end, consumers won’t have the tools to discern which authorities are reliable and which are not.”
He also rejected the idea of turning the Chief Rabbinate into a kashrut regulator overseeing independent kashrut authorities, saying that every process and step of kashrut supervision had to be under the authority of a single body.
Stav, an ardent proponent of kashrut privatization, said that the rabbinate’s kashrut system is simply beyond repair.
When asked if, in light of the problems highlighted by the report, it is still permissible to eat in rabbinate-supervised establishments, the rabbi said that it would be advisable to find out who the supervisor is and if he is reliable, although adding that this is an advisable step regardless of the report.
Stav argued that privatization is the only way to have reliable kashrut, insisting that it is beyond the scope of a municipal rabbi’s abilities and training to run a kashrut supervision authority.
He dismissed the Chief Rabbinate’s recent proposals to reform its kashrut service by having local rabbinates employ supervisors instead of business owners, arguing that the political way in which local rabbinates are staffed precludes the possibility that they would employ reliable, honest and trustworthy supervisors.
“If the head of the local rabbinate was appointed by Shas, then what kind of supervisors are going to be employed?” he questioned, and referenced the severe nepotism in the appointment of supervisors and the allocation of their work hours underlined in Tuesday’s report.
“Will the director of the local rabbinate fire a bad supervisor if he is a relative?” asked Stav.
The rabbi also dismissed the argument against privatization that Israeli consumers would not be able to know which kashrut authorities are reliable, pointing out that religious Jews seem perfectly able to do so in the US, Europe and other parts of the Diaspora.
“Is it only in Israel that we’re stupid and can’t make an informed decision?” he asked acerbically.
Stav also pointed out that in the model he has proposed, the Chief Rabbinate would be the ultimate regulator of various independent kashrut authorities that would be established, meaning that the kashrut market would not be a free-for-all but rather a tightly regulated system.
Stav also took aim, albeit obliquely, at the conservative National Religious group the Chotam organization, which was critical of calls for privatization in the wake of the State Comptroller’s Report, saying they were designed to weaken the Chief Rabbinate.
In response to the report, Chotam said that “a self-accounting needs to be conducted by those organizations who for years, under cloak of concern for kashrut, have weakened the power of the rabbinate and have pushed different agencies to prevent the rabbinate from advancing efficiency processes and fixes for the situation,” in a thinly veiled attack on Tzohar.
Stav said to the Post that “National Religious groups who say we [Tzohar] are the problem can’t face the facts,” in a none-to-subtle reference to Chotam.
“This chutzpah and brazenness really is without bounds.
There are systemic problems in the rabbinate’s kashrut, and only groups who back the political wheeler-dealers and the politicization of kashrut are the ones opposing reform, despite the cost to the reliability of kashrut,” fumed Stav.
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, the National Religious founder of the independent Hashgacha Pratit kashrut supervision authority, which operates through loopholes in current laws, was similarly scathing about efforts to defend the rabbinate’s kashrut system.
“Severe transgressions, lies, failures and corruption, under the cover of local rabbinates and with the stamp of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel...
after decades of moral degeneration – what more needs to happen for a decision to be made to bring real change to kashrut in Israel?” asked Leibowitz, in response to the State Comptroller’s Report.
“Any sentient being understands that competition in the kashrut market is the only way to achieve quality supervision commensurate with Jewish law in the long term. The Israeli public deserves kashrut free of corruption and illegitimate interests,” he said.