Religion and State

The Kashrut Structure – An overview, obstacles, and the proposed “State Privatization” solution

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Written by Assaf Greenwald, Noam Benaiah, and Ester Brown-Ben David

With the Assistance and Guidance of Ariel Finkelstain

Israeli lawmakers have granted the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinates exclusive privileges on matters of kashrut certification and importation of kosher food. This legal situation (in common with most monopolies) leads to bureaucratic and professional problems and complications. These problems have created difficulties for owners of food industry businesses who wish to obtain kashrut certification so as to expand their clientele. Consumers of kosher products are also affected by the not-uncommonly sub-par level of local rabbinate supervision of food manufacture, preparation, and presentation.

Ever since the chief rabbinate was given authority over kashrut as part of the Chief Rabbinate legislation many committees have been convened, many recommendations have been written, and many words have been spoken about the kashrut situation in Israel. Discussions focused on the deficiencies of the system and possible ways to fix it. None of the suggestions has led to significant improvements and lately it seems as though the Israeli public — certainly segments of the public — has given up and has reluctantly begun the search for alternatives, some of which are illegal. One example can be seen in the “social kashrut certification” which is gaining traction in Jerusalem and its environs.

This position paper first surveys the kashrut structure as it now is and details the main problems when compared to the American kashrut system. Following this, the position paper surveys the various proposals for reform of the Israeli kashrut structure and analyses the advantages and disadvantages of each. The main goal of this position paper is to present and explain in detail a different, unique solution which would serve as a suitable compromise between the different approaches to questions of state and religion and which might lead to the desired change. This solution, first proposed as a way to deal with problems in the marriage registration system, champions the creation of kashrut regions, thereby breaking the monopoly of the local rabbinates by allowing business owners who seek kashrut supervision and certification to turn to any local rabbi they choose. This could be called “governmental privatization,” despite the oxymoron.

To deal with the fear that a local rabbi would lower to a bare minimum the halachic and administrative demands on a business seeking or holding certification, we suggest the establishment of a kashrut administration in the chief rabbinate which would serve as the highest halachic and administrative authority in the field. This halachic unit would set minimum halachic standards for granting kashrut certification and would adjudicate complaints against local rabbis. To prevent a business which had lost its local kashrut certification from turning to another rabbinate for a new certificate, a computerized system will coordinate the data regarding each business which holds a kashrut certificate, has held such a certificate in the past, or has requested a certificate and been rejected.

In addition, to prevent a supervisor being too far away from the business he supervises and to prevent a situation in which a flood of businesses turn to a local rabbi who is extremely lenient in his halachic and administrative requirements for kashrut certification, we suggest the following two refinements:

The country will be divided into 15 regions. A business can obtain supervision and kashrut certification only from local rabbis in its own region.
The only local rabbis authorized to provide kashrut services to business not in the area of their responsibility will be the chief rabbis of cities with populations of at least 100,000. Local rabbis of smaller areas who wish to provide kashrut services outside the area of their responsibility will have to band together so that the collective number of residents in the area of responsibility is no less than 100,000.
Creating regions of kashrut registration has a number of advantages:

Encourages competition and efficiency: Experience abroad shows that competition in the area of kashrut does not necessarily lead to reduced halachic compliance quite the opposite: it leads to system-wide efficiency measures which work to the benefit of both kosher consumers and the businesses which wish to hold kashrut certification.

Equality: Creating regions will lead to an equal playing ground for businesses. There will be no situations in which two neighboring businesses are similarly managed but only one is granted kashrut certification.

Reducing the power of Badatz and politically-appointed local rabbis: There are fears (as noted in the first chapter of this position paper) that local rabbis tie the granting of government issued kashrut certification to the procurement of kashrut services from a Badatz. The proposal would prevent such situations by allowing business owners to turn to a local rabbi who does not tie such services together.

Reducing coercion of businesses seeking kashrut certification: A business can approach kashrut supervision agencies other than the local rabbi to whom they are subject. The absolute dependence on the local rabbinate will end.

