Rabbi Chaim Druckman
Rabbi Chaim DruckmanFlash 90

Senior religious Zionist rabbis met with Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau on Sunday to discuss their concern about an alternative Kashrut certification authority initiated by the Tzohar Zionist rabbinical organization, a move seen as undermining the Chief Rabbinate's authority in Israel.

The four venerable leading rabbis are the Dean of Yeshivat Or Etzion and head of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva high school network, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Dean of the Beit El Yeshiva Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi of Kiryat Shmona Rabbi Tzfania Drori, and retired Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaakov Ariel.

The rabbis are expected to discuss with the Chief Rabbi of Israel the new alternativekashrut certification authority of the Tzohar Rabbinical organization and their opposition to this move.

Tzohar, a religious Zionist organization which provides religious services for those seeking an alternative to the state-run Rabbinate, has been criticized in the past for undermining the Rabbinate.

It began by breaking the Rabbinate's stipulation that couples have to register for marriage in their home towns, where their halakhic credentials could be checked. Instead, Tzohar allowed them to register in towns where Tzohar rabbis of their choice could officiate at the wedding ceremonies, claiming that computers made the geographic limitation unnecessary, and this eventually led to the Rabbinate's abandoning the original statute on marriage registration. Tzohar began running its own marriage preparation sessions which were highly successful and acclaimed by participants. The weddings themselves, however, were held under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, as are all legal Jewish weddings in Israel, as opposed to the kashrut initiative, which is divorced from the Chief Rabbinate..

Tzohar's head, Rabbi David Stav, ran unsuccessfully for the post of Chief Rabbinate in the last elections.

Israeli law does not permit the use of the word kosher on certifications other that that of the Chief Rabbinate, so Tzohar will have to word their certification without writing "kosher", leading to fears that people will begin to accept bogus certificates from other sources as well.

Several days ago, Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) wrote an article in the Hebrew Makor Rishon newspaper, asserting that one of the distinguishing characteristics of the only Jewish State is that the government regulates education, defense, welfare and other services, among them kashrut authorizations, as part of its natural functions. Complaints about kashrut standards and certification should be solved within the system, he added, as he did during his period in the Religious Ministry.

Former Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba-Hevron Rabbi Dov Lior sent a letter to the Chief Rabbis of Israel in lieu of the meeting, which he was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

In his letter, Rabbi Lior accused Tzohar's alternative Kashrut authority of "plunging a sword in the heart of the Rabbinate, which is the heart of all of Israel."

To read the original letter in Hebrew click here.

Some rabbis participating in the meeting have publicly attacked the initiative in recent days. Rabbi Yaakov Ariel argued it would be forbidden to eat in a place supervised by Tzohar's kashrut project. "Instead of one unified and comprehensive system for all of Israel, everyone will manage kashrut according to his understanding. And I say here unequivocally - it is forbidden to eat in restaurants and hotels that are certified kosher by such private kashrut. It is forbidden to eat there, rather one must only rely on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the emissaries of city rabbis in every city.

"They want to lower the standard of kashrut and destroy the kashrut system in Israel," Rabbi Ariel said. "There will be complete confusion. How can I stay in a hotel with my family? If I'm invited to a wedding and it turns out that the kashrut is of Tzohar and I can't eat there it will be a very serious problem. They are making a terrible mistake."

Rabbi Druckman said in an interview with Arutz Sheva that he opposes the initiative, "It's a very serious development, because any damage to the unity of kosher standards is fraught with the danger of destroying kashrut. It's possible there's a need to improve everything related to state kashrut certification standards; I'm in favor of improvements, but I'm against separation and privatization. Every privatization is a violation." Rabbi Tzfania Drori also expressed public opposition to the move.

Rabbis from across the spectrum have opposed the Tzohar initiative. Arutz Shevainterviewed the head of the Hotam religious-Zionist organinzation Avner Porat, who also attacked the Tzohar organization rabbis' alternative kashrut certification system.

"The Tzohar initiative is a black day for Israel," says Porat, "This means dismantling the Chief Rabbinate's kashrut established by Rabbi Kook."

Senior officials in the Chief Rabbinate sharply criticized the new authority established by Tzohar, after its ties to theHashgacha Pratit organization (lit. "Private Supervision", the Hebrew term also denotes "Divine Providence"), were revealed, effectively placing the organization under Tzohar auspices.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva MK Michael Malchieli (Shas) said, "Today it was again proven that at the head of the Tzohar organization are people who have not yet succeeded in accepting the fact that they lost the elections for Chief Rabbi of Israel. Instead of accepting the electorate's opinion, they oppose the Rabbinate through all kinds of odd and delusional ventures.

"The Torah-observant public, loyal to the path of its forefathers, will continue to rely on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Chief Rabbis, and will not be fooled by a group of people who love aggrandizement and power."