Tzohar is wrong: We need a national kashrut system in the Jewish State

Response to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's article in favor of the Tzohar private kashrut initiative established to compete with the Chief Rabbinate's official nationwide certification in an attempt to replace it.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati, | updated: 13:48

הרב ברוך אפרתי
הרב ברוך אפרתי
עצמי

A number of rabbis and friends turned to me this past Shabbat  asking me to respond to an article by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (Shlit"a) of Har Bracha (see article above in translation),  siding with the private kashrut certification promoted by the Tzohar Rabbinic Organization.

I had no wish to write a response because some of those who turned to me are greater Torah scholars than I am – and also because I have written and been interviewed on the topic in the past.  However, when those who turned to me were not sure they would be able to write themselves, I was bound by two sayings:

"At a time when no one dares to stand firm for basic principles, you must try to do so"

and

"You are not obligated to complete the task, but you cannot avoid doing your part…"

- and then by my own rabbis ordering me to respond.  Thus, I have decided to express my opinion and act as the the voice of the many Torah persona who turned to me, in the hope that with G-d's help, my words are true to the mark.

Several months ago, I spent Shabbat in the community of Har Bracha where Rabbi Eliezer Melamed serves as spiritual leader, privileged to witness firsthand his wideranging and successful accomplishments.

Har Bracha is an entire  community based on halakha, home to a wonderful synagogue, Torah lectures for women and men around the clock, youth projects, ideological settling of the land, all led by a rabbi who is a true Torah scholar.

How lucky we are to have a community of this level in our land as well as to have a rabbi and halakhic decisor in the territory granted to the the tribe of Joseph in ancient times – this in addition to the important set of halakhic works compiled by the honorable rabbi.

That is why the dissent I give voice to in the following lines is not meant to attack the person who expressed views averse to mine, someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration, but is intended to criticize the content of his article, both in my name and in the name of a significant number of respected rabbis.

Let me state categorically: I am (and so are they) of the opinion that one cannot allow every group in the Jewish  State to establish its own religious and sectoral religious system for kashrut, conversion, marriage, divorce. If this is the direction in which we are going, the State of Israel ceases to be G-d's kingdom in this world and becomes a technical secular entity like every other Western country. Instead of a miraculous return to a Jewish State it becomes the State of the Jews. It turns into a collection of private citizens who decided to live together, each group deciding on its own religious identity, without any central, national Jewish identity.

I have no doubt that some members of Tzohar feel they are acting for the sake of heaven and the good of the Jewish people by attempting to strengthen the level of kashrut supervision, but despite their good intentions, the outcome of their actions is irrevocable damage.

It is the separation of religion and state (1). That is the real meaning of Tzohar's kashrut system. Why? Because if the state – in this case, represented by the Chief Rabbinate – is not in charge of  kashrut, conversion, marriage and divorce, what makes us a Jewish state? How is our state defined as an entity identified with Hashem's Will? In an instant, the state becomes a totally secular system without a semblance of national religion, no different from every other country in the world. It becomes a technical system with good and bad aspects to it, and worst of all, a continuation of the Diaspora with its individual sectors, a conglomeration of communities rather than a country with national-Jewish identity.  

Israel will become a secular state that has religious congregations in it. This means abandoning everything ideological taught us by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, who said "The State of Israel is the foundation of G-d's seat in the world" It means we destroy his great accomplishment, the Chief Rabbinate he founded.

When G-d told us at Mount Sinai: You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, did he mean that we should be a kingdom of private priesthoods each going in his own direction without a central spiritual entity? That we should be in a state of spiritual anarchy? If so, who was  Moses? Who was  Boaz, who was Yiftach, Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin in each generation?  Just decorative figureheads, it seems.

I fail to see the logic in Rabbi Eliezer's comparison of Tzohar's kashrut system to the batei din (religious courts) established by the tribes in the days of  the judges. Tribal and local courts were under the aegis of the central beit din (religious high court)  in Jerusalem once the city became the capital. The Rambam states that clearly in the second part of the source cited by Rabbi Melamed: 'Our sages said, that from the high court they would send out representatives all over Eretz Yisrael to check on whoever is considered wise, G-d fearing, venerable, clearheaded and respected..and he is made a judge in his city. From there he advances to the entrance to the Temple Mount and from there to the entrance to the Temple and  then to the high court.

It then follows, that the local courts and their judges were appointed by a spiritual center. Why? Because that is how G-d's statement is realized: A kingdom of priests. One Torah revealed in specific local circumstances, whose source is one spiritual center guiding and deciding who renders judgment and how.

This is more than a blow to the essence of the Jewishness of our state. This is also a blow to the authority of the majority of our venerable Torah Sages,  who are opposed to this private course of action.

That is why no group of rabbis, no matter how good and beloved its members are, which does not accept the authority of the supreme religious institution of the State of  Israel, causing its mandate to be privatized de facto, acting in direct contradiction to  the teachings of Religious Zionism's greatest luminaries who have come out against this step (including Tzohar's former presidents), acting against almost all the venerable Torah  figures who have requested that they cease promoting this step – can have any connection to the Rambam's words as brought previously. Is this equivalent to a legitimate court in each tribe's territory? It is incalculable destruction of the idea that Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it on to the keepers of the mesorah (tradition) from generation to generation, creating a hierarchy of rabbinic decisors, rabbinic courts.

