Private kashrut supervision closes in favor of new authority

Hashgacha Pratit announces it worked with religious-Zionist Tzohar group to create alternative to state rabbinate

Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz (right), presents an alternative kashrut certificate to the Whiskey Bar Museum in Tel Aviv's Sarona Market (Courtesy Hashgacha Pratit)
Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz (right), presents an alternative kashrut certificate to the Whiskey Bar Museum in Tel Aviv's Sarona Market (Courtesy Hashgacha Pratit)

A private kashrut authority announced Tuesday it is ending its supervision and handing over to a new kosher supervision program announced Monday.

In a Facebook post, Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, founder of the Hashgacha Pratit (Private Supervision) authority, said that all businesses currently under its supervision will be transferred to the Tzohar Food Inspection authority, and all the supervisors currently working for his organization will move to the new authority.

Leibowitz wrote that his organization had been working with Tzohar for several months to help establish the new authority, and Rabbi Oren Duvdevani, current head of Hashgacha Pratit, will head the Tzohar initiative.

Once the handover has been completed, Leibowitz said, his organization will step away from kashrut supervision entirely and focus on other issues.

Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein (2L), Rabbi Dr. Moshe Be’eri (C) and Shai Berman, CEO of the Israel Restaurant Association (L) at a press conference on the establishment of a new Tzohar Kashrut authority in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

The religious-Zionist Tzohar organization on Monday launched its private kosher supervision program in a bid to “challenge” the monopoly of the state-run Chief Rabbinate.

Leibowitz told The Times of Israel that the new kashrut authority would be “using our system which is actually classic supervision, just more respectful.” He added that he was praying for the success of the new body, saying, “We have done whatever we can to facilitate a seamless transition.”

The announcement followed a High Court of Justice ruling in September that said restaurateurs could inform their clientele that they serve kosher food provided they don’t explicitly designate themselves as a “kosher establishment.”

The decision, which was seen as a dent in the rabbinate’s control over the kosher supervision process, made way for Tzohar’s new licensing division but will also require it to provide a detailed explanation of the kosher standards in all of its restaurants.

The new initiative has set itself a goal of licensing some 10 percent of Israeli eateries in three years, largely targeting establishments that currently do not carry a rabbinate kosher certificate, according to its mission statement.

“We didn’t come to replace the rabbinate, but rather to challenge it, to create competition in a monopolistic market,” said Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein of Tzohar at a press conference on Monday morning.

Business as usual at Pasta Basta, with their new kosher certificate from Private Supervision hanging on the wall Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“We don’t want to take away from the rabbinate,” he added. “I’m not playing innocent; there will be those [businesses currently supervised by the rabbinate] who will come over to us, but from our perspective we are not going to steal others’ livelihood or kashrut, but we are merely increasing the kashrut [certifications] in Israel. We want to include more businesses, which were not kosher until today, into the fold.”

Duvdevani, who will head Tzohar’s kosher division, is an ex-rabbinate official who was in charge of the kosher certification department of the rabbinate of Givatayim, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Previously he had spent time working in Mexico for OU Kosher, the certification and supervision department of the Orthodox Union, as well as for OK Kosher.

Rabbi Oren Duvdevani (Courtesy Neemanei Torah V’avodah)

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. Private kosher certifications exist in the ultra-Orthodox community, though the various “badatz” licenses are given only on top of the rabbinate’s approval, rather than as a standalone certificate.

The cost of official inspections and a certificate for a medium-sized restaurant is in the range of NIS 9,500 ($2,500) per year.

Those opposed to the current system allege it is corrupt and unfair — and that it does little to confirm that a restaurant is indeed kosher.

The Chief Rabbinate dismisses such allegations, saying it is best placed to handle the process and that any allegations of corruption are investigated.

Marissa Newman, Jessica Steinberg and AFP contributed to this report.

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