Israel's High Court Gives Restaurants Right to Post Their Own Kashrut Standards

The High Court's verdict could cut costs and allow businesses to lower prices

Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalemת, Shlomo Amar, supervise over the kashrut inspection at the Knesset, in 2014.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalemת, Shlomo Amar, supervise over the kashrut inspection at the Knesset, in 2014. Itzik Harari

Some Israeli restaurateurs breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday, a day after the High Court of Justice ruled that food establishments may post the way they comply with Jewish dietary law, in lieu of kashrut certification from the state’s Chief Rabbinate.

The ruling doesn’t allow them to use a different kashrut certification, but it does go a long way toward breaking the rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certification.

Before this week’s ruling, proprietors could inform their customers verbally about the standards of kashrut that they observed, but were prohibited from posting the information in publicly. They were allowed to obtain additional certification, such as from the ultra-Orthodox Badatz organization, but only after getting the rabbinate certificate.

“Until now the rabbinate has harassed us, constantly inventing new rules. Restaurants that tried to use alternative kashrut certification were sued by the rabbinate,” said Shai Berman, CEO of the Restaurants and Cafes Association.

“Even if we can’t use the word ‘kosher,’ we can use the world ‘supervised’ and that will open the market up to competition. The rabbinate will now have the behave more nicely or they won’t do business with us,” he said.

Berman also predicted it would lead to lower menu prices. The Finance Ministry estimates the annual cost of ensuring the kashrut of food and toiletries in Israel at 4 billion shekels ($1.1 billion). A single kashrut certificate for a café or restaurant cost from 20,000 to 40,000 shekels.

“A food establishment that doesn’t have a kashrut certificate cannot present itself as being kosher, but it can make a true claim in regard to the standards that it keeps to and the way in which it observes it, including an explicit statement that it has no kashrut certificate,” the ruling said.

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor wrote that an eating establishment cannot post a sign saying it offers “alternative kashrut” or otherwise describing it as kosher, including expressions such as “according to the rule of halakha [Jewish law]” or “kosher supervisor.” But she rejected the rabbinate’s stance that a business can only be either kosher, with a certificate from the rabbinate, or not kosher.

The Chief Rabbinate called the ruling “a black day for all kosher consumers,” and ultra-Orthodox media outlets were in an uproar. The rabbinate signaled it planned to circumvent the ruling by speeding up the passage of a law that would ban anything that misleads the public regarding kashrut. The bill passed its initial reading in the Knesset but movement on it has been suspended.

Ricki Shapira Rosenberg, a lawyer for the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, which supported the plaintiffs in the case, said the ruling advanced religious freedom and a “recognition of the autonomy of every citizen to decide what is kosher according to or her religious conscience.

“The decision anchors in law the business freedom of food establishments in Israel and prevents the Chief Rabbinate from forcing them to accept supervision they don’t want,” Shapira Rosenberg said.

Arik Darhani, a chef at the Jaffa restaurant Onza, which is not kosher, said he wasn’t interested in obtaining alterative kashrut certification. “Even the alternative organizations have their rules, and I’m not willing to give up income from Friday and Saturday and close the restaurant,” he said. “I might be ready to sell only kosher products, maybe that will happen one day. If there’s an organization that will give me a kashrut certificate appropriate to my needs, I’ll do it.”

Rabbi Aharon Leibovitz founded Hashgaha Pratit, an organization that offers alternative kashrut certification, lauded the High Court’s ruling, calling it a victory for people who keep kosher and all Israelis.

“The next step must be a change in the law and the opening of the kashrut market to total competition,” he said.