Political viability: Against a background of increasingly strong calls for the privatization of the kashrut mechanism along with all other religious services, creating regions for kashrut will allow the creation of meaningful change in the field without privatization Thus, for groups who find maintenance of the state’s authority in religious matters to be important, the move will not be seen as harmful, and in fact will be seen as quite the opposite.

Increasing the number of kosher establishments: The creation of regions is expected to make the process of obtain kashrut certification and the activities of the chief rabbinate more efficient. If this does happen, it is likely that it will create an increased demand for kashrut certification, which will serve the interests of the religious and traditional sectors, who will be able to enjoy a larger number of kosher establishments.

“Set yourself a rabbi”: Creating regions allows a business to obtain kashrut services from a rabbi whose halachic outlook matches the beliefs and preferred practices of the owner.

Lowering the price of kosher products: It is possible that raising consumer faith in government kashrut certification will lead to a lower demand for Badatz supervision. This will allow businesses to lower costs and thereby lower food prices. Similarly, one would not necessarily need to pay double, to the local rabbinate and to a Badatz, to be able to sell food under more stringent supervision.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

Analysis of the Proposed Conversion Law

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By Ariel Finkelstain

Following the proposed law sponsored by MK Elazar Stern regarding conversion by the local Rabbis, there is a deep and alert public discourse about the conversions issue. Throughout the public discussion, many arguments were heard, which were often imprecise and based on a misunderstanding of the proposed law. The goal of this analysis is to fill in this void and briefly explain the proposed law to the public, including the previous forms it took and its goals, and to discuss several of the points made against it.

The analysis focuses on two arguments which were brought up against the proposed law:

The first argument is that the goal of the proposed law is to promote reform and conservative conversions. Analysis of the proposed law shows that this argument has no substance and the proposed law does not at all promote that type of conversion.

The second argument is that halachically there’s a problem with conversions performed by city Rabbis and not by one central halachic authority. The analysis shows that in the halachic world, the argument that there’s one central halachic authority for conversions isn’t accepted. Also, in the past, the city Rabbis were allowed to convert and this was supported even by many of the chief Rabbis. In fact, it’s difficult to understand the opposition for granting the city Rabbis jurisdiction over conversions simultaneously to the broad jurisdiction they are given by the state and chief Rabbinate in the fields of Kashrut and marriage registration.

Therefore, it seems like the main point of disagreement over the proposed law is a halachic dispute between the chief Rabbis and several city Rabbis over the proper policy for conversions. This analysis doesn’t engage in the halachic discussion, but shows that at least regarding the issue of the conversion of young children, over which there is currently a dispute, the former chief Rabbis adopted much more lenient positions than the position currently adopted by the Chief Rabbinate.

For the full analysis piece (in Hebrew)

Burial of Non-Jewish Soldiers

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Eliad Avruch and Lilach Ben-Zvi

One of the most obvious manifestations of being Israeli is army service. Another factor positioning a person within Israeli society, is his religious affiliation. This presents a dilemma for the many people currently serving in the armed forces who are categorised as being without religion or questionably Jewish, and this dilemma is particularly poignant during times of bereavement, when the army must decide whether to bury both Jews and non-Jews, side-by-side (considered by most to be against the dictates of Halacha). This situation creates a clash between the values of Israel as a Jewish state and as a state which appreciates and even sanctifies all its fallen.

According to Jewish law it is forbidden to bury a member of another religion in a Jewish cemetery. But since burial of combat soldiers has taken on such symbolic importance, setting aside separate sections for members of other religions or burying the bodies outside the cemetery fence may lead to unwanted personal, familial, and sectorial complications. Insensitive treatment of a soldier who was persecuted in his native country for being a Jew and in Israel is treated, even after his death, as a non-Jew (leaving aside for now any determination of his true religious affiliation) may lead to alienation and isolation on the part of both the soldier’s family and entire groups within Israeli society. At the same time, ignoring Jewish law may have a negative impact on the Jewish character of the state of Israel and on soldiers and their families who wish to be buried according to the dictates of Jewish law.

The purpose of this position paper is to determine the most appropriate approach to the burial of these members of Israeli society in order to maintain a balance among the needs of the different sectors which serve in the armed forces.

