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.