Rabbinate threatens to fine rebel rabbis

Religious Zionist Tzohar rabbis launch alternate kashrut supervision framework.

fall fruit harvest 88 (photo credit: )
fall fruit harvest 88
(photo credit: )
The Chief Rabbinate's legal adviser warned Monday that Tzohar rabbis would be slapped with fines if they did not desist immediately from providing alternative kashrut supervision. "We will not sit idly while rabbis, no matter how respected they may be, openly break the laws regulating kosher supervision in Israel," said Shimon Ulman, the chief rabbinate's legal advisor, who said he planned to push for fining Tzohar rabbis at this Thursday's meeting of the Chief Rabbinate's governing body. The Tzohar rabbinic organization, in open rebellion against the Chief Rabbinate, announced Monday it was launching an alternative kosher supervision apparatus to provide services to restaurants, hotels and caterers during the shmita (sabbatical) year. "We can't allow every Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde to open his own kosher supervision outfit," added Ulman, who said the fines could be as high as NIS 1,500. Ulman's comments were the latest salvo in an ongoing power struggle between religious Zionists and haredim over control of the Chief Rabbinate's shmita year policy. Haredim tend to place strict adherence to the letter of law above other, more nationalist Zionist considerations such as strengthening Jewish agriculture or making kosher fruits and vegetables accessible to the general Jewish public. Meanwhile, religious Zionist rabbis, as supporters of the Zionist enterprise, tend to look for halachic solutions that factor in nationalist considerations. They also oppose the haredi tendency to shift demand for fruits and vegetables from Jewish to Arab farmers. Religious Zionists argue that the increased revenues to Arab farmers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza invariably end up funding Palestinian terrorism. The rabbinate's Ulman said he would not turn a blind eye to what he termed Tzohar's blatant transgression of the law, even if it meant an escalation in the conflict with the religious Zionist Tzohar rabbis. However, Oded Weiner, director general of the Chief Rabbinate, was more cautious. He said that according to his understanding, Tzohar rabbis were not violating the Kashrut Fraud Law, which grants the chief rabbinate a monopoly over kosher supervision. "Technically, they are not offering kashrut supervision, just plain supervision," said Weiner. "True, according to the spirit of the law what they are doing is wrong. But according to the letter of the law they are OK. And nobody gets prosecuted for breaking the spirit of the law." The names of four prominent religious Zionist rabbis appear on Tzohar's kosher supervision certificates: Rabbis Dov Lior, Ya'acov Ariel, Haim Druckman and Tzfania Drori. Tzohar went ahead with the launch despite a Supreme Court ruling last week that, if implemented, would make the need for the alternative supervision unnecessary. Tzohar's chairman, Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, explained that until his organization saw the Supreme Court decision implemented it would move forward with the creation of a competing kosher supervision body. Last week the Supreme Court, in support of the Tzohar rabbis' stand, overturned the Chief Rabbinate's decision to allow local rabbis full autonomy to decide which type of kosher supervision would govern the sale of fruits and vegetables during the shmita year in their respective cities. Before the Supreme Court intervened, the chief rabbis of Herzliya, Petah Tikva, Hadera and other cities forbade the sale of produce grown by Jewish farmers to restaurants, caterers and hotels under their supervision. As a result, many food business owners said that they would prefer to operate without kosher supervision than to pay more for fruits and vegetables under haredi supervision. Also, Jewish farmers warned that the fall in demand for their produce would result in a serious blow to their bottom line. Despite the pleas of the Jewish farmers and the business owners, local rabbis with a haredi orientation refused to recognize a controversial halachic solution called heter mechira (permitted sale,) supported primarily by religious Zionist rabbis, which involves the temporarily sale of Jewish farmland to non-Jews for the duration of the shmita year. Instead, these haredi rabbis insisted that all produce be grown in land permanently owned by non-Jews, or imported from outside the borders of the Land of Israel. In Jewish law, the Land of Israel takes on a special sanctity every seventh year. Anything grown in this land also becomes sanctified. According to some halachic opinions, if Jewish land is sold to a non-Jew, even temporarily, that land loses its sanctity. The Chief Rabbinate actually recognizes heter mechira and even set up a special commission to implement the sale. However, it also supported the rights of individual local rabbis to reject heter mechira. The Supreme Court, in a rare intervention in an inherently religious issue, forced the Chief Rabbinate to provide heter mechira in cities where the local rabbi refused to do so.