A government bill presented to the Knesset on Sunday would grant the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut inspection unit sweeping new powers to enforce the rabbinate’s rules for certification.
The inspectors, who belong to the rabbinate’s Kashrut Fraud Prevention Unit, currently lack the ability to enter establishments that they inspect without the agreement of owners, or to take samples of food, necessary to determine that ostensibly kosher food does not contain nonkosher ingredients such as dairy product in meat dishes or animals that are not approved for consumption by Jewish dietary laws.
Perhaps in expectation of criticism at the expansion of the much-critiqued rabbinate’s powers, Chief Rabbi David Lau insisted the new bill did not add new kashrut rules, but was merely intended to prevent fraud.
“I believe that all Israelis, those for whom kashrut is important and those for whom it is less important, understand the importance of honesty for citizens who ask for kashrut but fall victim to fraud,” Lau told Israel National News.
The bill is being advanced by Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan, a former director of Israel’s rabbinical court system.
It seeks to grant the inspectors powers similar to those possessed by the police, including the right to demand entry to an establishment under supervision, to take food samples, to demand identification papers from citizens, and to investigate restaurant owners suspected of fraud.
The investigative powers granted by the bill also include the confiscation of property believed to have been involved in the fraud, and ordering suspects to appear before the inspectors for the purposes of the investigation.
It also gives Kashrut Fraud Prevention Unit inspectors, for the first time in the unit’s 14-year existence, uniforms and identification badges.
“Until today, inspectors have felt a lack of authority, and this has weakened them in their dealings with kashrut criminals, who have been able to escape without punishment,” said Ben Dahan. “This bill is meant to give inspectors the tools to fight effectively against kashrut fraud and kashrut criminals.”
Ben Dahan has further plans for the Kashrut Fraud Prevention Unit, the deputy minister told Haaretz. Currently, the inspectors’ salaries are paid by the business owners being inspected. Ben Dahan hopes to legislate a separation between the inspectors and the businesses they were responsible for.
The bill has already drawn criticism from opponents of the Chief Rabbinate.
“There are few bodies that trample over the rule of law as systematically as the Chief Rabbinate, especially when it comes to kashrut,” charged Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush, a group that calls for the dismantling of the rabbinate’s monopoly on Israeli religious institutions. Regev cited the rabbinate’s refusal to grant kashrut certificates to businesses open on Shabbat, despite a High Court of Justice injunction on the matter.
“Before the rabbinate demands additional enforcement powers, it must announce that it accepts the rule of Israeli law,” he said.