(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor ruled on Thursday that a petition challenging the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut licensing will be given another hearing, after the High Court rejected the petition in June.
The decision represents a setback for the Chief Rabbinate, which had been bolstered by the earlier decision in the face of increasing pressure from the alternative kashrut licensing authority Hashgacha Pratit.
The case will be heard by seven justices at a later date.
Hashgacha Pratit, which provides Orthodox kashrut supervision to 26 restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Kfar Saba, was established several years ago as an alternative to the rabbinate’s services, which have been strongly criticized for numerous problematic practices.
The 1983 Law against Kashrut Fraud states that only the Chief Rabbinate, through its local rabbinate branches, may issue kashrut certificates, and only restaurants that have a certificate may advertise themselves in writing as kosher establishments.
Due to legal pressure from petitions to the High Court filed by two restaurants several years ago, then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein issued a ruling in May 2015 explicitly permitting restaurants and other culinary businesses to declare themselves to be “under supervision,” even if the supervisors are not licensed by the rabbinate.
Until the High Court ruling in June this year, Hashgacha Pratit used certificates in the restaurants they supervised which said the establishment abided by “Jewish law relating to food ingredients and preparation,” but did not use the word kosher, to circumvent the stipulation of the law.
The court’s decision closed this loophole, however, as the court agreed with the Chief Rabbinate’s principle argument that the law is necessary to prevent fraud, noting that kashrut observance for a restaurant incurs a significant financial cost, and that a restaurant owner has an inherent interest in presenting a business as kosher to increase the number of its customers.
The deficiencies of the current system were noted, as well as that there are serious malfunctions in the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut supervision service.
The ruling created legal difficulties for Hashgacha Pratit, and the Chief Rabbinate immediately issued five warning notices of impending fines to five restaurants if they did not remove their Hashgacha Pratit certificates.
The organization subsequently changed its certificate, removing its name from the document, since the word “hashgacha” in Hebrew means supervision, and removed the words “in accordance with Jewish law.”
No restaurant using the organization’s certificate has been fined so far, despite the Chief Rabbinate’s warnings.
MK Rachel Azaria of the Kulanu party, who helped establish Hashgacha Pratit, welcomed the decision to review the case, saying that the kashrut licensing market needs structural change.
“I hope the new hearing will lead to recognition of other kashrut authorities,” she said. “This recognition will open the current monopolistic market to competition, as we in Kulanu have been working toward in all fields.”
The Reform Movement in Israel, which fought the original legal battle in the High Court for the two restaurants that brought the petition, also welcomed the decision to hold an additional hearing.
“We hope that the expanded panel will accept the petition and put an end to the coercive monopoly of the rabbinate over kashrut,” the movement said.