Kashrut standardization bill faces criticism by reformers

Bayit Yehudi MK Betzalel Smotrich has proposed legislation to establish a unified standard for kashrut licensing across the country.

Bezalel Smotrich. (photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
Bezalel Smotrich.
(photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
Bayit Yehudi MK Betzalel Smotrich has proposed legislation to establish a unified standard for kashrut licensing across the country. His bill is scheduled for debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
The bill is supported by Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau. Opponents, however, argue that the draft legislation would increase the power of the Chief Rabbinate and perpetuate the current system’s conflicts of interest.
Smotrich pointed out that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate is not authorized to issue unified guidelines for kashrut standards which rabbis who issue kashrut licenses would abide by.
He also noted a case from 2006 in which the High Court of Justice wrote that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate should clarify what those standards are.
Smotrich argued that the lack of unified standards has led to differences in the approach taken by rabbis authorized to give kashrut licenses, and the non-standardized regulations currently in existence.
“This has created difficulties for manufacturers that market their products on a regional or national platform, and for food chains that operate on a national basis and sometimes encounter problems due to the lack of unity regarding the kashrut requirements of different local rabbis,” explained Smotrich.
The lack of standardization also affects consumers, since kashrut regulations upheld by the authorized rabbi in one city or region of the country where the food is produced can differ from other rabbinic jurisdictions but all have a kashrut license approved by the Chief Rabbinate, said Smotrich.
A consumer who adheres to a kashrut stringency upheld by one regional rabbi might therefore not want to eat a product from a region where the stringency is not upheld, but would not know that he was eating something with lower standards than he requires, he explained.
Smotrich’s bill would authorize the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to issue unified kashrut standards which would be applicable across the country.
It would also provide different levels of kashrut which can be issued by authorized rabbis to different food businesses and products to increase consumer choice, and provide the option of a more stringent level of kashrut for those who desire it.
The bill would revoke a rabbi’s authority to issue kashrut licenses if he fails to adhere to the new standards. This revocation process would be carried out by a committee appointed by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah lobbying group said, however, that standardized regulations could be achieved simply by the Religious Services Ministry issuing such regulations without enacting legislation.
In addition, the organization said that it would give the Council of the Chief Rabbinate increased powers over kashrut, and pointed to the indictment of council member Rabbi Avraham Yosef, brother of the Sephardi chief rabbi, on breach of trust charges in December last year.
According to the indictment, Yosef exploited his position as municipal rabbi of Holon to force food businesses to use meat approved by the kashrut licensing business belonging to his family, Badatz Beit Yosef, and specifically forbade them from using products and produce approved by competing authorities.
Allegations of municipal rabbis forcing food businesses to use particular suppliers are common, the NTA said.
“Standardization is theoretically a positive idea… but unfortunately, the proposed law does not deal with bad aspects of the current system; dealing with corruption, conflict of interests between the supervised [business] and the supervisor; the business connections between municipal rabbis and private [haredi] kashrut authorities; unsupervised activities of those authorities and the creation of many different costs for the consumer and the economy,” the organization said.
A spokesperson for the NTA argued further that since the 150-member electoral committee for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate is highly politicized, and that the 16-member council itself is unrepresentative of Israeli society, granting it more powers without reforming the electoral process would be undesirable.
Speaking on Galei Yisrael radio, Smotrich responded that he opposed the NTA for seeking to weaken the chief rabbinate, saying it was an “important and good body that works well.”
While there are problems with many governmental bodies, “the baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater,” he cautioned.