Israel’s 39-chapter annual state comptroller report, published Tuesday, opened with a searing critique of the government-controlled kosher certification process, citing widespread mismanagement and corruption.
The first chapter of the report dealt with the prolonged battle over Israel’s kosher supervision process, blaming the local religious councils and the Chief Rabbinate for their failure to create serious reforms in the system.
One of the chief complaints raised by the report concerned kosher supervisors’ source of income, with the vast majority receiving their salary from the businesses they supervise, thus creating the potential for a conflict of interests and “black money.”
Other concerns raised by the report include supervisors receiving pay over hours they did not work and the employment of unauthorized supervisors, according to Hebrew media reports. One supervisor was reportedly paid for working 27 hours a day.
There were also widespread reports of nepotism.
Private Supervision, the alternative kosher supervision organization founded by Jerusalem council member Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz as a friendlier-to-restaurants alternative to the government-run rabbinate, hailed the report for recognizing the “significant violations, failures, lies and corruption” of the local religious councils, in their work with their hired kosher supervisors, and with the stamp of the Chief Rabbinate.
“I wasn’t surprised by the seriousness of the report and its details,” said Leibowitz, “given the intrinsic rot in the Jerusalem religious council. Anyone familiar with the kosher supervisory system knew that the ground was fertile for an organization like Private Supervision — and primarily in Jerusalem. It’s very sad to see how the rabbinate and some of the local religious councils brought kosher supervision in this country to levels of extreme violation and the absurd.”
“There is still a monopoly in the kosher supervisory system and Israel is the only place in the world without competition in the kosher supervision sphere,” he said.
Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar, the organization of 800 Orthodox rabbis that aims to bridge he gaps between Israel’s religious and secular populations, said that the comptroller’s report highlights what most of the Israeli public and Tzohar have been saying for years.
“The kashrut system in this country is in a downward spiral,” said Stav, who also called for a privatization of the system.
“We need to see a complete separation between political power brokers who finance this corrupt system all the while refusing to actually eat the food they are responsible for supervising and we need to open the kashrut market to new players,” he said.
Israeli law does not oblige restaurants to be kosher, and nonkosher establishments are common, mainly in areas with a less religiously observant Jewish population.
But restaurants that do want to be considered kosher must have the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate under current Israeli law.
The cost of official inspections and a certificate for a medium-sized restaurant is in the range of NIS 9,500 per year ($2,500).