Plan for major kashrut reform advances through Knesset committee

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers fume over proposal, which would open up kosher certification to private agencies

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on August 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on August 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Legislation proposed by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana aimed at significantly reforming the kosher certification industry in Israel passed through a Knesset committee hearing on Wednesday, after weeks of intense debate.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers reiterated their fierce opposition to the plan, which will now advance to a second and third reading in the Knesset plenum. A small protest was held in Tel Aviv on Wednesday against the bill, which seeks to weaken the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over the matter.

“The Knesset Committee for Religious Services finished its work on the kashrut plan,” Kahana tweeted. “The plan will come to a vote in the Knesset plenum in the coming days.”

Kahana said he appreciated the efforts of opposition MKs, “many of whom, despite their resolute opposition to the law, worked to make helpful changes and important corrections.” The minister promised “to do everything in order that the kashrut program improves kosher services and strengthens the status of the Chief Rabbinate.”

Kahana’s proposal would establish a series of private kosher certification agencies that will be required to uphold religious standards established by the Chief Rabbinate, instead of only the rabbinate itself issuing kosher certifications. 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.

UTJ MK Uri Maklev (L) and Religious Zionism MK Avi Maoz attend a meeting of the Religious Services Committee at the Knesset on October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The proposed plan would also see the creation of an overarching supervisory body of the Chief Rabbinate to monitor the private agencies and ensure they uphold the standards they have promised to meet.

After intense debate in the committee, several amendments were adopted, including allowing local religious councils to also provide kosher certifications as well as local municipal rabbis.

Opposition MKs submitted more than 1,000 amendments to the legislation, the vast majority of which were thrown out.

“This is a dark day,” said United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev after the legislation passed its first reading. “Kosher consumers will have no trust or confidence in kosher certification. We might be done here [in the committee], but we are now just beginning the war… we will reach every child in this country to inform him that your kashrut is a total fake.”

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, who heads the Knesset committee that approved the bill, welcomed its passage.

“We’ve led a revolution,” she said. “We passed the reform in the committee, which will streamline the kashrut system in Israel, reduce costs, lower the cost of living and do good for business owners who have until now paid a high price for a kashrut certificate.”

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

Dozens of activists and kosher supervisors protested on Ibn Gabirol Street in Tel Aviv on Wednesday against the reform proposal, charging that it will put hundreds of them out of work. Calling for Kahana’s resignation, the protesters blocked traffic on a busy street next to Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv.

Earlier this week, some activists cooked shrimp and other non-kosher seafood in a protest outside Kahana’s home in the Beit Gamliel moshav. Protesters believe that the legislation, which takes some power away from the Chief Rabbinate, will lead to the establishment of kosher certifying agencies without sufficiently stringent oversight or regulation.

After the passage of the bill in the committee, the Knesset’s two Haredi political parties lobbed sharp criticism at the legislation.

“This is a sad day for the people of Israel, when a cornerstone of the establishment of a Jewish state has fallen,” said the Shas party in a statement. “Israel’s public spaces will now become non-kosher.” The party said the goal of the legislation was “to sow destruction and confusion in the industry, and to open a wild market of fictitious kashrut agencies that will cause masses of Jews to eat forbidden foods.”

United Torah Judaism said the legislation is “a complete collapse of values carried out by Bennett-Lapid-Lieberman-Kahana’s malicious coalition against tradition and against kashrut observers in Israel.”

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