The position paper is composed of the following sections:

· The first two sections present a general survey of the issues and the specific case discussed.

· The third section presents army and the Ministry of Defense guidelines. These institutions are responsible for military burials and the maintenance of military cemeteries.

· The fourth section presents the halachic background as developed over the course of generations in Judaic literature.

· The fifth section summarizes the discussion. It also presents a policy recommendation based on statements by the former chief army rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, and the current chief army rabbi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz: the burial of non-Jewish soldiers in special sections which are neither isolated nor in the same section as the rest of the fallen members of the military. The separation between graves would be accomplished by means of a tree, a bench, or any other item which is a normal part of the cemetery. This solution combines compliance with Jewish law and the proper respect for those who have sacrificed their lives to protect those living in this country.

To the full position paper (Hebrew)

Summary of 19th Knesset Activities Concerning State and Religion

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Though the 19th Knesset served for one of the shortest periods in our history (less than two years), it was very active concerning matters of state and religion. The governing coalition did not include any of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, and, although there were those who criticized this fact, others saw this as a chance to enact reforms on issues of state and religion.

This survey examines the activity of the 19th Knesset in this area, focusing on proposed legislation (both private and governmental) which was actively advanced or which generated significant public discussion. The survey does not discuss other proposed laws which may have been formally filed. The survey also encompasses a number of formal government regulations and certain public initiatives outside the regulatory framework. The survey does not include proposed legislation relating to the state relationship to religious populations such as proposals to draft Ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF or to modify the autonomy of the religious and Ultra-Orthodox educational systems.

The survey shows that 32 proposals and initiatives on the subject of state and religion were actively promoted during the 19th Knesset. Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben Dahan (HaBayit HaYehudi) and MK Elazar Stern (HaTenuah) are the leading members of Knesset in this area: each promoted eight different initiatives. MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) promoted six initiatives in the field, and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTenuah) promoted five. (At the end of the survey there is a table summarizing all proposals and their current status.)

A majority of all these proposals did not make it into law, but those that did are:

1. Opening areas for marriage registration: Proposed by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) and promoted with the support of Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan. Ben Dahan added a rider providing a two year prison sentence for those who conduct marriage ceremonies outside the framework of the Rabbinate.

2. Prohibition against civil service rabbis taking payment for conducting marriage ceremonies: Proposed by MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi).

3. Establishing female representation (4 of 11) on committees to appoint city rabbis: Proposed by MK Aliza Lavie and MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli.

4. Establishment of conversion courts by city rabbis: Proposed by MK Elazar Stern. This proposed law did not pass its second and third reading in the Knesset, but it promoted a similarly worded proposal being accepted as a government decision.

In addition, there were two significant ministerial regulations promulgated during the incumbency of the 19th Knesset:

1. A change in the guidelines for appointing city rabbis in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling from 2012. The new guidelines set by Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan increase the power of the Minister of Religious Services and of local authority representatives on the appointments committee while reducing the power of members of the local religious council and of the local synagogues. In addition, 30% was set as the minimum level of representation by women on the committee.

2. A decision by Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar (Likud) to overturn a new Tel-Aviv municipal by-law which would have allowed for the widespread opening of neighborhood grocery stores on the Sabbath.

In addition, as part of the activities of the 19th Knesset Naftali Bennett, Minister of Religious Services, and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan held two separate press conferences about a number of initiatives they wished to advance. Bennett and Ben Dahan called these initiatives a “revolution in religious services.” These initiatives included reforms in a variety of areas: marriage, religious councils, and kashrut. The table shows the various initiatives announced and their current status.

It can be seen that most of the initiatives declared as an integral part of what was called the “revolution in religious service” went nowhere.

