Hendel announces reform of ultra-Orthodox kosher phones market

The reform, which will go into effect on July 31, was approved by Minister Yoaz Hendel after a round of consultations in the Communications Ministry.

 KOSHER PHONES: Fiefdom of a sort? (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
KOSHER PHONES: Fiefdom of a sort?
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

The haredi (ultra-orthodox) community's kosher cellphone market will be regulated by the government, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel announced on Sunday, in a reform he hopes will topple the Rabbinic Committee for Communications' monopoly over the market.

A kosher phone, usually a Nokia, LG or any other brand of flip cellphone, is designed to prevent users from accessing the internet, and, originally, phone services with sexual content. These phones cannot receive SMS messages, instead only able to make and receive calls.

The rabbinic committee is the haredi society's authority over the kosher phone market, widely used in the haredi sector.

The committee controls the kosher phone users' ability to switch services due to the committee only approving certain companies and blocking phone numbers from its customers, meaning haredim were not able to keep their numbers assigned to the kosher phones even after buying a smartphone.

This system, Hendel said, is an "injustice that has affected half a million customers in the haredi community."

 YOAZ HENDEL filmed on non-kosher phones: ‘I cannot accept the idea that there is a monopoly of Judaism.’ (credit: EMIL SALMAN) YOAZ HENDEL filmed on non-kosher phones: ‘I cannot accept the idea that there is a monopoly of Judaism.’ (credit: EMIL SALMAN)

According to the communications minister, the rabbinic committee's "chaos" hurt competition in the market, limited freedom of choice and gave rise to a sharp rise in prices. "We are correcting the chaos and injustice caused to the consumers," he said.

"From now on, the choice will be in the hands of the consumers," Hendel said. "Everyone will be able to choose the cellular company, type of package and type of device they wish to use."

"Haredi citizens deserve to be equal to other Israeli citizens and to reap the benefits of a free and competitive telecommunications market."

In March, it was reported that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held talks with representatives of the Gur Hassidim sect with the aim of scrapping Hendel's kosher phones reform.

According to the report, the foreign minister asked for a "security net" from haredi factions in Knesset votes for the next six months in exchange for the nixing of the reform.

However, negotiations were halted without an agreement being reached after the Knesset began its spring recess.