Attorney general threatens rabbinate’s kosher certification monopoly

Mandelblit insists rabbinate comply with court ruling to end potentially corrupt practice of businesses paying directly for inspectors

Illustrative: Kashrut supervisors inspect produce at a fruit and vegetable warehouse on March 20, 2016. (Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Kashrut supervisors inspect produce at a fruit and vegetable warehouse on March 20, 2016. (Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Wednesday threatened to remove the rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut unless it end the practice wherein businesses pay directly for inspectors to approve their products, Hadashot news reported.

In May 2017, the High Court instructed the Chief Rabbinate to prepare an alternative system by June this year, and that it be ready no later than the beginning of September.

The rabbinate has not yet complied with the court’s ruling, Hadashot reported, and Mandelblit warned that it will not be possible to receive an extension beyond the end of this month.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Religious Services Minister David Azulai, Mandelblit said that if the rabbinate does not explain how it will comply with the court’s ruling, it may be impossible to enforce a law denying private organizations the right to grant kashrut certificates, thus formally ending the rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut supervision.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kashrut supervision attests that the food meets Jewish religious dietary requirements.

Judge Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in his decision last May that there was no question that ties between the supervisor and the place of business must be severed because they generate a conflict of interests for inspectors.

In their response to the letter, the kashrut supervisors blamed the Finance Ministry for the delay in implementing the court’s ruling.

“The separation of supervisors from the businesses is being torpedoed by the officials in the Finance Ministry,” they said. “The Chief Rabbinate and the supervisors want to establish a government kashrut authority which will employ the supervisors. But the ministry refuses.”

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attends the traditional selling of the the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to a non-Jew before the upcoming Passover holiday, on March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef rejected Mandelblit’s threats in a letter he sent to the attorney general. He listed the efforts the rabbinate had made to comply with the court ruling, Hebrew media reported.

“It makes no sense to harm the supervisors or the kashrut,” he said in a statement, and asked Mandelblit to request an extension from the court. At the same time he suggested including the thousands of kashrut supervisors as employees of the religious councils.

Mandelblit’s ultimatum comes two days after a top official in the Israeli state rabbinate’s kashrut inspection arm was arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes.

According to police, the official is suspected of “receiving on a large number of occasions bribes and other benefits, in exchange for benefits he illegally gave to others as part of his duties.”

Four more individuals were arrested in the case. None of the suspects have been named.

The five suspects allegedly gave and accepted money from food importers in order to prioritize their requests to approve foreign kashrut certifications for products they sought to bring into Israel.

In June 2016 the High Court of Justice ruled that businesses can only present themselves as kosher if they have a certificate from the Chief Rabbinate. But the court ruling noted the widespread criticism of the current system and gave the rabbinate two years to make improvements.

Kosher certifications for businesses in Israel are granted by local state rabbinic bodies, known as kashrut committees, that are under the auspices of the national Chief Rabbinate. Kashrut inspectors visit applicants and supervise their kitchens during food preparation to ensure their methods meet the strict standards of Orthodox ritual law. Restaurants and food service businesses must also pay rabbinate supervisors to make regular inspection visits.

Israeli law does not oblige restaurants to be kosher, and non-kosher 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.

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