Attorney General Supports Chief Rabbinate’s Exclusive Authority Over Kashrut Laws

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Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar inspects the Knesset kitchen before issuing it a kosher certification, September 17, 2015.
Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar inspects the Knesset kitchen before issuing it a kosher certification, September 17, 2015.Credit: Itzik Harari

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit supports maintaining the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on issuing kashrut certificates that confirm that an establishment’s food is kosher opposing the stance of his predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein.

Mendelblit’s position was expressed in a filing at the High Court of Justice on behalf of the state as the court prepares to rehear a petition challenging the Rabbinate's exclusive right to kashrut supervision.

The move follows a 2-to-1 verdict in June denying the petition and upholding the monopoly. At that time, Justices Elyakim Rubinstein and Noam Sohlberg voted to maintain the Rabbinate’s monopoly, while Justice Uri Shoham dissented. The upcoming hearing, in another week and a half, will be heard by an expanded panel of seven justices.

In the state’s most recent filing in the case, among the reasons cited for upholding the monopoly was consumer protection when it comes to kosher food. According to the state’s brief, the Knesset decided to give exclusive authority to regulate kashrut to a single entity.

The state also opposes an alternative arrangement that has so far also been rejected by the court. The arrangement would permit parties other than the Rabbinate to supervise food preparation as long as they shunned the word “kosher” and used terms such as “supervision.”

Weinstein, Mendelblit’s predecessor, had supported such an arrangement, which still has the support of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. But under Mendelblit, the state is saying that the true meaning of such supervision by private entities is kashrut supervision, even if the word “kosher” is never used.

“An expansive interpretation of the law that would let other parties ... represent food establishments as kosher could seriously mislead the public,” the state wrote in its filing. “It would also impede the consumer purpose of the law.”

As the state put it, such an approach would probably lead to the creation or expansion of alternative, private kashrut supervision systems that would not be subject to regulation. In the process, they might impair kashrut supervision.

The petitioners say the Rabbinate’s monopoly violates freedom of religion and human dignity; the state has responded that the monopoly only applies to businesses that seek to represent themselves as kosher.

In its initial ruling last year upholding the Rabbinate’s monopoly, the three-justice panel ruled that the issue could be revisited within two years. Mendelblit supports that approach, although the Rabbinate does not want to leave that prospect open.

When Weinstein was attorney general, his stance supporting private supervision of kashrut was seen as a breakthrough for a group of restaurants and other businesses, mostly in Jerusalem. These establishments were offering customers kosher food under the supervision of Orthodox kashrut inspectors, both male and female, but who had no connection to the Rabbinate.

At the time, in May 2015, Weinstein took the position that these business owners, who were working with a private organization called Hashgacha Pratit (Private Supervision), were not violating the law by posting the organization’s kashrut certificates.

In addition to this breakthrough, two Jerusalem restauranteurs approached the Reform movement seeking to have it represent them in a petition to the High Court. The petition would seek to require the state to recognize their kosher certification, which had not been issued by the Rabbinate.

Hashgacha Pratit was not a party to the petition because of its concerns that the legal action would only harm its operations. These concerns turned out to be well-founded.

Hashgacha Pratit oversees 29 businesses around the country whose owners have chosen not to work with the Rabbinate. As a result of last June’s High Court ruling upholding the Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut supervision, the organization changed the certificate that it issues so that there is now no reference to supervision.

“I hope the justices understand that this monopoly is causing harm both to the community that wants kosher food and to the community that wants a little pleasure from Judaism rather than just a stomachache,” the head of Hashgacha Pratit, Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, told Haaretz.

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