To the Full Position Paper (In Hebrew)

Mikvas in Israel Part II

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The Business Licensing Order states that a ritual bath (mikveh) is a business requiring a license, and this, to “insure public health, including appropriate sanitary conditions”. The Business Licensing directives of 1999 (dealing with appropriate sanitary conditions for ritual baths), as set by the Ministry of Health include directives relating to the ritual bath building, it’s facilities, maintenance and operation, and are aimed at preventing safety and sanitary hazards in ritual baths. The Ministry of Health’s website states clearly that “only in licensed ritual baths can the sanitary conditions and other conditions be deemed appropriate.”
In 2004, the State Comptroller carried out an audit with respect to the business licenses of ritual baths in eight different local authorities in Israel, and pointed out numerous flaws and defects, which the authorities promised to rectify as soon as possible. A follow-up check, which we conducted more than a decade later in those very same local authorities, disclosed to the fact that despite the severely negative report submitted by the State Comptroller, with respect to most of the local authorities in question, the business licenses have not been improved, and, indeed, in some places (e.g., Tel Aviv) the situation has even worsened.
In an extensive examination conducted as part of this study, we contacted various local authorities in order to obtain information regarding the business licenses of the ritual baths operated by the different Religious Councils and Departments of Religious Services. Of the 761 ritual baths currently in operation in Israel and operated by these bodies, we received 481 responses (63.2%). Of these, 359 ritual baths (about 75%) currently operate without a license. For the sake of comparison, only 29% of business running regular bathing facilities in the Jewish sector operate without a required license.
The survey reveals that the problem is even more acute in regional councils. From our survey, it was evident that about 85% of the ritual baths in regional councils operate without a license, compared to 65% of those operating in the cities. Furthermore, of all the regions examined, the situation is most severe in the Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem regions: of the 115 ritual baths examined in Judea & Samaria, 113 (98.7%) did not have a business license. In the Tel Aviv region, 88.4% were found to be operating without a business license. In the southern regions, in Haifa and in the center of Israel, a similar trend was observed i.e. about 65% of ritual baths were operating without a business license. The region boasting the best results proved to be the northern region, with 49.5% of ritual baths operating without a business license.
Local authorities rarely close down ritual baths operating without a license, despite their authority and responsibility in this matter. The reason for this may be that they are wary of hurting the women using the baths and leaving them without the ability to immerse. Another possibility is the inherent conflict of interests. The very same authorities are responsible both for issuing business licenses and for enforcing the requirements of the licenses issued. Where they fail to issue licenses because they never got to it (or for some other reason), it might be awkward to close down the business which applied for the license on the grounds that it is operating without one. In his report of 2004, the State Comptroller’s criticized the Ministry of Health for not utilizing the regional doctors’ authority to issue administrative injunctions to ritual baths operating under deficient sanitary conditions. From an inspection carried out in December 2014, we conclude that despite the fact that numerous ritual baths operate under impaired sanitary conditions, the regional doctors do not exercise their authority to prevent this.
A most serious problem with respect to the ritual baths is the fact that the users are not even aware of the existing deficient health and sanitary conditions. The local authorities have not made any information regarding sanitary conditions in ritual baths available to the general public. The claim made by the Ministry of Health is that the data has not yet been computerized, and that individuals can check on specific locations by contacting the Department. This, of course, is easier said than done. Local authorities do not make such information readily available to the public, and even a direct demand to the local authority requesting information concerning business licenses does not yield information. Many authorities did not even bother answering our repeated requests for this information, while others, demanded a Freedom of Information fee in exchange for this very basic and fundamental information.
An additional finding revealed that the Ministry of Health conducts annual audits on only a small number of ritual baths. According to ministry officials, this results from lack of funds budgeted for this purpose. But the State Comptroller pointed out in 2004 that the Ministry of Health was not even aware that some of these ritual baths exist (this is usually the case with private ritual baths).
Matters have not improved in the decade since the State Comptroller’s investigation. From an examination we conducted in Jerusalem, it appears that there is still a big discrepancy between the number of reports pertaining to ritual baths submitted by the local authorities and the number of such reports submitted by the Ministry of Health. Similarly, the inadequate training regarding proper sanitation and proper sanitation inspections given to the religious immersion supervisors has not improved. The Ministry of Health admitted in December 2014, that “the whole issue of national training and guidance for ritual bath workers has not improved in any way.”

