Relying on Kashrut Supervision

Since people have a financial reason to cheat, supervision is required for food products. In both the Rabbinate and Badatz kashrut organizations, there are problems requiring improvement, but on the whole, the level of kashrut in Israel is good.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, | updated: 11:41

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Kashrut inspectors
פלאש 90

In this article I will discuss the kashrut system in Israel, and explain the need for a kashrut certificate for food, and the difference between a standard kashrut certificate and a mehadrin kashrut certificate (the most stringent level of kosher supervision).

The general rule is that when a business operator has a financial incentive to cheat, supervision is required to ensure he does not do so. For that reason, the Torah commanded that merchants be supervised to make sure their weights are accurate, so as not to deceive buyers (Deuteronomy 25:15; Baba Batra 89a).

This does not mean venders and food manufacturers are not be trusted at all, for if so, supervision would be required at all times, and even the supervisors would have to be supervised lest they are dishonest, ad infinitum. Actually, the foundation of everything is basic trust in people, requiring reinforcement by means of supervision when they face financial temptation.

The Foundation of Supervision: Deterrence

Hashgacha (kashrut supervision) rests on the basis of deterrence, which is divided into two components – surprise, and punishment.

Surprise: When there is concern that a business owner or worker might do something that renders the food non-kosher, he must be aware that at any moment the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) may appear and observe him. To this end, a key must be given to the mashgiach so he can come to the factory at any time without prior coordination, and inspect everything done there (Avodah Zara 61a; S.A., Y.D. 129:1; 131:1).

Punishment: If a shochet (ritual slaughterer) or a business owner is caught selling non-kosher food, God forbid, his kashrut certificate must be revoked. As our Sages instructed, a shochet who sold treif (non-kosher) meat, is permanently disqualified. And even if he claims he did it inadvertently and will do teshuva (repent) by letting his hair and nails grow as an expression of grief for his wrong-doing, he is no longer trusted. Since he has lost his credibility, there is concern his teshuva was done for the purpose of obtaining a permit to sell meat, but when faced with temptation once again – he will fail, and cheat. Only if he moves to another location , and there a rare case occurs by which it becomes crystal clear he overcame his lust for money, can he be trusted to have done teshuva (Sanhedrin 25a; Rashbah 1:20; S. A. 119:15).

The Weakening of Deterrence, and the Increase of Supervision

At the beginning of the period of the Achronim some four hundred years ago, when the process of professionalization grew, there were families whose entire livelihood depended on the ritual slaughtering and selling of meat, and if a father was permanently disqualified from selling meat, his livelihood, and that of his family, was destroyed. Therefore, the rabbis instructed to judge him leniently and arrange a method for him to do teshuva by way of fasting and self-punishment, and after his punishment was completed, his credibility was re-instated (Rashal, Taz 119:16; Sho’el U’Mayshiv 141, 2, 170. See, Chulin 18a; Daat Kohen 2).

This is also the custom today: if it appears to the rabbis responsible for kashrut that someone caught cheating will change his ways for the better, they punish him by disqualifying his kashrut certificate for a certain amount of time and arrange for him a method of doing teshuva, and afterwards, return his kashrut certificate. However, since general deterrence has been hampered by the fact that denial of kashrut certification is not permanent, a definite need to increase the importance of supervision of all food businesses was created as a result, especially over those who had been caught cheating.

Kosher and Mehadrin

In kashrut organizations, it is customary to grant two types of certificates: a standard kosher certificate, and a mehadrin kosher certificate. The difference between them is in two areas:

1. First – in mehadrin kashrut, when there is no great difficulty, the opinions of the machmirim (strict poskim) are taken into consideration even when they are a minority, and even when the law is based on Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance). Whereas in standard kashrut, they go according to the rules of halakha, namely, in a dispute of Divrei Chachamim, when necessary, they rule according to the lenient opinion, and in a dispute regarding an issur Torah (a Torah prohibition), if there is a clear majority of poskim who rule leniently – when necessary, they rely on their opinion, and if the dispute is equal – they are machmir (rule stringently).

Only in the law of sirchot (scar tissue) of the lungs of animals – although considered an equally disputed law of a Torah prohibition – they rule leniently, and the reason for this is due to the high cost of the chumra (a stringency that exceed the bare requirements of halakha), and also because the lenient opinion seems more acceptable (since animals who have sirchot do not die within twelve months).

2.The second area concerns the degree of supervision. Standard kashrut follows the customary rules of halakha according to the majority of poskim, and they rely on the business owner to adhere to the system of kashrut practices they set for him; consequently, the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) visits the business periodically to check that everything is going as agreed. If they find he had cheated, they invalidate the kashrut, but as long as they did not find a significant problem, they continue trusting the owner. In contrast, mehadrin kashrut relies less on the business owner, and usually requires a mashgiach on-hand to oversee all food preparation.  In addition, a slight violation of the instructions can also invalidate the kashrut certificate.

As a general rule, the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates provide both standard and mehadrin kashrut, while the various private kashrut organizations usually provide one kashrut level. The recognized Badatz organizations in Israel only grant mehadrin kashrut.

