Israel's Chief Rabbis Slam Knesset Move to Reform Kashrut Monopoly

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Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (left) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau in 2015.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, left, and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau in 2015.Credit: Emil Salman

The two chief rabbis of Israel blasted on Wednesday a Knesset committee decision to move ahead with a bill to reform the country's kashrut certification system.

Hours earlier, a Knesset committee approved the bill to end the rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certification, paving the way for it to become law.

“The decision on the new kashrut outline is the destruction of kashrut and reflects a trend towards the displacement of Judaism of Israel, another step in making Israel a state of all its citizens,” Chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef asserted in a joint declaration, warning of “spiritual destruction under the guise of this reform.”

Changing the kashrut system could lead to “conversion and marriage outside the framework of the Chief Rabbinate, which will inevitably lead to the separation of communities in Israel,” they warned.

They also said Israeli rabbis should refuse to cooperate with the reform efforts and refrain from granting certification to any establishment without the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

“We call on all the rabbis of Israel, stand firm, feel the responsibility placed on your shoulders, know that we have a responsibility to the existence of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and there is no right for any party to establish laws that are against the laws of our holy Torah.”

The bill still must pass two more readings in the Knesset after leaving committee.

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana announced plans to privatize the system of certification of kosher food in the country over the summer, sparking outrage at the Chief Rabbinate and among ultra-Orthodox politicians.

The dramatic move would create competition among private companies to manage the certification system, while the Rabbinate’s supervisory body would continue inspecting businesses to make sure they meet halakhic – in other words Orthodox Jewish – standards of kashrut.

Today, businesses may only call themselves kosher if they are certified by the religious councils, the executive branch of the Chief Rabbinate. 

Calling the current system “sick,” Kahana said the new arrangement would drive down the cost of living because business owners would display a single kashrut certificate from a private company rather than the current two – one from the Chief Rabbinate and another from a private inspector.

According to a 2016 draft Finance Ministry report, about 2.8 billion shekels ($850 million) a year is spent on kashrut supervision fees in Israel. A State Comptroller’s report in 2017 lambasted the system as corrupt and marked by conflicts of interest due to the fact that restaurants, among others, pay the salaries of government inspectors.

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