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First phase of major reform in Israel’s kosher certification system enters effect

Businesses can now choose to be supervised by any local religious council in the country; Religious Services Minister Kahana says plan will boost competition, improve kashrut

Representatives of the Chief Rabbinate deliver a kashrut certificate to a local restaurant in central Jerusalem, on December 31, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Representatives of the Chief Rabbinate deliver a kashrut certificate to a local restaurant in central Jerusalem, on December 31, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The first phase of a major overhaul of Israel’s kosher certification industry came into effect on Sunday, paving the way to greater competition and a weaker Chief Rabbinate monopoly over the matter.

The reform, spearheaded by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, will eventually enable private organizations to provide supervision services — with oversight by the Rabbinate — starting in 2023.

Legislation on the matter was approved in late October by the Knesset Committee for Religious Services, and passed its final readings in the Knesset in early November.

In the first stage, which has now taken effect, any restaurant, food store and factory can choose from among all religious councils nationwide to provide them kashrut supervision, rather than only being able to use their local council.

After the second and final stage enters effect on January 1, 2023, Kahana’s proposal will establish a series of private agencies that can issue kosher certification, which currently can only be done by the Chief Rabbinate, though the private agencies will all be required to uphold religious standards established by the Chief Rabbinate. The move is aimed at increasing competition to reduce costs for businesses seeking certification.

The private agencies will be authorized to issue certifications that note they are “under the supervision of the Rabbinate.” Each agency is expected to be headed by a rabbi who is certified by the city’s local rabbinate. The agencies — which will also need to demonstrate financial viability — will make public the religious standards they are maintaining in their certification.

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The proposed plan would also see the creation of an overarching supervisory body within the Chief Rabbinate to monitor the private agencies and ensure they uphold the standards they have promised to meet. It will allow local religious councils to also provide kosher certifications as well as local municipal rabbis.

According to a recent study by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), Israel’s kosher certification system is riddled with inefficiencies and non-transparent processes that are costing taxpayers an approximate extra NIS 13.1 million ($4 million) per year and leading to duplicate and sometimes triplicate certifications.

The reform plan has been vehemently rejected by the ultra-Orthodox community, and Haredi politicians have been fiercely fighting against it. Opposition MKs submitted more than 1,000 amendments to the legislation, the vast majority of which were thrown out.

Activists protest in Tel Aviv on October 27, 2021, against the kosher industry reform proposal. (Screenshot)

In October, dozens of activists and kosher supervisors protested in Tel Aviv against the reform, charging that it will put hundreds of them out of work. A separate demonstration saw some activists cook shrimp and other non-kosher seafood in a protest outside Kahana’s home in the Beit Gamliel moshav. Protesters believe that the legislation will lead to the establishment of kosher certifying agencies without sufficiently stringent oversight or regulation.

But Kahana hailed his reform on Sunday in a Facebook post, saying it will “march the kashrut system forward toward better, more organized and more supervised kashrut.”

“The option for every city rabbi, via a religious council, to provide kosher certificates in every area of Israel… opens the kashrut market to competition,” Kahana wrote, arguing that this will lead to “better, more serious, more meticulous and more convenient service to business owners.”

He argued that the reform would in fact strengthen the Chief Rabbinate, since it would become “a supervising body with robust authority.”

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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