The Chief Rabbinate's National Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) Department recently sent letters to kashrut deparment heads around Israel warning them to prevent desecration of Shabbat. In doing so the Department revised guidelines and recommended new rules.
Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, begins on Friday at sunset. With the early nightfall in winter months it is feared that supermarkets and businesses may stay open too late, desecrating the Shabbat.
"When customers, and especially religious customers, arrive at a business shortly before Shabbat, there is great temptation for businesses to breach the rules and stay open," explains Rabbi Yaakov Sabag, head of the National Kashrut Department.
In response to the situation, the Rabbinate in its letters requested that mashgichim (kashrut supervisors) check in with kosher business owners to make sure they close their operations at least two hours before Shabbat begins.
Furthermore, in places known to have questionable Shabbat observance, kashrut departments are to appoint a "Shabbat Mashgiach" to inspect businesses close to the start of Shabbat and report on businesses that do not close at the appropriate time. Those businesses that breach the rules will have their kashrut certificate removed.
Rabbi Sabag commented that the workday doesn't end with the doors closing, saying stores "need to arrange merchandise, close the registers and clean, all of which takes time. Therefore the Rabbinate decided that businesses' doors must close 2 hours before Shabbat to allow business owners and workers to complete these activities and return home in time. A customer that chooses to shop so shortly before Shabbat begins may be responsible for the desecration of Shabbat by the business owner and his workers."
The Chief Rabbinate has been busy ensuring kashrut observation among Israeli businesses.
In August, just weeks after becoming Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau made a surprise 2 a.m. visit to a fruit and vegetable market in Tzrifin near Rishon LeZion.
Furthermore the Rabbinate's Kashrut Fraud Department has been active making sure that kashrut certificates presented by businesses are legitimate.
In November, Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan called for the enforcement of unified standards of kashrut as determined by the Chief Rabbinate, pressing for more supervision of local kashrut levels.