The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is reportedly looking into allowing privately run organizations to certify eateries as kosher, marking a major shift in the state-run body’s monopoly on issuing the permits.
Under the proposal, the rabbinate would become a regulatory body overseeing kosher-certifying groups instead of directly issuing the permits as it does now, according to an Army Radio report Sunday.
However, the proposed reform was immediately criticized as benefiting only ultra-Orthodox supervisory bodies, which are considered more strict in their interpretation of kosher laws than the rabbinate.
The news comes as the rabbinate, a state-funded but mostly autonomous body dominated by ultra-Orthodox figures, has become increasingly criticized for its monopoly over the certifications.
That hegemony has recently been challenged by Hashgacha Pratit, or Private Supervision, a private, alternative kosher certification organization started by Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz of the Yerushalmim Party and slowly gathering steam in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Two weeks ago the High Court ruled that businesses can only present themselves as meeting Jewish religious dietary requirements (known in Hebrew as kashrut), if they have a certificate from the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. But the court ruling noted the widespread criticism of the current kashrut system and gave the Chief Rabbinate two years to make improvements.
As a result, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau appointed a review committee of top rabbinate officials including Chief Rabbinate director-general Moshe Dagan and rabbinate legal adviser Harel Goldberg.
The committee recommended that the Chief Rabbinate issue licenses for private bodies to grant certifications of kashrut to food businesses. The rabbinate would have the power to impose financial sanctions, remove certificates, or cancel the licenses for places that don’t meet the required standards.
Kosher certifications for businesses in Israel are awarded by local state rabbinic bodies, known as kashrut committees, that are under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Kashrut inspectors visit applicants and review what goes on in their kitchens during food preparation to ensure their methods meet those prescribed by Jewish ritual law.
However, the ultra-Orthodox community also operates a variety of certification committees, known as “Badatz” boards, that provide services for those wo adhere to stricter kashrut standards.
A key complaint against the current system is that, in addition to paying the Badatz boards for their certification, restaurants and food service businesses must also pay rabbinate supervisors to make regular inspection visits.
The new system would enable ultra-Orthodox businesses to obtain kosher certification directly from the Badatz boards, paying only them.
Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, dismissed the rabbinate’s proposed system, saying it benefits only the ultra-Orthodox kashrut bodies rather than opening up the system to a broader range of supervising bodies.
“This is a further deception from the rabbinic institute productions: an attempt to approved the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] kashrut while continuing the harassment of more moderate kashrut bodies,” he said.
The rabbinate told Army Radio that it was reviewing three options for the kashrut system but did not go into further details.
According to the Israel Religion and State Index of 2015 put out by Hiddush — a group that campaigns for religious freedom and equality between the different streams within Judaism — 73% of Israeli Jews favor ending the rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut supervision, some 49% favor opening the kashrut certification market to competition among professionals representing all Jewish denominations, and only 24% prefer Orthodox kashrut supervisors alone.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.