Rabbinate kashrut monopoly criticized in Knesset ahead of court hearing

"The rabbinate’s kashrut system is failing, unnecessary and irrelevant,” says Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz.

kashrut certification (photo credit: REUTERS)
kashrut certification
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hotel owners and officials from the Association of Hotels in Israel leveled fierce criticism at the Chief Rabbinate on Monday in a Knesset committee hearing on the provision of kashrut in the country, ahead of a critical High Court of Justice hearing on the issue on Tuesday.
Speaking in the committee, one hotel owner alleged that kashrut supervisors have in the past demanded three hotel rooms for their guests as part of the supervisory services over the Jewish holidays. Another hotel owner said he and others were “captives” of the Chief Rabbinate because they had no other option to provide kashrut supervision.
According to the Law for Kashrut Supervision, restaurants, hotels, food businesses and other establishments cannot declare themselves to be kosher if they do not have a kashrut license from the Rabbinate.
Last year, the High Court ruled against two restaurants who had filed petitions against the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly of the word kashrut, but that petition will now be heard again on Tuesday by an expanded panel of the High Court.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who initiated the committee hearing, said Israelis in general want kosher food but not the Rabbinate monopoly, and called on the High Court justices to protect consumers by opening up the field to competition.
Complaints have long been heard by restaurant owners and other food businesses operators of severe deficiencies in the kashrut supervision services provided by local rabbinates, which are in charge of kashrut in their jurisdictions on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate.
“We have here a classic example of a state authority that is not functioning properly and is not doing its job, and it is basically harming kashrut consumers and business owners,” Azaria said during the committee hearing.
A yet-to-be-published report by the State Comptroller accuses the Chief Rabbinate of having failed to deal with the ongoing deficiencies in its kashrut service, she said.
Noaz Bar-Nir, director of the Association of Israeli Hotels, noted that kashrut regulation makes up 4% of the cost of hotel stays and costs hotels NIS 366 million a year.
Yishai Barnea, owner of the Yehudah Hotel in Jerusalem, accused the Rabbinate of interfering in hotel activities unrelated to kashrut. He alleged that kashrut supervisors sometimes demand to be paid in cash and conduct other illegal practices.
“How is it possible that a kashrut supervisor needs to take three rooms in the hotel for an entire [Jewish] holiday?” Barnea asked. “All of this is because he can demand [it], and there is no option of choosing from different kashrut authorities. God’s name is being desecrated a great deal in our field.”
Shas MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, however, said no hotel owner was obligated to make their establishment kosher, implying that hotels could simply do without a kashrut license and forgo the custom of kosher clientele.
He said interference in the functioning of a hotel outside of the realm of kashrut was unnecessary.
Ben-Tzur also criticized the wellknown practice of kashrut supervisors who force businesses to buy produce from specific suppliers, often due to an arrangement between the supervisor and the supplier.
Hotels have often complained that the local rabbinate would create problems for hotels that function in ways it disapproves of. Some hotels have been warned against hosting New Year’s Eve parties and having Christmas trees in the lobby, including those that host Christian guests, while others have complained of warnings for having laundry rooms open over Shabbat and other similar issues.
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, head of the Hashgacha Pratit independent kashrut authority, which has found loopholes in the law to challenge the Rabbinate’s monopoly, argued that kashrut authorities outside of Israel are better than the Rabbinate’s because they are based on consumer trust.
“In Israel, that trust has been lost,” he said. “The public is fed up with the empty wheeling and dealing that characterizes religious services in the Rabbinate, and it is clear to people who keep kosher and really know and really care about kashrut that the Rabbinate’s kashrut system is failing, unnecessary and irrelevant.”