Yesh Atid MK proposes major kashrut law overhaul

Proposal would end state kashrut responsibility, limit authority to basic regulatory oversight of kashrut providers.

Yedidya Ben-Or ,


A new bill presented by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), Chairman of the Nation, Religion, and State Lobby in the Knesset, in cooperation with the Jerusalem Hitorerut (Awakening) Party, seeks to radically change Israel's kashrut system which supervises Jewish dietary laws, and to clear the field for new players to enter.

The bill is to be submitted this coming Sunday to the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs.

Currently, the law prohibiting fraud in kashrut states that authority to issue kosher certificates belongs to the Chief Rabbinate or a Rabbi commissioned by it for that purpose, while there exists a blanket ban on the introduction of any alternative certificate provider in order to protect the public from fraudulent kashrut certifications.

The State Comptroller's report in 2008 exposed failures in the present kashrut administration, in areas related to kosher certificate providers, law enforcement prohibiting fraud in kashrut, the process of issuing kosher certificates, payment of fees, the status of kashrut supervisors, private parties issuing kosher certificates (Badatzim), and the job descriptions of rabbis and religious council employees.

The system, it is alleged, suffers from lack of a uniform supervision and oversight standard, inherent conflicts of interest between the supervisor and the supervisee creating an opportunity for extortion and criminality, leading to frustration among business owners who say they feel hostage to a tainted system, with no suitable alternative. According to the bill's initiators, the existing state-of-affairs directly affects the cost of living, quality of kashrut, and confidence in the system by a public searching for alternative solutions.

The current proposal, co-sponsored by MKs from various parties, seeks to establish a supervisory authority for providing kashrut and to broaden authority to grant a kosher certificate to anyone who receives a license to do so, thereby enabling competition and efficiency in the industry.

This is an unique proposal according to which responsibility for defining kashrut ceases to gravitate upon the State, but instead upon private bodies that would regulate kashrut, decide who has authority to delineate the rules of kashrut and how it intends to enforce those rules. The role of the State would be to ensure that kashrut providers fulfill their responsibilities to kashrut consumers.

MK Lavi said, "Kashrut in Israel has became a corrupt and bloated system, suffering from significant conflicts of interest between supervisor and the supervised, the lack of a uniform control and supervision standard, and in extreme cases, suspicions of criminality. As a result, public confidence has eroded steadily, and consequently the status of the Chief Rabbinate and the quality of kashrut has eroded. In the end, we are also left with a cost of billions to the economy that directly affects the cost of living, even without having purchased a kosher product. It requires a deep, fundamental legislative reform, and this is a significant step in the direction."

Elad Malka, a member of the HItorerut Jerusalem faction in the City Council, explained that "failures in kashrut have for many years been described at every level: good governance, economic, and ethical. This bill is the first comprehensive attempt to deal with the issue through the transfer of power from the government to the citizens. The state's role would be to monitor the kashrut in terms of transparency and control and nothing else. For thousands of years of exile the Jewish people produced supervision and monitoring institutions and did a great job and there is no reason why today, when the private kashrut market could be developed without limit, the Jewish State should stop it. If the bill is approved, we will enjoy a greater selection of kashrut providers, more effective kashrut providers, a lower cost of living, and most importantly - higher quality basic kashrut."

However, the kashrut situation in countries where various providers compete is far from being a way to insure the required level of kashrut from every provider, and informed observant Jews are extremely selective about which kashrut certifications they trust and which they do not. The Chief Rabbinate is meant to provide a basic kashrut certification which is definitely up to halakhic standards and serves the entire Israeli public, allowing for the addition of more stringent kashrut certifications to products for those who wish them.

The Chief Rabbinate addressed the problem recently at a meeting of the Knesset Economics Committee and while it admitted to the need to streamline and improve kashrut certification, warned that the proposed solution will only exacerbate the problem.

Avner Porat, of the Hotam Organization – "Judaism on the Agenda" is its motto – objected to the privatization plan. "It will cause anarchy and deception," he said, "in that consumers would essentially not know what type of kashrut they are getting... Those who want quality public kashrut as part of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, need a professional public body that has responsibility for kashrut – and that is the Chief Rabbinate."

The Rabbinate's representative at the meeting, Moshe Dagan said that Chief Rabbi David Lau has established a committee that is to present recommendations, two months from now, for the improvement of kashrut in Israel.