Israel’s Chief Rabbinate concedes that food importers exploit kosher (kashrut) laws to thwart competition, but says it can do little to stop it until it gets government approval to hire more inspectors and is given better enforcement powers.
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The view was expressed in a response the rabbinate recently provided to Paneco Group, which has sought to import Jack Daniels whiskey through so-called parallel imports, which allow multiple companies to import a product, not just the manufacturer and authorized importer.
The aim of the law is to create more competition from popular imported products, which is what Paneco was doing by importing and selling Jack Daniels at a lower price over the internet. That is, until the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut supervision department issued a warning a year ago that the kashrut certificate for Johnnie Walker had been removed.
OK Kosher Certification, the U.S. organization that certifies Jack Daniels as kosher, said it would not vouch for any bottles except those imported through the official Israeli importer. Paneco appealed to the High Court of Justice, which then instructed the rabbinate to respond.
The response finally arrived in July, and in it the rabbinate said it could not adequately supervise parallel imports because it had not been allowed to hire more inspectors, nor deal with the increasingly likelihood of fraudulent or misleading kashrut certificates.
Parallel imports of food were approved by the Knesset in 2016 under the so-called “cornflakes law,” which covered dry and other foods that pose relatively few health risks
“Unfortunately, the government officials who led the reforms [do not] see any need to bring the rabbinate into the process by giving it the tools and solutions that would enable it to ensure the kashrut of all parallel import products,” the rabbinate said.
“Parallel imports often require supervision by the Chief Rabbinate overseas through its representatives visiting production sites and getting a complete picture,” it said.
Rabbinate shifts blame
The rabbinate said in the latter to Paneco that it backs the idea of the reforms and lowering the cost of food to consumers, then went on to blame official importers and the kashrut organization abroad.
They at times “prevent competition and lowering the cost of living, by de facto preventing parallel importers from obtaining kosher certificates for their products. We cannot but regret that kashrut has been used for the sake of the financial interest of increasing profits at the expense of the consumer, and this ultimately harms the image of the rabbinate and undermines the reputation of the kashrut system as a whole, to say the least,” the rabbinate said.
In the case of Paneco, which is planning to return to the High Court after receiving the rabbinate’s response, the company contended that Jack Daniels is made at a single location in Tennessee and that all its products were ipso facto kosher.
For its part, the rabbinate insisted that the same factory had many production lines for the same product, and that only some of them are subject to supervision. OK was prepared only to certify that the official importer’s whiskey was kosher.