Israel's Chief Rabbinate to Defend Its Kashrut Enforcement in Court

Jerusalem eateries petitioned High Court to allow independent kosher certification.

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

In an unusual move, the High Court of Justice decided on Wednesday to allow the Chief Rabbinate to represent itself in hearings on a petition filed against its kashrut enforcement policy.

The decision was made after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein expressed an opinion that partially agrees with the Jerusalem businesses that petitioned against the rabbinate, putting him into conflict with the chief rabbis whom he ostensibly represents. The Chief Rabbinate was thus given leave to respond through its own legal adviser.

The decision was made during a hearing on the petition filed by a restaurant and a café in Jerusalem that are demanding that they be allowed to put the word “kosher” on their signs, although common interpretation of the Law Against Fraud in Kashrut forbids this. By law, an eatery may not state in writing that it is kosher without supervision from the official rabbinate.

Both the petitioning establishments are under the supervision of a private Orthodox kosher supervision service, but the certificate it issues does not have the word “kosher” on it. Nevertheless, rabbinate inspectors fined both the petitioners, as well as other Jerusalem eateries with a similar certificate.

Last week, attorney Neta Oren wrote a letter in Weinstein’s name in which he said the rabbinate isn’t authorized to penalize businesses showing an alternative certificate, since as long as the word “kosher” doesn’t appear, it is within the bounds of the law. He called on the eateries to withdraw their petition, but the petitioners, as noted, want more than that.

The rabbinate, meanwhile, says the attorney general has exceeded his authority. It claims that presenting a kashrut supervision certificate, even if the word “kosher” does not appear in its various versions, deceives the kosher-observant public.

Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Noam Sohlberg and Uri Shoham confronted Oren with media reports about her letter, saying it was from there they first learned about the dispute between the attorney general and the chief rabbis. “The conduct in this matter is not acceptable to us, since we should have been updated immediately about the dispute with the Chief Rabbinate, even though the attorney general believes this is an issue of enforcement, which is under his purview,” they wrote in their decision.

“Since the petitioners are persisting in their petition and since this is an issue that substantively relates to the Chief Rabbinate, even if enforcement authority is of course in the hands of the attorney general, we’ve decided to put off the hearing to another session,” at which the rabbinate would present its position.

The justices, however, refused the rabbinate’s request to take on a private lawyer to represent it, stating that its own legal adviser, Harel Goldberg, should do so. The next hearing will take place within two months.