A new poll has found that although 62% of the Jewish population in Israel wants serious reform to Israel’s kashrut (kosher) supervision system, a plurality of religious-Zionist Israelis oppose the reforms proposed by the current government.
At the same time, pluralities of religiously-traditional, traditional and secular Israelis support the proposals, the poll found, although majorities in each sector had not heard about the reforms, which involve abolishing the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut supervision.
The data comes from a poll conducted by Panels Politics for the Institute for Jewish and Zionist Research, a new organization dedicated to examining attitudes to religious and social issues specifically among the religious and traditional sectors, and Jewish society more broadly.
The government is currently advancing legislation which would abolish the present system where local rabbinates, which are under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, are the only bodies which can issue a kashrut certificate stating that a restaurant or other food business is kosher.
In its place, independent kashrut authorities would be allowed to provide supervision to any business requesting their service, and the Chief Rabbinate would operate a supervisory body to ensure compliance with kashrut standards.
The reforms, which have generated fierce opposition from the Chief Rabbinate as well as the ultra-Orthodox and conservative religious-Zionist parties, were brought to the Knesset Committee for Special National Infrastructure Initiatives and Jewish Religious Services on Thursday in preparation for the next legislative stages.
Committee chairwoman MK Yulia Malinovsky noted during the hearing that since a vast array of food, and non-food items have kashrut licenses, thereby increasing the cost of the item, the issue of such supervision affects all Israeli citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and non-religious alike.
The MK brought several non-food products that have kashrut stamps to the committee hearing, including bleach, soap, utensils and toothpicks, to emphasize her point that kashrut and its costs touch the lives of all citizens.
“This affects us all, everywhere… In order that kashrut services be trustworthy and qualitative they need order, oversight and making the current system more efficient,” said Malinovsky.
DURING THE hearing, Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana of Yamina, whose office designed the proposals, defended perhaps the most controversial element of the reforms, whereby a kashrut provider could be established with more basic standards than those determined by the Chief Rabbinate, as long as they back the provider’s standards.
Kahana said he did not want to have this track made available but that he was forced to allow for it since the Chief Rabbinate is not cooperating with his proposed reforms. The minister said he would drop this part of the legislation if the Chief Rabbinate began to cooperate.
MK Avi Maoz of the ultra-conservative religious-Zionist Noam Party, a component of the Religious Zionist Party, denounced the reforms in the committee hearing.
“Israel’s state kashrut system is the Jewish face of the state. The Chief Rabbinate, which Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook established, is the soul of the Jewish state… and the state has no other Jewish face,” said Maoz.
“If you remove the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly from our public lives, you will turn the State of Israel into a state of all its citizens.”
THE POLL was conducted in September on a sample of 1,206 Jewish adults with a sample error of +/- 3.1%.
According to the study, 62% of Israeli Jews think that substantial change is needed to the country’s kashrut system, which suffers from corruption and is controlled by the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly, which itself increases the cost of food.
Those saying reform is needed include 64% of religious-Zionist respondents, 72% of the religiously-traditional, and 43% of ultra-Orthodox respondents, along with 67% of the traditional, and 61% of secular Jews.
And although there was more support for the government’s proposed reforms to the kashrut system among those who have heard about them – 21% in favor and 14% against – the majority of the general public (52%) has not heard about the reforms at all.
However, fully 71% of religious-Zionist respondents said they had heard of the reforms. Of all religious-Zionist respondents, 35% said they were opposed to the proposals, 18% said they were in favor, and 18% had heard about them but had not formed an opinion.
Some 54% of ultra-Orthodox respondents said they had heard of the proposals and opposed them, compared to just 1% who said they were supportive.
Asked about existing problems with the current kashrut system, some 62% said that the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly was a central failing, with 52% also complaining that it increases the cost of food, and 46% saying the system was corrupt.
Asked what the solution was to all of the problems listed, more than half of respondents (51%) said “abolishing the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut monopoly,” while 40% said internal reforms of specific failings was the best solution.
“The poll gives a clear message that there is an understanding and broad consensus for the need to change the kashrut system, where the heart of the matter is the rabbinate’s monopoly,” Institute for Jewish and Zionist Research founder Daniel Goldman said in response to the poll’s findings.
“This sentiment is widespread and includes all sectors and denominations of the Jewish people, including the traditional and the religious for whom kashrut is important and who are not interested in the continued absolute control of the rabbinate.”