Another Saturday of Football? Suggestion for Regulating Football and Other Sports Games on Saturday

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A court ruling given by the Labor Court last August raised the issue of holding football games on Saturdays (Shabbat = the Jewish Sabbath], stating that holding league games on Shabbat is a violation of the law, as football teams were never given a permit to hire workers on Shabbat.
This ruling opened a wide public debate on the matter, and touched not only on the legality of employing religious players on this day, but actually holding public games while violating the Sabbath, and the ability of religious players to participate in these games, as players and as spectators.
One must note that football in Israel includes two separate issues: professional football (top leagues) and popular football (lower leagues and leagues for children and youth). Even though the Labor Court referred only to professional football, the public debate currently being held deals also with popular football and, therefore, must also address this issue with utmost seriousness. In fact, the public debate on popular football is relevant to all sports fields in Israel, and even to several fields in professional sports.
When dealing with professional football, the position paper examines top league games in the 2014-2015 season and points out that only 57 games – constituting 23.57% of the games during this season – were held at hours considered by Jewish Law to be Shabbat, while 29 games were held led than one hour after the end of Shabbat. Thus, in many weeks all that is needed is for the games to start a little bit later in order to prevent them being held on Shabbat.
Also, this position paper shows that most games that are held hours before the end of Shabbat are those in the final stages of the season (play-offs), and this is not necessarily connected to summer time, but to a deliberate decision to hold these games much earlier in the day than those held during other times of the season, sometimes even at noon. Therefore, it seems that some effort could be made to postpone some games to later in the day.
In addition, the position paper states that in most weeks, five games were held every Saturday (most of them, as stated, after Shabbat ended) and two games were held on Sundays or Mondays. Even so, in eight weeks (about one quarter of them) four games were held on Shabbat and three on Sundays and Mondays. As such, it seems that there is nothing preventing moving several more games to Sundays and Mondays, so that these will not be played on Shabbat. Also, games in summer can be played at 17:00 on Fridays, and this has been done in the not so long ago past. Even so, we must add that if one of the suggestions to add another day of rest to the Israeli market, such as Sundays or Fridays, is accepted, this will make it much easier to hold these games on those days, possibly even on Thursdays.
Regarding the issue of popular sports, the position paper raised several suggestions for increasing the number of days of rest in Israel, from an approach that we must try and ensure that all popular sports training, games and competitions are not held on Shabbat, to enable as many sectors of the population to participate in these events. We believe that the ideal solution to this issue is cancelling schools on Fridays. This is a solution that requires the least reforms, on the one hand, and significantly upgrades popular sports in Israel, on the other. This is in addition to other advantages that are not sports-related.
Even so, at the first stage, and with the understanding that such a reform will take time to implement, we recommend holding the youth sports competitions, which are held periodically, to Fridays and, if possible, even to weekdays or to condensed work vacations, such as Chanuka. In this regard, we recommend that the Ministry of Education – together with the Ministry of Culture and Sport – instruct schools to allow children participating in these events, to leave school accordingly (with their parents’ consent, of course).
In conclusion, it deems fit to note that, despite the supposed tension that such issues cause in the religious-secular rift, it seems that this issue is not so complicated, and with a bit of good will and effort on behalf of the relevant authorities, we can find solutions that will benefit the entire Israeli society.
To the full position paper (Hebrew)

Mikvas in Israel Part I

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The Ministry of Religious Services and the local authorities in Israel operate 757 mikves (ritual baths) for women through the religious councils and religious departments in the various authorities. This study discusses various administrative and economic aspects of the mikve setup in Israel and points out several main findings:


According to the regulations of the Minister for Religious Services of November 2013, the cost of a standard immersion in a mikve is NIS 15. The CEO memorandum of the Ministry of Religious Services determines that “it is compulsory to ensure that the abovementioned fees are charged,” but, in fact, each religious council, and occasionally each mikve attendant, does as they see fit and the Ministry’s regulations are not enforced.

