Jerusalem restaurants excited for potential new kashrut rules

“When you don’t have competition, I think it’s bad for business,” Crave co-owner Tzvi Maller said, speaking about the potential kashrut trust-bust proposed in the Knesset on Tuesday.

Kashrut certificate in Jerusalem, July 21, 2021.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Kashrut certificate in Jerusalem, July 21, 2021.
Jerusalem restaurant Crave, located near the Mahaneh Yehuda Market, is excited about the potential kashrut trust-bust proposed in the Knesset on Tuesday.
“When you don’t have competition, I think it’s bad for business,” co-owner Tzvi Maller told The Jerusalem Post. “If we were the only restaurant, I could serve you anything. You have to eat something! When you have competition, you have to constantly up your game.”
Crave has kosher supervision from the Jerusalem Rabbinate, as is the case with many restaurants in the area. Currently, only local rabbinates headed by a municipal chief rabbi can issue kashrut licenses to food businesses, and these rabbinates are also in charge of allocating kashrut supervisors to supervise those businesses, as well as appointing inspectors to oversee the supervisors.
This has created a monopoly in Israel that Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) is trying to disband.
Some of the problems created by the monopoly are corruption and strange demands. For example, Crave gets pushback from the rabbinate for using Heinz Ketchup in their restaurant, even though it’s certified kosher by the Orthodox Union (OU), one of the largest and most recognized kashrut organizations in the US. The rabbinate asks that they use products that the rabbinate approves directly.
“[The rabbinate] doesn’t make any money on the OU,” Maller said.
Moshe Segev, owner of Segev restaurant across the street from Crave, said the rabbinate’s monopoly can be “oppressive” to business owners. He said the rabbinate argued with him about names of his dishes over whether or not they seemed to be kosher.
“I would be really happy if they ended this [system],” Segev said. “Everyone [should] choose for themselves with whom they want to work.”
Maller said he’s not happy with the rabbinate, and would consider changing kashrut certifications if they continue making their demands about OU products. He said he’d continue operating with the same kashrut standards, no matter who certifies them.
There is an alternative, however. Tzohar, a moderate religious-Zionist organization working to improve Jewish life in Israel via advocacy and legislation, provides kosher certification to restaurants. The phrasing of their kashrut certification has been approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, according to a video on their website.
In April 2021, Kadosh Café Patisserie in Jerusalem told the Post that the Chief Rabbinate threatened to revoke their kashrut if they didn’t label their boxed products as dairy, even though their certification declared that the restaurant was dairy. They switched to Tzohar’s kosher supervision after the incident.
According to the rabbinate, they were afraid someone might think the boxed products were pareve, and would eat it with meat. Mixing meat and dairy foods is forbidden according to halacha – Jewish law.
There are some restaurant owners against the details of reforms, however.
“I think that us as Jews, we should have one top [kashrut] authority, even if it's stricter,” Yossi Zwebner, owner of Aka restaurant in Jerusalem said. “I think the fact that there are so many certifications, so much disagreement around this thing is a disgrace for us in terms of [how people see us]. It definitely doesn’t help unity among the Jewish people.”
However, he admitted the system as it stands is “rotten from the base.”
Zwebner said he gets along with his kashrut supervisor. He said his ideal solution would be to pay the rabbinate directly. They would then send a different supervisor each day in order to prevent anyone from becoming too familiar, or friendly, with a restaurant. That way, they stay loyal to the rabbinate and its standards.
He also brought up the use of cameras instead of sending people to restaurants every day. But he’s against “opening the [rabbinate] up for competition.”
“I think they have to come up with some solution that prevents conflicts [of interest] between the business owners and the rabbinate,” Zwebner said. “The rabbinate should have regulations that apply for everybody no matter how much they pay or how big or small they are.”
Kahana’s plan is to make the Chief Rabbinate in charge of overseeing external kashrut providers, like Tzohar or the ultra-Orthodox Badatz Mehadrin. He says this will strengthen the rabbinate, while removing their monopoly over kashrut.
According to the Chief Rabbinate, the new proposals will create a conflict of interest in the realm of kashrut.
“The Chief Rabbinate totally rejects the dangerous initiative of the Religious Services Ministry to destroy kashrut in Israel,” they said. “The abolition of kashrut in the State of Israel, and the opening of a bazaar for organizations with businesses’ interests which will grant kashrut and allow any wheeler and dealer to give kashrut when the result will be the destruction of kashrut.”
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.