Problems in the Kashrut System

For various reasons, the kashrut system suffers from a number of problems, in particular:

1) A lack of uniform procedures for defining kosher and mehadrin.

2) Lack of supervision of certain rabbinates and Badatz organizations who are sometimes negligent in their work.

3) Competition that sometimes becomes unruly, accompanied by defamation which unjustly harms the presumption of the kashrut of trustworthy people.

4) There is a conflict of interest that may cause mashgichim or kashrut organizations to turn a blind eye to problems in order to continue being paid for the kashrut.

Between the Rabbinate and the Badatz Organizations

One of the problems about kashrut in many local rabbinates is that the mashgiach receives his salary from the business owner, raising concern he will be afraid to voice disapproval. On the other hand, the Badatz organizations have an incentive to continue providing kashrut because they earn a living from it, while a local rabbi has a fixed salary and no incentive to continue granting kashrut, and as a result, his halakhic ruling is impartial. In addition, the local rabbinate may be examined by the Chief Rabbinate and the State judiciary system, and in this way, the Rabbinate has an advantage (as Rabbi Moshe Bigel explained in the introduction to his book ‘Echol B’Simcha’). On the other hand, by fact that the Badatz organizations deal with higher-standard kashrut with closer supervision, this balances out their conflicts of interest. The fear of criticism from competing kashrut organizations also balances out conflicts of interest.

Striving for Improvement

It would be appropriate to attempt improving the entire kashrut system; establish uniform procedures for defining kosher and mehadrin and procedures reducing the concern of conflict of interests; require kashrut organizations to report transparently on their level of supervision so the buyer knows what they are strict about and what not; and have the Chief Rabbinate monitor all of this reliably.

In Spite of All this, the Level of Kashrut is Good

Nevertheless, despite all the problems requiring correction, overall, the kashrut system in Israel is good. There are a few reasons for this: First, thanks to the basic yirat Shamayim (fear of God) of the vast majority of people involved in the field of kashrut. Second, the competition between the various kashrut organizations and the media exposure of faults, causes them to analyze themselves and improve. Third, the fact that most of the food produced in Israel is kosher, greatly helps maintain kashrut.

The Presumption of Kashrut for all Supervisions

Although rumors are occasionally spread about the kashrut of a particular rabbinate or Badatz being remiss and employing fraudulent or negligent mashgichim, and sometimes there are stores that sell treif (non-kosher meat) alongside their kosher certificate, and the media now and then reports about a store presenting a fake kashrut certificate – in spite of all this, as long as there is no clear evidence of exactly where the treif is being sold, one is permitted to buy food in all places that have a kashrut certificate from a rabbinate or private kashrut organization.

There are two main reasons for this:

First: The basis of relying on kashrut is that “one witness is relied upon in prohibitions,” and consequently, we rely on the mashgiach who testifies verbally or by a kashrut certificate that the food is kosher. Although the mashgiach receives a salary for this, since the rabbis choose reliable mashgichim and supervise them, they may be trusted. And while sometimes people lie, including those considered particularly trustworthy, the minority of liars does not cancel out the general rule that “one witness is relied upon in prohibitions.” Just as two witnesses may sometimes lie, nevertheless, as long as it is not otherwise proven, we rely on two witnesses even in the most severe judgements (Rambam, Yisodei Torah 7: 7). In other words, the first foundation is the presumption of basic kashrut of the rabbinate granting the kashrut seal, which cannot be uprooted without thorough investigation.

We Follow the Majority

The second foundation: we go according to the majority, and most places that have a kashrut certificate are kosher. After all, the halakha is that even if food is found on the street, if in the area the majority of stores are kosher, although the minority of stores sell treif food, the food found on the street is kosher, for we go according to the majority (Chulin 95a; S. A., Y.D. 110:3). Kal v’chomer (a fortiori) it is permitted to buy food in stores that have a kashrut certificate (and it should not be argued that the fraudulent places are considered kavu’ah (permanent), because in the opinion of the majority of poskim, the law of kavu’ah applies only to a known place, or at the very least, a place that with little effort may be easily found, whereas in this situation, one does not know which place is fraudulent.

And in the law of kavu’ah the opinion of the machmirim is not taken into consideration, since it is d’Rabbanan (rabbinical), and in any safek (doubt) concerning the law of kavu’ah, halakha goes according to the lenient opinion, as explained in ‘Peninei Halakha: Kashrut’, Vol. II, 16).

Standard Kashrut is Kosher, and Mehadrin Kashrut is Mehadrin

Therefore, in halakha and in practice, all foods that have kashrut supervision of the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinate are kosher, and foods having mehadrin kashrut of the Rabbinate or private kashrut organizations are usually kosher, or kosher l’mehadrin as appears on the kashrut certificate.

If it turns out that the rabbi and mashgiach were negligent in their job, and the food a person ate was not kosher or not mehadrin as requested, the sin is entirely on the head of the rabbi and the mashgiach, whereas the buyer who was meticulous in purchasing food having kashrut supervision – is free of sin.

If the rabbi and the mashgiach did their job faithfully, but the manufacturer cheated them, the sin rests entirely on the fraudulent manufacturer’s head.





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