The attorney general recently authorized the Chief Rabbinate to issue indictments against business owners who represent their products as kosher without receiving state approval to do so. This is the first time the Justice Ministry has allowed the rabbinate to take criminal action against entities that break laws associated with it, as it has done with the Tax Authority, the Environmental Protection Ministry and local government.
Until now only the State Prosecutor’s Office had the power to indict businesses that break the law against fraud with regard to kashrut and who requested a criminal hearing so as not to pay a fine. About two years ago the Chief Rabbinate asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit for authorization to handle such cases itself, claiming that the lengthy legal proceedings create a loophole that businesses take advantage of and compromises the deterrent effect of the law.
“There was no disagreement between the rabbinate and the prosecution on the matter,” a source in the Chief Rabbinate told Haaretz. “For reasons of priorities and manpower, the prosecution has decided not to handle these cases. People knew they could ask for a hearing and that nothing would happen. They took it into account and said it was worth the risk.”
The law prohibits food businesses from “presenting in writing that the restaurant is kosher unless it has been granted a kashrut certificate,” and requires that businesses that have such a certificate “not serve or sell products that are not kosher by Torah law.” The fine for breaking the law is 2,000 shekels ($585), and the power to enforce the law is in the hands of the rabbinate’s national enforcement unit. The units are trained by the Public Security Ministry and they also work in cooperation with the Agriculture Ministry and other government agencies. The unit conducts surveillance of businesses suspected of breaking the law, and also hands out fines.
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In 2017 the High Court of Justice ruled that businesses without kashrut certificates from the Chief Rabbinate could not use the term “kosher” in any form or “according to Halacha [Jewish law].” The justices said businesses not recognized as kosher by the Chief Rabbinate could state that the food they sell is under the “supervision” of a rabbi not from the Chief Rabbinate, and that it was purchased from a source with a kashrut certificate. The previous year the High Court had ruled that only the rabbinate could grant kashrut certificates and rejected an opinion of then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that “alternative kashrut certificates” could be provided on condition that the word “kosher” did not appear on them.
Since the change went into effect, the legal adviser to the Chief Rabbinate, Harel Goldberg, has submitted two indictments, one for displaying a private kashrut certificate. The prosecutor assigned to these cases in the future in attorney Ahmed Masalha, whose firm won a tender issued by the rabbinate. According to sources in the rabbinate, Masalha is to issue dozens of more indictments in the near future.
The Chief Rabbinate responded: “Increased power of enforcement against businesses breaking the law and conducting legal proceedings independently will reinforce the rabbinate’s enforcement system and the ability to deal with fraud and infractions of kashrut for the good of consumers of kashrut, and adds another level to strengthen the kashrut system.”