Let me be specific:

Tzohar is not trying to be the beit din of one tribe alone, but a beit din that functions in addition to the existing one, for all of Israel. If, in ancient times, a city's beit din would have arisen and claimed it can pronounce decisions instead of  Jerusalem, would that have been permitted? Of course not, heaven forfend.

And this is not all.

The article's claim that the haredi world uses its own Badatz  hechsher anyway, does not hold water for two reasons:

a. If their behavior is wrong, why should Religious Zionists whose mentor is Rabbi Kook, do the same? Two wrongs make a right?

Since when do Religious Zionists separate religion and state? Have we lost our minds?

b. The haredi hechshers are always printed on labels in addition to Chief Rabbinate hechshers and not instead of them. They are for people who want to be more stringent than basic halakha requires. Once the Chief Rabbinate has certified a product as kosher, the haredim add a more extreme level of stringency, which is perfectly legitimate but not obligatory. It is not meant to take the place of the national spiritual center, the rabbinate, but is meant  for  those who wish to accept more limitations on what they eat (e.g. chalav yisrael, glatt meat and the like). Tzohar,in contrast, intends its certification to take the place of the Chief Rabbinate's. They do not want to add but to supersede. That is as different as the heavens and earth.  Had they said they were adding a certification to the Rabbinate's there would not have been such an outcry – and there has been a loud one – because the Chief Rabbinate would not have been negatively affected and there would be no attempt to take its place. Tzohar wants to harm the Chief Rabbinate and replace its authority. That is the reason our venerable Torah Sages are against the move.

The article's second claim, that if not enough rabbinic court  judges from a certain organization are appointed, that organization has the right to establish its  own system, is a dangerous  precedent for our existence as one sovereign state.

Can one even imagine that not accepting workers from a specific sector to the Interior Ministry, recruited to the police force, or drafted as soldiers to the IDF justifies establishing a private army, G-d forbid? A sectoral Interior Ministry? A private police force? Of  course not!  That way lies danger to our solidarity and unified nationhood. The Chief Rabbinate is just the same. Even if there are claims of discrimination, no one is allowed to create an alternative  to a national entity and to privatize what  we have built here since the days of  Rabbi Kook. That way lies utter chaos.

When there are problems in government run services, one  must correct them from within. And  it can be done. There are many, many religious Zionist rabbis of cities who have been appointed, even during the period when the Chief Rabbis are haredi, and many judges as well. This was accomplished without  the interference  of Tzohar,  Derech Emunah or any other  sectoral group, but in a natural process of negotiation. There are a good many religious Zionist rabbis in the  Chief Rabbinical Council and a good many of our rabbis holding important positions over the last few years. The situation is far from the problematic one Tzohar attempts to portray.

And in addition to the ideological and Zionist claims, there are also pragmatic ones.

Tzohar's complaint that supervisors should not receive their pay directly from the establishments they certify, as is the case today, has merit, as it neutralizes any temptation to close one's eyes to problems, but it is a complaint that has to be lodged with the Treasury – which must create a central body to which supervised establishments transfer funds which are then disbursed as the supervisors' salaries. This is not in the hands of the Rabbinate.

On the other hand, if a store receives its kashrut certification from a private body, it can pull the wool over its eyes quite easily. After all, if cheating is discovered, the worst that can happen is that the shop loses its hechsher, but this will not be publicized  (as is the case -Tzohar did not publicize the list of places from which it removed its kashrut certificates). What does an establishment that is caught serving non kosher food have to lose? Absolutely nothing. Private kashrut certification has no real "teeth" with which  to bite those who are dishonest.  Only the national kashrut system, backed by the law against deception in matters of kashrut, can threaten (a harsh word, but a necessary one) stores which do not live up to the required standards with losing not only Chief Rabbinate certification, but  all semblance of being considered kosher by legally publicizing their names.  Chief Rabbinate kashrut is an efficient way to ensure the laws of kosher food are kept.

In addition, I cannot  understand how these intelligent people fail to realize the grave dangers intrinsic to privatizing religion. The  Reform and  Conservative movements congratulated Tzohar for  its move to create a private kashrut system. They know why they are pleased. They are already (and I know this for a fact) their own kashrut system. Who will succeed in stopping them once Tzohar has set a precedent for enabling the legalization of private kashrut systems? Tzohar, with its own hands, is preparing the entry of non-Orthodox official bodies in the Jewish state and  literally handing them the keys. We must put an end to this before it is too late.

May it be G-d's Will that we live to see the Chief Rabbinate strenghthened and to clarify the best way to unite the country in support of its institutions, most especially the religious ones. May we revere both truth and peace.

Footnote:

(1) Israel, as the Jewish State, does not separate church and state in public matters. In contrast to the USA, It provides funding for two educational systems, religious and non-religious, as well as Muslim, it keeps Jewish hoidays officially. Recognized, legal conversion, marriage and divorce for Jews are halakhic (other religions in Israel perform marriages according to their own religious beliefs), The state, except for the above, does not interfere in personal lifestyles.








top