High Court Ruling May Put an End to the Chief Rabbinate’s Kashrut Monopoly

Restaurants may be able to represent themselves as meeting kashrut standards without an official certificate from the Rabbinate

Shawarma restaurant with a kashrut certificate issued by the Chief Rabbinate.
Shawarma restaurant with a kashrut certificate issued by the Chief Rabbinate. Emil Salman

The High Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that businesses may only call themselves kosher if they have been certified as kosher by the Chief Rabbinate; but at the same time the court adopted an interpretation of the law that may in practice bring about an end to the Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut certification.

In a complex ruling, the High Court denied a petition filed by two Jerusalem restaurant owners against the Chief Rabbinate, stating “a food establishment that does not hold a kashrut certificate is prohibited from displaying any kashrut representation.” But the High Court also said they “are allowed to display a true representation about the standards they follow and the way they are supervised in keeping them, which also includes an explicit clarification that they do not have a kashrut certificate.”

This seems to mean that businesses may display a certificate that they are under supervision according to Jewish law on kashrut, as long as it is made clear the business does hold an official kashrut certificate issued by the Chief Rabbinate and does not use the word “kosher.”

The original case was filed in 2014 by two Jerusalem restaurant owners, together with the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), against the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Services Ministry and the Jerusalem Religious Authority. They originally had kashrut certificates from the Rabbinate but later chose to end their relationship with the Rabbinate and removed the official certificates. But they say they continued to follow all the rules concerning kashrut, yet were fined for representing their restaurants as being kosher.

They contested the law forbidding them from using the word “kosher” without the official rabbinate certificate, claiming the rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut is unconstitutional, and calling to allow entities other than the rabbinate to issue kashrut certificates.

The present ruling came in a rehearing of the case before an expanded panel of seven High Court justices. Five justices supported the majority opinion, including outgoing Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, incoming president Esther Hayut, Salim Joubran, Uri Shoham and Hanan Melcer; while two, Noam Sohlberg and Elyakim Rubinstein, dissented.

In June 2016, a three-justice panel of the High Court ruled against the petitioners saying that that only the Chief Rabbinate is authorized to grant businesses kashrut certification. The original High Court decision was reached by a majority of two to one, with Sohlberg and Rubinstein supporting the Rabbinate’s position and Shoham dissenting. The judges rejected a more liberal interpretation to the law provided in 2015 by former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

In May 2015, Weinstein legally sanctioned a private kashrut supervision initiative, determining that as long as the permits do not contain the word “kosher” and as long as it’s clear that the Rabbinate does not stand behind the supervision, the permits can be issued and displayed.

The Reform movement in Israel praised the High Court’s reversal of its previous ruling and said now restaurant owners can inform diners of the fact that the restaurant follows the rules of kashrut and the way these rules are supervised, as long as the word “kosher” is not used and it is made clear the establishment does not have a certificate from the Chief Rabbinate.

MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) also praised the decision. She said it will allow other organizations to enter kashrut supervision and will lead to the dismantling of the Rabbinate’s monopoly. “Everyone knows the Rabbinate’s kashrut system is not functional and only dismantling the monopoly and opening the market to competition will solve the problems that exist today. I will continue to promote the law to privatize the kashrut system so that every Israeli citizen can be more confident about the kashrut they consume. The people of Israel want kashrut but do not want a monopoly and are not willing to pay without receiving something in return.”