Rabbinate OKs external supervision in kashrut licensing, market opens

Tzohar kashrut division describes development as ‘historic’ and ‘revolutionary’ in allowing independent kashrut supervision authorities to operate legally

‘BY KEEPING kosher, we become holy, and thus we merit God’s holiest love and protection.’ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘BY KEEPING kosher, we become holy, and thus we merit God’s holiest love and protection.’
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The kashrut licensing market in Israel has been “de facto opened” this week, after the Chief Rabbinate published a document stipulating how restaurants and other food businesses can publicly declare the kashrut standards they follow.
After decades in which the Chief Rabbinate has wielded a heavy monopoly over the kashrut industry afforded it by law, food businesses can now legally state they use independent kashrut authorities, a measure which may entice many to abandon the rabbinate’s kashrut licensing owing to the frequent allegations of bad practices and corruption which are made against it.
The Chief Rabbinate’s document formally permits food businesses to display a declaration stipulating the kashrut standards they observe, and state what organization supervises them, but without using the word “kosher” and while clearly stating that it does not have a kashrut license from the rabbinate.
With this approval, restaurants and other businesses can now be certain that they will not face fines for publicly declaring they are supervised by independent kashrut authorities, and could further weaken the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut licensing in the country.
The Law Against Kashrut Fraud bans food businesses from stating that they are kosher or giving that impression unless they have a kashrut license from the Chief Rabbinate or one of its local branches.
But the High Court of Justice ruled in September 2017 that while food businesses without kashrut supervision from the Chief Rabbinate and its local branches cannot declare themselves to be kosher, in accordance with the Law Against Kashrut Fraud, they can delineate the kashrut practices they observe.
That ruling was, however, vaguely worded and the Attorney-General’s Office took a relatively limited position on its interpretation of the decision, banning for instance the use of a logo, signature or stamp by an independent kashrut licensing authority on any documentation used by the business to testify as to its kashrut standards.
The Chief Rabbinate subsequently issued fines to dozens of restaurants and other businesses using the kashrut supervision services of the Tzohar organization, some of whom demanded a court hearing.
Following these legal proceedings, legal advisers for Tzohar and the Chief Rabbinate met to discuss the issue, and the Chief Rabbinate finally published instructions and a document last week stipulating how businesses can outline the kashrut standards they observe on a publicly visible document.
In the Chief Rabbinate’s document, it wrote that “the business owner is permitted, even without a kashrut certificate [from the Chief Rabbinate or local rabbinate branch] to display a true presentation in writing which details the standards which he himself uses in dealing with food products in the restaurant he owns.”
This document must state in a “prominent, clear and explicit,” manner that the establishment does not have a kashrut license from the rabbinate, must not use the word kosher, or words associated with kashrut supervision, such as “principles of Jewish law,” or “kashrut supervisor,” and cannot use a stamp, signature, or logo of an independent kashrut licensing authority.
Critically, however, the Chief Rabbinate’s new guidelines state that a business owner “is permitted to state that inspection of its kashrut standards is conducted by an external inspection agent and stipulate their name.”
The Tzohar religious-Zionist rabbinical association and organization has been the primary group to make use of the 2017 ruling with more than 200 restaurants and other businesses under its supervision, and will benefit from the latest development.
“This is a historic decision that is nothing less than a revolution in the world of kashrut, as it represents full recognition by the Rabbinate of an external supervising agency. This is a courageous decision and certainly the proper one,” said Tzohar Kashrut CEO Yehuda Zeiderman.
“This will directly benefit the Jewish people as a whole and specifically all those who wish to see the expansion of proper kashrut supervision,” Zeiderman said.