Israel’s kashrut supervision policy needs to change - opinion

While several years have passed since earlier reports, recent revelations make it clear that nothing has really changed.

REPRESENTATIVES OF the Chief Rabbinate carry kosher certificates across Jaffa Road in Jerusalem in 2019. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
REPRESENTATIVES OF the Chief Rabbinate carry kosher certificates across Jaffa Road in Jerusalem in 2019.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
A recent internal report from the Kashrut Fraud Division of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate detailed how kashrut supervisors working in the Haifa area are falsely reporting the locations they’re visiting, taking on far more establishments than they can possibly supervise effectively, and failing to show up at places they are assigned to supervise.
Those who pay the price for this fraud are consumers who simply want to know that their eateries are being supervised, the business owners who are tied down to the supervisors, and at the end of the day, the national economy.
This report reveals a series of glaring problems that demand review. We are once again being forced to acknowledge the core of the problem: the relationships that exist between mashgichim (supervisors) and business owners, and the operations of those supervisors in the field.
A State Comptroller’s Report issued four years ago placed considerable emphasis on the need to investigate these issues. From that report and this latest one, we know it is critical for there to be a clear separation between supervisors and the establishments being certified.
While several years have passed since the earlier report, this latest revelation makes it clear that nothing has really changed.
However, not all is lost, and not everything remains in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. Several years ago, Tzohar set up its Kashrut Supervision Division. The division was established to address the deficiencies that were identified by the State Comptroller’s Report and to create a new model for kashrut supervision. Among the division’s core principles are: clear separation between supervisors and the facilities being supervised, a regulatory shift to end the kashrut monopoly that exists in Israel, and opening up the market to competition.
Based on this vision, the Chief Rabbinate would serve as a regulator of established working guidelines and provide oversight for the kashrut supervision, while implementation in the field would be opened up to a variety of kashrut-supervising entities, such as Badatz, Beit Yosef, Tzohar and others.
The existence of real competition would encourage greater efficiency in the marketplace. With various agencies employing mashgichim, there would be an end to the culture of protectionism and favoritism that has existed for years but is shielded far from the consumers’ view.
At the same time, this new structure would encourage uniformity in how kashrut is supervised in all areas of the country, with rules that would be regulated by the Chief Rabbinate. A system would be advanced whereby technological applications would be used to monitor when a supervisor is actually present in an establishment, which would obviously increase oversight.
History has made it clear that competition naturally creates more effective operations and services within the marketplace. In my estimation, it also helps bring people closer together within society.
Over the past three years, Tzohar has been providing kashrut supervision based on Halacha, Jewish law, while promoting transparency and ethical business practices for hundreds of businesses. Our supervisors, men and women alike, are employed by us and report every entry and exit from the establishments they certify via our online app.
Our precise and halachicly defined approach to kashrut is accepted by the public. The business owners report a high level of satisfaction.
Widespread acceptance of this model would prevent the type of deficiencies that were described regarding Haifa, as well as in the other areas of the country that were not reviewed.
There should be no acceptance of moderation when it comes to kashrut supervision in Israel today. Based on our research, some 60% of the Israeli public wants to eat in kosher establishments, and they deserve to know that kashrut supervision is of a high standard.
It is incumbent on the Chief Rabbinate to accept responsibility and usher kashrut into the world of competitive marketplaces. The rabbinate needs to act as a leader and allow others to act in the same manner. By embracing this new approach, we will be able to mitigate levels of corruption, reduce prices and build far greater trust in the system.
It is time to end the negative perception of the world of kashrut supervision and repair the fractured trust that defines how the public relates to this important element of our society.
The writer is the CEO of Tzohar Kashrut.