‘Selective' enforcement of kashrut law by rabbinate akin to mafia say activists

Rabbinate insists that it enforces law universally in dealing with independent kashrut authorities.

Kosher certificates (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Kosher certificates
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
“If you run your restaurant with a rabbinate kashrut license here, you might as well just close down,” an ice-cream parlor worker in the haredi Jerusalem neighborhood of Geula told The Jerusalem Post this week.
This sentiment reflects the widespread phenomenon in which many restaurants and other food businesses, particularly in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, use the services of what are known as badatz and mehadrin kashrut authorities, without obtaining a kashrut license from the local rabbinate.
This practice is illegal, as underlined by a ruling of the High Court of Justice last week, but it appears that the law is not universally enforced.
The Post conducted a smallscale fact-finding evaluation in Geula this week, and found that many restaurants openly tout their badatz and mehadrin kashrut certificates, while readily acknowledging that they do not have a rabbinate license.
The practice has been cast into the spotlight following the ruling last week by the High Court reiterating that it is illegal for restaurants to write that they are kosher, while also ruling that it is illegal for a business to even present itself as kosher, without a kashrut license from a local rabbinate.
The decision was largely seen as a defeat for the grassroots Hashgacha Pratit kashrut authority which has flowered following its establishment in 2011 by national- religious activists who objected to poor practices by the rabbinate’s kashrut supervision.
Hashgacha Pratit now provides kashrut supervision to 27 restaurants in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Kfar Saba, but has faced opposition from the Chief Rabbinate which argued in the High Court that the new kashrut authority was breaking the law.
The day after the decision, the National Unit for Enforcement of the Law Against Kashrut Fraud sent warning notices to five restaurants supervised by Hashgacha Pratit, saying that they were contravening the law by displaying Hashgacha Pratit’s supervision certificate and will be subject to legal action if they do remove it.
In the check conducted by the Post this week along a short stretch of Malchei Yisrael Street in Geula, and on several side roads, seven restaurants were found to be operating with kashrut supervision from the Badatz Eda Haredit authority or the Badatz Mehadrin Rabbi Rubin authority.
None of the seven restaurants had a kashrut license from the Jerusalem Rabbinate.
Moreover, all of the restaurant owners and workers the Post spoke to said that they had not received any warning notices from the kashrut fraud unit in recent days, nor had they received any warnings or other communications from the body in recent memory.
The establishments checked included a meat grill and take-out restaurant, an ice-cream parlor, two bakeries, a fast-food chicken shop and a bagel restaurant from a national chain.
A worker at the fast-food outlet laughed out loud when asked why the restaurant did not have a rabbinate license, noting that “no one here has a rabbinate license” and saying that as far as he was aware, the establishment had never been contacted by the rabbinate for failing to obtain a Jerusalem Rabbinate license.
A source in the Jerusalem Rabbinate corroborated these findings.
“The phenomenon of restaurants, butchers and other food businesses utilizing a badatz or mehadrin kashrut license but without kashrut supervision from the rabbinate is well known and widespread,” said the source.
“These restaurants and food businesses, mostly in haredi neighborhoods, operate freely and, for the most part, without hindrance from the rabbinate.
“The rabbinate is selectively enforcing the law, issuing threats against some restaurants that don’t have a rabbinate license while ignoring many others because they have supervision from large, powerful badatz authorities.”
Ayala Falk, the director of Hashgacha Pratit, said the rabbinate was employing “the methods of a mafia,” in that it “turns a blind eye to those close to it” while “harassing” others.
“It’s unacceptable that in the State of Israel, a state that follows the rule of law, this kind of discrimination can happen, with a double standard for different bodies which at the end of the day give kashrut [supervision],” said Falk.
She added that Hashgacha Pratit would continue its operations “to bring change to the kashrut system and in the war against shady practices and the rabbinate’s monopoly which determines who is kosher and who is not.”
The Chief Rabbinate said in response that the warning notices issued last week after the High Court ruling “do not negate, prevent or harm any other enforcement operations that are carried out by the National Unit for Enforcement of the Law Against Kashrut Fraud.”
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate added that 30 warning notices were issued last week to businesses authorized by several different independent kashrut authorities.
“In the framework of the High Court case, there was a mistaken understanding by particular businesses and supervision bodies that provided them supervision services that the presentation of a business as kosher while not using the word kosher... was not forbidden.
“There was and is no need to give these warnings, issued in accordance with the law, to supervision bodies and businesses which did not rely on this erroneous understanding.
“Moreover, to the best of our knowledge and experience, the majority of supervision bodies are aware of the Law against Kashrut Fraud and its consequences and even inform the businesses that receive their services.”
Refael Yochai, director of the national unit against kashrut fraud, insisted that the law is enforced universally, and gave examples from 2012, 2013 and 2014 in which the unit had taken legal action against restaurants using the Badatz Eda Haredit and Badatz Mehadrin Rabbi Rubin kashrut authorities without a rabbinate license.
He added that the unit is small and has to investigate many types of kashrut fraud, including the use of badatz authorities.