NormalGolan 002During October-November 2014 we contacted all mikves in Israel by telephone and asked their price for a standard dipping; 482 of the 757 mikves responded to our question. Of those 482 mikves, in 231 (48%) a different amount was charged, in most cases this amount was higher than the required NIS 15. In fact, 35% of the tested mikves (168 out of 462) charged more than NIS 15 and 31% of the mikves charged more than NIS 20, with some charging even NIS 30 and NIS 35.

Findings show that in regard to certain authorities there is no uniform price even within the religious council, and each mikve charges a different price. In addition, findings show that in some absurd manner, it is actually the authorities in lower socioeconomic areas where residents are required to pay much higher prices that those set by the Ministry of Religious Services.

An additional survey was held on mikve services for brides. According to the regulations of the Minister of Religious Services, which became valid in November 2013, “brides in their first year of marriage are exempt from paying for immersing in a mikve.” A follow up held with the spokesperson of the Ministry we found that the Minister’s exemption refers to mikves throughout Israel, without limitations, but we found that 57% of the mikves do not uphold this regulations: some do not give brides a discount at all, while others give them a discount with limitations that contradict regulations: a discount only to brides who registered within the specific religious authority, only to local residents, etc.

Efficiency and Economic Management:

Due to a significant lack of a standardized database it is extremely difficult to present organized findings in this regard. The lack of data derives from the fact that many religious authorities do not maintain an organized system of collecting information on the number of women using the mikve services and from the fact that the Ministry of Religious Services does not demand these details from the authorities. Despite this, the study presents several initial findings that are based on the religious authorities’ accounting reports.

According to these findings, the economic cost of running a mikve system in regional authorities with the lowest percentage of religious residents is understandably the highest per usage, because the requirement to open mivkes in a certain area is not conditioned on the the number of religious residents in that area. This is probably also the reason that the cost of running a mikve in regional authorities – which are often required to operate mikves even in small communities, is higher than in the (larger) cities.

Based on a comparison between religious councils with similar characteristics, the study found probable inefficient management in the mikve departments or, alternatively, efficient religious councils with insufficient mikve services. Thus, for example, the percentage of income compared to overall cost from mikves reaches 6%-8%, while in other large cities, it reaches 20%-30%.

Several reports of the Haifa city auditor do, in fact, point to numerous problems in the management of the mikves in the city. In addition, there are seven mikves for women in Rehovot,

Safed and Ashkelon, and while the percentage of income from mikves in Ashkelon and Safed reaches 15%-20%, the percentage of income in Rehovot reaches 50%-55%. Thus, the findings show that many more women in Rehovot use the mikve services than in Ashkeon, even though expenses on maintenance and salaries for mikves in Rehovot are significantly lower. Similarly, the cost of maintenance and salaries for mikves in Be’er Yaakov and Ma’alot is several times higher than in religious councils with a similar number of women using mikve services, such as Bnei Ayish, Meitar and Mazkeret Batya.

The study also shows significant and unexplainable fluctuations in the income and expenses of the mikves in several religious councils – Ganei Tikva, Eilat and Kdumim – during 2010-2013. Such fluctuations generally show ineffective management of the mikve system.


The availability of data on mikves around the country is extremely important, due to the intimate and discreet nature of immersing in a mikve. One can assume that women know the mikves in their local area, but many times, when they are in other places in Israel they must find a mikve in an area unknown to them. As many women regard the mikve as a private event, they prefer not to share this information with others or ask for information on the closest mikve; making it even more important for the authorities to make known exact and clear details.

The study findings show that the information systems run by the Ministry of Religious Services and those on its website and the WAZE application lack much information. The Ministry’s website does not have information on many mikves run by the religious councils, and WAZE is missing 288 mikves (about 38%).

It was found that the information system on the Ministry’s website has almost no information on the mikve system, such as the prices for standard (and other) services provided at the mikve. Only in a few cases do opening hours appear on the site. Also, in many cases the telephone number of the mikve attendant, or the mikve itself, did not appear and, if it did, in 25% of the cases it was not updated or was of a former attendant who was no longer employed at the mikve. Similarly, in about 33% of mikves WAZE did not have a telephone number at all, or had a non-updated number.


To the full research (Hebrew)