The rebellion against the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut monopoly is growing, and has now reached from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Three Tel Aviv establishments have recently received private kashrut certification granted under the supervision of an alternative, private Orthodox kashrut organization, the Jerusalem-based Hashgacha Pratit. These certificates state that the food served is kosher based on all the requirements of Jewish law, without any involvement of the Rabbinate’s official supervision system.
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The certificates do not use the word “kosher” explicitly in order not to violate the Law Against Deception in Kashrut. The law grants the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over such certification.
In early May, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein came out in support of such alternative certification and informed the High Court of Justice that businesses presenting an alternative Kashrut certification from a body that is not the Chief Rabbinate should not be fined, as long as they do not use the word “kosher” explicitly. The High Court is hearing a case brought by two Jerusalem restaurants, which have asked the court to cancel fines they had received from Rabbinate inspectors, and to strike down the section of the kashrut fraud law under which they had been fined.
Even though Weinstein has supported the alternative certification, the Rabbinate has not given up the fight and in an extremely rare initiative, has received permission from the High Court to oppose Weinstein’s decision in court. The next hearing in the case will be held in about a month.
In addition, the Rabbinate is taking the fight to the Knesset too. The Likud promised Shas as part of the coalition agreements that the Kashrut Law would be amended to close all such loopholes, including the one Weinstein has backed for allowing alternative certification. A draft version of the law is already being prepared by Shas.
Monday evening one of the businesses, the Baker’s Patisserie and Boulangerie on Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street, held a celebration of its new certification.
Ayala Falk, who heads the Hashgacha Pratit – Community Kashrut project, which started two years ago, said that in recent months the number of businesses that have received their certificate has doubled to 20. Hashgacha Pratit employs a kashrut supervisor who has passed the Chief Rabbinate’s exams on the subject; and Falk says the organization plans to hire another supervisor in Tel Aviv to be responsible for the establishments there.
“The feedback we receive from the businesses in Tel Aviv is excellent,” says Falk. “It was important to us to leave Jerusalem since we are not at war with the Jerusalem Rabbinate, but we are against the monopoly in the entire country. We receive requests from businesses all over the country, but in the first stage we have limited ourselves to Tel Aviv, which is large and important, and also relatively close to Jerusalem,” she said.
This is not the first time there has been an attempt to bring alternative kashrut supervision to Tel Aviv outside of the Rabbinate’s auspices. In the 1990s there was an organization that operated in Tel Aviv that provided such supervision to restaurants, including those that were open on Shabbat – but the attempt died out within a few years.
The Jerusalem Hashgacha Pratit organization, headed by Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, who is also a member of the Jerusalem city council, works only with restaurants and businesses that are closed on Shabbat.
In the letter he sent to the High Court in May in the case of the two restaurants fined by the Rabbinate, and which sued to cancel the fines, Weinstein wrote that given the present legal situation, fines or indictments will not be issued against restaurants “that present a document in which it is stated that the establishment is supervised by a certain body, subject to its being clarified in an explicit manner that the document is not a kashrut certificate on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”
In the petition, which was submitted with the help of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center, the restaurants asked to cancel fines they had received from Rabbinate inspectors and to strike down the section of the kashrut fraud law under which they had been fined. Section 3 states that “The owner of an eatery may not state in writing that his eatery is kosher unless it has been granted a kashrut certificate.”
The plaintiffs argued that the section contravenes the Basic Law on the Freedom of Occupation, adding that there was no fraud because the restaurant owners have been honest with their customers. The certificate the organization provides does not use the word “kosher,” but only states there is supervision and meticulous observance of the religious law “concerning the food ingredients and their preparation.”
Both restaurant owners claim that despite the lack of supervision, the restaurants continue to observe the religious laws of kashrut. The restaurants said religious Jews have continued to eat at both restaurants even after the certificates were pulled. In their petition to the High Court, the restaurants go much farther than Weinstein did, and are asking to be allowed to use the word “kosher” explicitly.