Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who also serves as minister for religious services, announced plans on Monday to “revolutionize” Israel’s labyrinthine kosher food regulations and to introduce a three-tier system that aims to make certification easier for restaurants and their clientele.
At a press conference Monday at the Economy and Trade Ministry, accompanied by Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, Bennett laid out a system which will award eateries and other food-producing establishments with one to three stars, each represented by six-pointed Stars of David, to indicate their level of adherence to Judaism’s strict dietary laws.
“Each business or company can decide how many stars it wants,” Bennett said.
Kosher certifications for businesses in Israel are awarded by local state rabbinic bodies, known as kashrut committees, that are under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Kashrut inspectors visit applicants and review what goes on in their kitchens when preparing food to ensure their methods meet those prescribed by Jewish ritual law. However, the ultra-Orthodox community also operates a variety of stricter kashrut certification committees, known as the “Badatz” boards, that provide services for members of its own community.
Bennett, who leads the nationalist-Orthodox Jewish Home party, explained that the working relationship between business owners and the inspectors will also be revised and that the hiring of many more inspectors will enable increased supervision instead of the currently rare visits.
“The kashrut certificate will be current and up to date,” he promised.
The new system would also revise the system of funding for the certifications. To date, the food establishments paid for the supervision, a practice that has long drawn criticism for creating potential conflicts of interest for inspectors. The new reform proposes a third-party body that would handle the financial side of the kashrut supervision.
Critics of the state rabbinate were not slow in voicing their concerns.
Shahar Ilan, deputy director of Hiddush, a nonprofit advocating greater separation of synagogue and state, sharply criticized the proposed plan, which, it said, would continue the state rabbinate’s monopoly over the kashrut system instead of opening it up to the free market.
“This isn’t a revolution; it is a setback,” Ilan said. “Instead of the state ending its direct involvement in kosher supervision to become a regulator, it is going to hire for its ranks tens of thousands of kashrut inspectors.”
Ilan called on authorities to instead encourage kashrut liberalization, including nonreligious, Reform, and Conservative kosher certifications, enabling members of the public to choose to be kosher according to their own beliefs. He predicted that an already dubious kashrut system, prone to financial irregularities, will only become even more problematic.
“Not only will it not resolve the claims of serious irregularities and inappropriate payments in the world of kashrut, it is likely that it will cause a [new] string of investigations in the newspapers, and disgrace Judaism even further.”
By contrast, Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal religious-Zionist movement, welcomed what it said were much-needed changes in the kashrut system.
“We hope this will bring about a fundamental change in the structure of the kashrut system,” the group said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Israel National News reported that members of the ultra-Orthodox media declared that they would boycott the press conference because it was being held at the Economy and Trade Ministry, where Bennett has his office, and not at the Chief Rabbinate building.