Restaurants okayed to say food kosher without rabbinate’s approval

Landmark High Court ruling finds informing consumers about food’s origins cannot be prohibited, denting monopoly by ultra-Orthodox-controlled state rabbinical body

Israelis at a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, on Saturday, November 01, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis at a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, on Saturday, November 01, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that Israeli restaurateurs are permitted to inform their clientele that they serve kosher food even if they do not have kashrut certification from the Israeli state rabbinate.

The ruling may mark the end of a years-long battle over whether the ultra-Orthodox-controlled state rabbinate is the only body which may publicly claim a food establishment is kosher.

The Law Prohibiting Fraud in Kashrut states that “the owner of a food establishment may not present the establishment as kosher unless it was given a certificate of kashrut,” and that only official state or local rabbis may give such certificates.

The law has been challenged in recent years by a group of Jerusalem restaurateurs who joined an “alternative kashrut” initiative, Private Supervision. The initiative was founded as a friendlier alternative to the government-run rabbinate, which many viewed as a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy.

But each time the issue came before the High Court, it upheld the Fraud in Kashrut Law as constitutional, and ruled that a business may not claim it is “kosher” in any way, even if it explicitly tells its customers that its kashrut is not certified by the state rabbinate.

On Tuesday, however, writing for the majority view, Chief Justice Miriam Naor ruled that the law’s intent to ensure consumers are not misled — a purpose she said justified the prohibition on using the term “kosher” without state approval — did not extend to a business giving its customers details about where it obtained its raw materials or how it prepared its food.

There is a “third door” into the question of kashrut, beyond the simplistic labeling of each business as either “kosher” or “non-kosher,” she wrote.

“Assuming it is telling the truth, nothing prevents a food establishment from clarifying that the meat it serves was purchased from a slaughterhouse that carries kosher certification; and that the fish it serves are only those with fins and scales [as required by the laws of kashrut],” Naor ruled.

Such reporting of its sources and practices to customers is no different from “a food establishment stating it carries only vegetarian food.”

An establishment must still avoid any direct “presentation of [itself as] kosher,” in order to avoid confusing consumers — as required by the law — but can offer details about its practices that would enable “each person, according to their preferences and levels of strictness they choose to observe,” to decide whether to eat there.

“This approach safeguards the right of the consumer not to be misled as to the kashrut of the food,” Naor said.

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