Shas withdraws Kashrut law again, likely to remain off agenda for medium term

The Attorney General’s Office expressed reservations about the legality of clauses that would prevent independent kashrut authorities from operating.

Aryeh Deri
Shas’s proposed amendment to the Law against Kashrut Fraud – designed to outlaw independent licensing authorities – was removed from the Ministerial Committee on Legislation agenda on Sunday for the third time in three weeks.
Although it is unlikely to come back for the next few months, the underlying issues have not been resolved and it is probable Shas will bring a revised amendment back to the committee. This is especially likely since passing the legislation is part of the party’s coalition agreement with Likud.
The Kulanu party has argued that the amendment will increase food prices, since it would require many food products imported from abroad – which have adequate kashrut supervision – to gain full kashrut approval from the Chief Rabbinate, adding another level of bureaucracy.
Deri, having championed the so called “invisible” working class Israelis during the election campaign, is anxious not to be seen as increasing the cost of living, which is one of the main reasons why the bill was withdrawn.
The Attorney-General’s Office also expressed reservations about the legality of certain clauses.
One Shas official said the bill required careful and meticulous work to be able to both avoid causing price increases on imported food while still preserving the Chief Rabbinate’s control over kashrut licensing – and a new formulation could take some time to draw up.
According to current law, only the Chief Rabbinate can issue kashrut certificates to restaurants and businesses. In recent years, however, a new Orthodox kashrut licensing authority has started called Hashgacha Pratit, and it has been adopted by several restaurants in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The certificates issued by Hashgacha Pratit state that the restaurant or business is “under supervision” and include the signature of the authorizing rabbi, circumventing the precise understanding of the law by not using the words kashrut.
Shas’s law would explicitly ban Hashgacha Pratit and any other independent kashrut authority from using any words related to kashrut supervision, in order to protect the Chief Rabbinate’s exclusive power. The Attorney-General’s Office has indicated that such restrictions could be legally problematic.
The haredi political parties and the Chief Rabbinate strongly back such legislation, arguing that customers who want to abide by kashrut laws could be deceived by unscrupulous independent licensing authorities.
Additionally, the Chief Rabbinate has argued that the laws of kashrut are complex and that without centralized standards and oversight, independent kashrut agencies will be less reliable and exacting.
Some restaurant and business owners claim, however, that the Chief Rabbinate system has little value and is open to corruption since the supervisors are paid directly by the business owner, and that supervisors frequently do not carry out their tasks adequately.