Chief Rabbinate considering radical shake-up of kashrut supervision

Although the High Court ruled in favor of the chief rabbinate, the petitioners who filed a suit to abolish the rabbinate’s monopoly have now requested a hearing from an expanded High court panel.

Kosher certificates (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Kosher certificates
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Chief Rabbinate is weighing the possibility of changing its role in the realm of kashrut licensing, by turning itself into the industry regulator and outsourcing kashrut supervision to independent authorities.
Such a step would be a radical shake-up, following a growing public dissatisfaction with the rabbinate’s kashrut services.
Sources indicated to The Jerusalem Post it is far from certain the rabbinate will adopt such a program, while the rabbinate itself said it was considering this proposal among several others, and it was very possible an alternative plan will be adopted.
The rabbinate currently acts both as the service provider – providing kashrut supervision through its local branches to restaurants and other food businesses – and as the service regulator, since it is the only authorized body to inspect and police the system.
Critics have argued that this situation, combined with the monopoly afforded to the rabbinate by law over kashrut licensing, means that kashrut supervision lacks effective and credible oversight, and has undermined the credibility of the rabbinate’s kashrut supervision services.
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah lobbying group contacted Chief Rabbi David Lau and presented him with a proposal by which the body would grant independent kashrut authorities with a legal license to provide supervision services.
The rabbinate itself would act as the inspector and oversight authority to regulate and maintain kashrut standards.
According to a report on Army Radio on Sunday, this proposal has been presented by Lau to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, and is now under consideration by the body.
This concept is also the basis of the legislation proposed by Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, which is under consideration by the government.
The rabbinate said the independent kashrut authorities would employ the supervisors, and the rabbinate would be entitled to issue fines for violating the terms of the license; remove certification from a business that does not meet kashrut standards; and to even revoke the license granted to an independent kashrut authority.
A spokesman for Lau said the chief rabbi had established at the end of March a committee for evaluating the kashrut supervision system and to examine ways to improve it.
The spokesman said this evaluation process would still take several more months since it concerns one of the rabbinate’s core responsibilities.
“It is important to underline that the committee is examining many alternatives including granting licenses” to kashrut authorities, said the spokesman.
“At this stage the committee has not formulated a final position, and it is very possible that the committee will recommend a different solution.”
The spokesman also insisted that the rabbinate had already begun considering these proposals, even before the recent High Court of Justice decision upholding its monopoly over kashrut supervision.
Although the High Court ruled in favor of the rabbinate, the petitioners who filed a suit to abolish the monopoly have now requested a hearing from an expanded High Court panel.
The Tzohar rabbinical association welcomed the news that the Chief Rabbinate is considering such a proposal, saying that it would improve the rabbinate’s public image. Tzohar said it would establish its own kashrut supervision authority if the idea is implemented.
NTA said it was “glad the rabbinate has finally internalized the need to privatize the kashrut system,” and to allow independent authorities to operate legally.
“Trust in the state’s kashrut system has reached a nadir and change is needed,” the organization said on Sunday. “NTA was the first group to propose competition, and we have even submitted legislation on the issue through MK Rachel Azaria. The great challenge will be to ensure that the granting of licenses to [independent authorities] for kashrut supervision will be transparent and will not be affected by political considerations. We call on the government to adopt our proposal as soon as possible.”