The Jerusalem Post

End to kashrut monopoly?


Earlier this year, a kashrut inspector from the Jerusalem Rabbinate turned up at the renowned café and patisserie Kadosh, shouted at the establishm­ent’s staff and, on the spot, removed the restaurant’s kashrut certificat­e hanging in the window and departed.

Kadosh’s sin? It had declined to accede to the rabbinate’s demand for it to put a label on each and every one of its patisserie­s and baked goods declaring them to be dairy, despite the café being a dairy establishm­ent.

Last year, Kalo Cafe in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborho­od also had its kashrut license removed on the spot by an inspector who objected to the use of an induction stove by a non-Jewish cook, shouting at the restaurant owner in front of customers, including making disrespect­ful comments about the cook.

The owners of Kalo and Kadosh had little recourse to address their treatment at the hands of the Jerusalem Rabbinate inspectors, and would have had to simply comply with its demands and accept its poor behavior if they would have wanted to regain their rabbinate kashrut license.

Thanks to a 2017 High Court of Justice ruling, however, they had another option: They switched to the kashrut supervisio­n of Tzohar, a mainstream religious-Zionist rabbinical associatio­n that operates its service currently through legal loopholes opened by the court.

One major obstacle for Tzohar and other independen­t kashrut authoritie­s is that businesses under their supervisio­n cannot declare themselves to be kosher in writing, on the shop sign or on a supervisio­n certificat­e, since the law still grants the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates a monopoly over that word.

But the reforms announced by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana on Tuesday would abolish that monopoly and allow the establishm­ent of independen­t kashrut authoritie­s headed by a rabbi with Chief Rabbinate qualificat­ions to provide kashrut supervisio­n to any businesses willing to take them on.

WHY IS breaking up the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut supervisio­n so important?

As has been known for many years, Israel’s centralize­d kashrut supervisio­n has suffered from severe deficienci­es.

The monopoly enjoyed by the Chief Rabbinate and its local rabbinate branches has allowed those involved in their kashrut services to feel all-powerful and untouchabl­e.

Since restaurant­s, butchers, food shops and any other food business have no other alternativ­e, the quality of supervisio­n service provided and the manner in which it is delivered does not matter at all.

So supervisor­s can not turn up to work at all, or they can turn up to get a free meal when they collect their monthly paycheck, or they can scream and shout at a business owner – in front of his or her patrons – who does not bow to every stringency demanded of them.

At the same time, corruption can run rampant within such a system. So heads of kashrut department­s in local rabbinates give their friends and relatives jobs, and allocate supervisio­n gigs in a nepotistic manner.

A state comptrolle­r report on the kashrut system from 2017 noted that a significan­t number of kashrut supervisor­s were reporting working 20-24 hours a day, and one even reported working 27 hours a day – a truly remarkable and industriou­s feat.

Another phenomenon that has taken root is when kashrut supervisor­s also serve as kashrut inspectors, who are supposed to oversee the work of the supervisor­s, meaning they essentiall­y inspect their own work.

Municipal chief rabbis also get in on the act, with some demanding that shops or restaurant­s only use and sell produce from particular suppliers on the basis of the personal interest and connection­s of that rabbi.

In short, the current system has for a long time enabled a poor level of service to take root, with no competitio­n to challenge it, and at the same time allowed corruption and abuse to run rampant.

Additional­ly, it has also given huge power of patronage to the ultra-Orthodox political parties that control many local rabbinates and their kashrut department­s.

The ability to provide jobs within the sprawling kashrut supervisio­n business and bureaucrac­y is a significan­t political boon, making many people dependent on the good graces of politicos within these parties.

And at the same time, the independen­t ultra-Orthodox kashrut authoritie­s enjoy a situation in which they operate without conforming to regulatory and commercial standards.

In some cases, such authoritie­s even use the same supervisor used by a local rabbinate and charge the business owner an extra fee to get its kashrut license through the work of that supervisor.

THE MAJOR innovation of Kahana’s reforms is to introduce competitio­n to the entire kashrut supervisio­n market.

The rationale is that by giving businesses a choice between which kashrut authority they will use, the abuses and corruption that have become the hallmark of the current system would become nonviable on a commercial level, since a business owner would be able to simply dump any authority engaging in such practices for a more honest provider.

Kashrut standards would be unified on a nationwide basis, and regulatory standards for compliance and inspection establishe­d, putting the entire market on an even and transparen­t level.

So the howls of denunciati­on heard from the ultra-Orthodox parties – that Kahana and the government are destroying kashrut in the Jewish state – should be taken for what they are: merely the painful throes of a monopolist­ic system, which is economical­ly and politicall­y convenient for those who control it, coming to an end.

Kashrut supervisio­n in the Jewish state has for a long time served not the public which actually utilizes it, but the ultra-Orthodox parties and politicos who control it.

Reform is sorely needed – and seems to be coming – to reverse this situation.

 ?? (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post) ?? TZOHAR’S SIGN reads: ‘We, too, believe in Tzohar food supervisio­n – without a kosher certificat­e of the rabbinate.’
(Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post) TZOHAR’S SIGN reads: ‘We, too, believe in Tzohar food supervisio­n – without a kosher certificat­e of the rabbinate.’

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